Scientists, Business, and the State, 1890-1960

Scientists, Business, and the State, 1890-1960

Scientists, Business, and the State, 1890-1960

Scientists, Business, and the State, 1890-1960

Synopsis

In the late nineteenth century, scientists began allying themselves with America's corporate, political, and military elites. They did so not just to improve their professional standing and win more money for research, says Patrick McGrath, but for political reasons as well. They wanted to use their new institutional connections to effect a transformation of American political culture. They succeeded, but not in ways that all scientists envisioned or agreed upon.

McGrath describes how, between 1890 and 1960, scientific, business, and political leaders together forged a new definition of American democracy in which science and technology were presented to the public as crucial ingredients of the nation's progress, prosperity, and political stability. But as scientists became more prominent, they provoked conflicts among themselves as well as with their institutional patrons over exactly how their expertise should be used. McGrath examines the bitter battles that erupted over the role scientists should play during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War arms race, and the security and loyalty investigations of the 1950s. He finds that, by the end of the 1950s, scientists were regarded by the political and military elite not as partners but as subordinate technicians who were expected to supply weapons on demand for the Cold War state.

Excerpt

Scientists allied themselves with America's corporate, political, and military elites between 1890 and 1960, and they did so not just to improve their professional standing and win more money for research but for political reasons as well. They wanted to use their expertise and their new institutional connections to effect a transformation of American political culture. They succeeded, but not in ways that all scientists envisioned or agreed upon. By 1960 America's governing ideology was organized around two key goals: increasing prosperity and enhancing military strength, and the centrality of consumerism and militarism owed much to the ideas and institutions which leading scientists created and used in the corporate and political sectors over the preceding decades.

Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scientists stressed their own importance to expanding the scope and effectiveness of national institutions. By doing so, they helped create a new kind of national authority, one that was rooted in the large corporations, the universities, the professions, and the federal government. They also helped foster a new conception of how social change occurred in American life. By stressing the evolutionary and transformative quality of their creations, they argued that scientific innovation was the central force driving American progress, prosperity, and national security. This new notion of social change led some scientists and intellectuals to formulate a new definition of democracy itself, one that rejected the old model of adversarial party politics in favor of a vision of a harmonious, classless meritocracy in which all members of the society would enjoy an improved standard of living provided by the corporate culture, and the talented would have more opportunities to enter the professional world.

In short, the leaders of American science in collaboration with corporate, political, academic, and later military elites created a new governing ideology in America in the years from the early twentieth century to the 1960s, one that relocated social authority away from local elites and political parties and toward a new national class of interrelated elite institutions in the public and private sectors. But this process was characterized by conflict every step of the way: between scientists and their powerful institutional collaborators and among the scientists themselves. This book is a study of those conflicts and the ideological, professional, and political factors that were under dispute.

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