The Dollar Decade: Mammon and the Machine in 1920s America

The Dollar Decade: Mammon and the Machine in 1920s America

The Dollar Decade: Mammon and the Machine in 1920s America

The Dollar Decade: Mammon and the Machine in 1920s America

Synopsis

Examines the underlying causes of the tumult of the 1920s, including the impact of World War I, the popularization of Freud and Darwin, and in particular the cataclysmic effects of the machine age.

Excerpt

The 1920s was an introspective decade. Change was so pervasive and so rapid that the sources, nature, and future of the changes absorbed the attention of the masses and of scholars. As Charles Merz put it:

whatever we say of the new America in which we live, at least we start with this: it is a
brand-new America, and there is no section of the broad highway that leads from the
New Jersey hills to San Francisco Bay over which a whole new layer of culture has not
been spread within the memory of a generation of Americans still living.

The triumph of the urban culture that has swept remorselessly across the country
side is the triumph of modern transportation. The prowess of the giant mills that have
changed the habit of the nation with an avalanche of low-priced goods is built upon new
methods of production which have been perfected only to be thrown aside for methods
newer still. The standards of American life, the criteria by which each change is judged,
the rules of thumb that once seemed everlasting principles, have been wrenched loose
from their accustomed mooring by the progress of experimental science.

It is unlikely that any generation before that of the 1920s had experienced such widespread change and been so acutely conscious of its effect on their daily lives.

Magazines and newspapers in the 1920s were awash with articles describing and analyzing one or another of the changes taking place. Authors wrote books on the subject. The incisive and sometimes lively writings of essayists like H.L. Mencken, Gilbert Seldes, Stuart Chase, Charles Merz, and Agnes Repplier are as readable now as they were for the generation of the 1920s. Editors compiled anthologies of essays by learned authorities on the impact of the changes for various aspects of American life, such as education, religion, or philosophy. One of the most noted of these was Harold Stearns, editor, Civilization in the United . . .

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