Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

LINCOLN STEFFENS


MUCKRAKER'S PROGRESS

STEFFENS," wrote Ella Winter, "cared passionately about righting the evils his muckrake had uncovered." His prime concern, however, was not so much to expose political corruption as to discover its cause and cure. While no fanatic, he could not acquiesce in mere palliation. Because he early came to understand the reasons for the failure of political reform, he did not, like so many of his fellow muckrakers, either resort to the fleshpots of the status quo or take flight into the obscurity of inaction. Instead he developed inductively the thesis that it was special privilege which bred corruption and not the reverse; that only a revolution which would abolish all privilege could eradicate graft in politics. Consequently he studied the Mexican and particularly the Russian revolutions with scientific care. And when he found that these political eruptions, for all their cost in blood and suffering, presaged the better society, he dedicated the remainder of his life to missionary work in their behalf. Like Moses he had looked into the future and found it good.

Lincoln Steffens, born in California in 1866, was permitted by his wise and considerate father to follow pretty much his own bent. As a boy he had "horses, guns, dogs, and the range of the open country." He learned by doing. What interested him he mastered, in and out of school; although there was little in the classroom that appealed to his imagination and he was usually at the bottom of his class.

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