Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State: Ideologies of Reform in the United States and Britain, 1909-1926

Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State: Ideologies of Reform in the United States and Britain, 1909-1926

Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State: Ideologies of Reform in the United States and Britain, 1909-1926

Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State: Ideologies of Reform in the United States and Britain, 1909-1926

Synopsis

This book is the first comprehensive examination of the close relationship that obtained between leading groups of British socialists and American progressives in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Employing new methods of conceptual and institutional analysis, and drawing on extensive original archival research, the book examines the efforts of leading political theorists to transform the initially distinctive theories of the British and American lefts into a single unified ideology. In so doing it challenges traditional narratives emphasising the exceptional development the American and British lefts, and argues instead that the central theoretical and practical commitments of both movements were constantly shaped and reshaped by international ideological exchange.

Excerpt

The three decades that surrounded the First World War were among the most dramatic years in the modern political development of Britain and the United States. These were years within which the terms of politics changed for ever, years which witnessed the dawn of a new era of bitter political struggle and momentous social change. In this time, the widespread beliefs of the late nineteenth century rapidly began to lose adherents. It was no longer certain that partisan allegiance was essentially a matter of region and religion, that individual enterprise was the only reliable means to economic growth, or that the size and the scope of state power should always be limited. Instead, political argument was increasingly structured around a new series of cleavages. The problems of mass urban centres, the economic power of large industrial corporations, and the fierce discontent of an increasingly organized working class shaped the new order of the day.

As the terms of political debate shifted in both countries, a whole series of interest groups and issue-oriented pressure groups sprang up, each demanding reform. In addition to serving the demands of their constituents, these movements presented a myriad of opportunities for politically engaged intellectuals clamouring for influence. A new generation of academic enthusiasts thus abandoned the confines of the universities, determined to blend the insights of innovative philosophies and the findings of empirical social science into concrete proposals for reform. The cacophony of voices that emerged yielded little immediate agreement. Proposals ranged in scale from minor changes to the distribution of poor relief to the total reconstruction of the social order. The ideals upon which these were based and the mechanisms designed to achieve them were also fiercely contested. But whatever the disputes, all the activists shared one central object of faith: modern nation states were witnessing a widespread attack on a whole range of 'social notions' that had rightly been 'conceived as fundamental' only a decade or so before. It required 'no profound insight' in such a context to note that Britain and the United States were on the threshold of grave and far-reaching change.

For recent introductions, see S. J. Diner, A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era
(New York: Hill and Wang, 1998) and J. Harris, Private Lives, Public Spirit: A Social History of Britain,
1870–1914
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). For a comparison, see D. Rodgers, Atlantic
Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age
(London: Belknap Press, 1998).

H. Laski, 'The Temper of the Present Time', New Republic, 18 February 1920, 335–8.

H. Laski, 'A Labor Programme', New Republic, 9 March 1918, 179.

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