Progressivism and the World of Reform: New Zealand and the Origins of the American Welfare State

Progressivism and the World of Reform: New Zealand and the Origins of the American Welfare State

Progressivism and the World of Reform: New Zealand and the Origins of the American Welfare State

Progressivism and the World of Reform: New Zealand and the Origins of the American Welfare State

Excerpt

Readers may find it helpful to know something about the origins and history of this book. It has been a long time in the making. Its beginnings go back three decades, to 1950, when I came to the United States to study at the University of Texas with the late Walter Prescott Webb. With the presumptuous arrogance of the graduate student, I had written to him expressing reservations about his Great Plains, the book that had established his reputation as an imaginative and pathbreaking scholar. I said, in effect, that he had ignored the truly important consequences of environment. If the vast, treeless, flat, semiarid interior reaches of the continent had indeed imposed fundamental adaptations on settlers, surely this influence should have manifested itself in social and political attitudes, behavior, and institutions. And yet his Great Plains was totally silent on so crucial a matter. What I proposed to him, therefore, was that I undertake a comparative study of the evolution of New World societies, looking at the behavior of some Great Plains states and at the British dominions south of the equator.

And so I arrived in Austin a few days after Labor Day, 1950, clothed in the heavy Harris tweed I had worn when I left New Zealand's winter behind me a month earlier and armed with a ship's trunk load of research notes on political experimentation in New Zealand between 1891 and 1911. What I was not to know was that Webb had long since outgrown the Great Plains and that he would soon bring to publication the Great Frontier, a concept he had been working on since the late 1930s. He was a decade ahead of me.

Since he was a man of tunnel vision and was interested primarily in knowing what would confirm and enlarge his concept of the transforming role of the Great Frontier in the modern world, he persuaded me to abandon my original proposal and to concentrate instead on an intensive study of New Zealand as an example of the evolution of a Great Frontier society. Though he never said so, Webb was probably disappointed. For not only did I fail to enlarge our understanding of his Great . . .

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