This book explores over eighty years of American socialist thought. In doing so, I have chosen what I think to be the best and most significant representatives of the tradition. My criteria were the seriousness and consistency of their thought and their first-rank involvement in the socialist movement. By these criteria, for example, I found Louis Fraina a better representative of proto-Communist thought than John Reed, and Norman Thomas a better representative of the post--World War I social democratic tradition than Harry Laidler.
My criteria for inclusion are further explained by the book's title. The Hebrew prophets were a unique breed of social activists. In critiquing their world, they did not lose sight of a vision of an ideal social order. Yet, hardly escapist, they tackled the realities of a given state system, king, or political relationship.
So was it with the secular "prophets" of American socialism. All perceived their visions as part of a movement with concrete goals. None remained aloof from the politics of their day and none ignored the role of inspiration and reason as attributes of power. All had a well-defined theory of the state, and therefore they lived, struggled, and wrote within the organizational forms of American social democracy.
Readers may comment on the lack of attention paid to the various schools of American communism which came after Louis Fraina. This is a reflection of my bias against those who ignore the complex yet vital relationship between democratic norms and social justice.