Dorgan notes for 2/18/04
Daniel T., Transatlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age
Can the years between 1890 and World War II be lumped together as one distinct
"era," during which Rodgers proposes that progressive Americans were more open
to European social theory and practice? He describes a series of contradictory
and overlapping trends through which American policy evolves, but still
assigns an exact "beginning" and "end" to all of them. Could these dates be
more malleable? 1) Some of the late-19th century trends Rodgers
uses as evidence could have begun earlier in the century. Dickens, for
instance, was very popular in the states by the mid-1840s, and Americans had
been going on their "grand tour" of Europe much earlier than Rodgers suggests.
2) The direction of influence may have changed during the 1940s (American
influence going toward Europe); however, as Rodgers himself points out, the
1940s weren't free of social movements: the Civil Rights movement was born,
ethnic and African American literature became mainstream, labor unions found a
place at negotiating tables and America became involved in the United Nations.
Can't we find international roots for these seemingly "homegrown" efforts?
Why was the mindset of America different during the years Rodgers examines?
Rodgers gives a lot of attention to social scientists who were educated in
Germany, seeing their subsequent open-minded repurposing of German social and
economic theory as opening the progressive era he analyses. However, the
American trend of studying in Germany had begun 30 years before that time.
Decisions to do post-graduate work in Germany were not rooted in economic
considerations alone, as Rodgers describes, or even in an internationalist
mindset and belief that there was something to be learned from the "old"
world. Scholars went to Germany because there weren't well-established
research universities or many post-graduate programs in American until late in
the century. The American research universities that grew late in the century
were steeped in Humboldtian traditions with faculty trained in Germany. Thus
learning from German scholars had more to do with opportunity than with choice
and intellectual influence would have begun earlier than 1880 or 1890.
Couldn't we say that culture is always crossing back and forth across national
borders and that social theory and the growth of the largely urban
progressivist movement happened to grow during the period of increasing
internationalization, necessity and opportunity, rather that just openness in
social thought? Considering the unprecedented mass movement of people across
the globe during the period that Rodgers discusses, it is not surprising that
there were open and effective channels of communication across national
borders. Given the increasingly urban nature of America (the census of 1920
was the first in which the majority of Americans lived in cities, a peak
percentage of which were foreign born in the years prior to 1924), it is not
surprising that people were concerned with urban social reform.
Ideas, as well as goods, moved across the borders of the countries within the
North Atlantic economy.
Colonial America had always been a part of this broader political, economic
and ideological world; however, in the years between 1890 and 1945, America
was more receptive to these ideologies, especially in social theory and
1: Paris: 1900
Progressives of the era did not necessarily anticipate the Welfare State
(i.e., that government would act directly and control social issues). The
modern manifestation of social ideas that offers citizens "insurance" is only
a fraction of progressive social political agendas.
There were international institutions of thought that bound people, though
social policy experts of the world were not unified in their thought. Social
ideas were ultimately exchanged among the nations of the world; America
imported ideas of other nations but adapted them to its own purpose.
Progressives didn't necessarily mean to do away with or radically change the
system, but they did wish to exclude aspects of society from the established
market system (e.g., children).
2: The Atlantic World
Expansion of industrial capitalism and, despite strong nationalisms, a new
understanding of common histories and vulnerabilities made the North Atlantic
progressive connection possible.
Late-19th century American sensibilities had seen America and
Europe as polar opposites; however, in the last decade, new juxtapositions
were formed (Old World tyranny-->cultured).
Europe began to evolve from 18th century revolutionary institutions
to turn-of-19th century progressive movements. Politicians on both
sides of the Atlantic needed to use social issues. Social policy in America
split along party lines.
International links, mutual examination of policies and competition between
states grew. Some of the links that influenced Americans were: education in
German universities, evangelists, international journals and international
The disconnectedness of America from European processes was the result of
geographic distance. Early-20th century progressives sought to
observe these processes; they saw the European experience as useful.
3: Twilight of Laissez-Faire
Americans came into contact with Laissez-Faire, which in social issues moved
responsibility from politics to markets. Rodgers' discussion shows how
economic doctrines moved across national borders and were reinterpreted.
Laissez-Faire had been highly contested throughout mid-century Europe, as the
trend toward studying economics grew. The American educational experience in
Germany loosened Americans from ethical rigidities.
The American Economic Association was modeled off of Verein für Sozialpolitik
and combined ideological aspects of German economic theorists (e.g., the
possibilities of the state); but it sparked debate between the younger
American economists and the Laisse-Faire economists. The younger,
German-influenced scholars were viewed as subversive.
4: The Self-Owned City
Rodgers discusses the urban movement: cities were places of great social
injustice but also of collectivity.
Issues such as health, sanitation and transportation became major topics of
negotiation, as citizens and politicians attempted to determine a city's
There was mistrust for city ownership and monopolies on services resisted
change, but the socialist municipal movement grew and was influenced by
European movements and policies. These progressives tried to find a place for
municipal control within democracy.
Timing and scale made it difficult for American cities to move toward
municipal control and implementation of European ideas. In transportation, for
example, it was difficult for cities to buy out companies that controlled the
networks (because of the amount of track, volume of passengers who used it,
constitutional limitations on the debt cities could accrue, nature of
Democracy and corruption, etc.).
In the end, municipalization became a successful transatlantic progressive
5: Civic Ambitions
Rodgers discusses how law, politics and property were formative of cityscapes;
he demonstrates how progressives were concerned with city space, shelter and
He sees in New York's grid how the city could facilitate the use of space
without controlling it. Meanwhile, he discusses how European influence, such
as Haussmann's Parisian plan, influenced sensitivity for public space and
Zoning developed as a practice of European origin (British and German), as a
solution to overcrowding in Lower Manhattan, where workers lived and worked.
However, it was also reinterpreted later on for property's purpose, which
contained working neighborhoods where they were.
Americans followed European progressives again in housing, but with little
success in the years prior to World War I. Rodgers argues against traditional
notions of why certain concepts were accepted while others weren't, saying
that decisions were based on a combination of factors relating to "timing,
inertia, precedent, and preemption." Supporting organizations were not in
place in America, the lower classes were fractured by ethnic differences,
property was seen as private and not subject to public regulation, the
Constitution was restrictive, etc.
6: The Wage Earners' Risks
Progressives had been interested in keeping the working poor from slipping
into poverty, but the extreme poor were not actually considered in their
policies. Poor relief had existed much longer (outside of progressive efforts)
and those in poverty were conceptualized by progressives as not belonging to
Mutual and commercial insurance had existed to safeguard against the loss of a
family's wages through death or accident, but its quality was poor and not
all-inclusive. Social insurance, which began in Germany, made the workers'
well being a matter of industrial interest. It included: mandatory
state-administered social insurance, minimum wage limits, suitable workplace
conditions and pensions.
These discussions over wages, risk and welfare in America were inspired by the
early German, and later, British efforts. Real change did not come about until
a multitude of interests were at stake. When it did, the European connection
was essential, though American policy answered to a different set of interests
(in regard to business, commercial insurance companies, etc.).
7: War Collectivism
Progressives feared the loss of their initiatives in the face of World War I
and sought to discover the war's origin. Many tried to find an economic basis
for the war. In the end, they believed that their cause could have prevented
the war and that the war had a social lining.
This ideology forced progressives to link the state, rather that social
organizations, with the common good and to contribute toward war collectivism.
Reconstruction efforts following the war, however, disappointed progressive
expectations that sought to carry over aspects of the war economy (especially
British-inspired reconstruction in labor politics).
After the strikes of 1919, many progressives sought to emulate the British
8: Rural Reconstruction
Prior to the New Deal, agrarian communities were not the target of progressive
reforms, though they were being left behind in the wake of the modernization
of the agricultural market.
Cooperatives were the solution upheld by international reform networks and
were, because of the malleability when crossing national borders, the system
that flourished in the 1920s (it was not anti-capitalist in the US). Rural
Denmark was often the model.
Attempts at rural reconstruction included not only cooperatives but also
restructured farm colonies. Success balanced on overcoming individualism and
on education. However the Danish model "folk" school didn't translate across
American borders (where there was almost no unified "folk" culture to speak of
and the model was in conflict with American individualism). Thus rural
American adult education focused in most of the US on information and
9: The Machine Age
Post-war American reconstruction efforts in France incorporated the work of
American social workers, consumer goods and Fordism.
Europeans began to study the American commercial productivity and
standardization. The European progressives saw mass production as recognizing
the masses as part of the economy (as consumers).
European public and social-modernist housing was inspired by American, Fordist
standardization, though such housing projects didn't exist in the US.
Progressivists sought to implement social-modernist housing projects in
America, but the labor movement was not strong enough.
The market quickly absorbed modernism and it became disassociated with
functionalism in America.
10: New Deal
The New Deal reversed the movement of ideas from Europe to America so that
ideas began to flow more from America to Europe.
Rodgers argues that crisis made room for such an innovative era (seemingly
incoherent in the history of American progressivism) that pulled from a
resource of ready made solutions. Many of these had been created by the
earlier progressives and not been utilized before, so they were formulated and
ready to go. This is how Rodgers proposes that European policy influenced the
New Deal (Social Security being the most enduring). Many of these same
programs that had been developed earlier in Europe were swept over in Europe
during the Depression years.
Even when creating new policy, social knowledge in 1930s America was
constructed off of ideologies that had originated in Europe. The crisis was
responsible for translating ideas across borders.
Rural community planning initiatives were especially quick to take hold and
incorporated many of the initiatives earlier progressives had modeled off of
Rodgers implies that the New Deal made exceptional progress because the US
needed to catch up in social policy with Europe. The US attempted to mask
these European connections
11: London, 1942
Rodgers argues that World War II ended the American involvement in the north
Atlantic social-political era, even though the seeming similarity of post-war
welfare states and the internationalization of American politics would seem to
imply otherwise. He proposes that Americans were no longer listening to the
transatlantic dialogue but were, instead, looking toward the future.
The difference in wartime experience between the Americans and Europeans ended
the possibility that common social experiences would link the nations of the
north Atlantic, as seen in the different receptions of Keynes and the
Instead, the Marshall Plan brought American culture, social practice and
consumer products glaringly to the attention of Europeans.
American progressivism didn't end, but it no longer looked toward Europe for
Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age – Daniel
functions not as a barrier but as a connective life-line for the movement of
people goods Ideas and aspirations.
Progressivism as – the rise of interventionist state due to the shock of
particularly rapid industrialization, the thin and distended nature of the
mid-nineteenth century American state and society, the status anxieties of a
declining middle class, the scientistic ambitions of a new elite of experts and
professionals, the social maternalism of middle-class women, the demands from
below of farmers and wage workers, and the demands of industrial capitalists at
the top for a more rationalized social order than capitalist competition by
itself could create.
reconstruction of American social politics was part of the movement of politics
and ideas throughout the North Atlantic world that trade and capitalism had tied
periodizes this phenomenon from the 1870s through World War II. During this time
Rodgers argues the American politics was peculiarly open to foreign models and
imported ideas. The North Atlantic economy formed a world mart of useful and
The making of
this Atlantic connection hinged on a new set of institutional connections with
the industrializing nations of Europe. It required new sorts of brokers to span
the connection as well as an intellectual shift – a sense of complicity with
historical forces larger than the US.
acknowledge that some ideas did not successfully traverse the Atlantic and died
mid-passage while other successfully made it, and others transformed into a
particularly American form.
historiography to which Rodgers is responding
For the earliest historians social politics key arena was where individual
conscience came up against the cruelties, miseries, injustices, and
inefficiencies of modern life. – narrative that reflected the reformers own
The social scientists who pioneered the study of comparative social politics
in the decade after WWII had little use for these local, biographical
contexts. Steeped in theories of global process, their framework was
international. 1950s and 60s
As post-war welfare states came under heavy attack in Europe and North America
in the difficult economic times of the 1970s politics was emphasized as the
central analytical focus of social politics. This was in part because class
was thrust as the center of social-political analysis. This produced several
trends in the historiography from this decade.
central story in social politics was an infusion of power from the bottom
to this type of theory is backlash that more often it is imposed as a set of
rescue operations from above.
cluster entered the debate sympathetic to the left’s stress on structures
but unconvinced of the captivity of the state to the economic interests
arrayed around it. This “institution political process” approach to social
politics is now characterized by close attention to the structures of
politics along several dimensions: the administrative capacities of the
state, the composition of parties and electorates, and the structurally
embedded legacies of past policy decisions.
that look at social policy from the recipients end another theme emerged:
that those agents of social policy are not merely administer justice, but
impose discipline as well. The very act of separating people into class
groups serves to divide and survey the recipients of the state’s assistance.
identifies a group of people that while not law makers or politicians they were
middle class intellectuals for the most part. They did not administer social
policy; nowhere did they control legislative outcomes. Their proposals were
never advanced except to be battered and recast by those who possessed not
policy notions but interests. Yet without the production if proposals, without
their intellectual work in framing the terms of debate, social politics could
not have transpired. Rodgers focuses on these people feeling that state-centered
analyses of social politics in this period have not adequately fathomed how
indistinct the line between state and society remained throughout most of Europe
and the US, how thin the apparatus of state management was, and how reliant it
was on temporary and borrowed expertise. Even for the principal architects of
social politics government services typically figured as an episode rather than
to Rodgers the market was the thread that wove social politics endeavors
together. Whether it was a child labor crusade, the economist’s campaign to
municipalize monopolies, the city planner’s attempt to mitigate the claims of
price over the uses of urban land, the housing reformers’ conviction that the
working poor would never be adequately sheltered through the unchecked play of
the urban land and building markets, the agricultural reformer’s struggle to
socialize the atomized conditions of rural exchange, or the social insurance
expert’s effort to mitigate the risks of commodified labor.
He breaks it
down into 2 opposing camps: the promotionalists (those who promoted business’
interests) versus the social politicians. And says that the battle between the 2
factions was played out throughout the North Atlantic world.
identified three conditions that caused Americans to tailor the progressive
programs they adopted to make them their own because 1) American progressives
had to get past their veil of cultural distance and potential misperceptions and
2) they had to trim their borrowings to fit their sense of American conditions
and distinctiveness and 3) transform each borrowing because of distinctive
pressures of American political circumstances.
phenomena of 19th century North Atlantic made the progressive
The rapidly convergent economic industrial development of the key nations of
the North Atlantic basin created similar economic, labor and social
conditions. Industrialization, urbanization, rural depopulation and class
rigidification (creation of middle and working classes as well as distinct
“labor” identity) and differences all were outcomes of the industrial
revolution on both sides of the Atlantic.
new understanding of common histories and vulnerabilities. The new Atlantic
wide economy encouraged new Atlantic-wide politics. In France England and the
US political parties and politicians were coming up with plans to curb the
influence (and in some cases dominance) of these industrial powers.
politics in the North Atlantic economy had its own international dynamics and
institutions. In Europe they were constituted by:
legislation passed form one nation to another sometimes despite acute distrust
the international conference of like-minded reformists whether expert or
public or private inspection visits to industries on neighboring countries
influential publicists with a keen interest in other nation’s social policies
had not automatic access to the networks and discussions taking shape in Europe.
The distance that held them at arm’s length was both physical and cultural.
These distances began to be breached however through various mechanisms:
channel through study abroad – a generation of American students studies
economics and social science abroad, mainly in Germany.
Labor who made key investigations into the question of comparative standards
of living in European countries.
gospel movement – Fabian Society, German evangelical Social Congress, and
other agents of Social Protestantism.
Socialism – broad-based working-class socialist movement
of Liberal and progressive opinion
after the turn of the century specially commissioned investigations by
groups such as the National Civic Federation, the American Federation of
Labor, and the National Association of Manufacturers.
points out an asymmetry in the transfer of ideas: the flow was heavily weighted
toward transmission of ideas from Europe to America. Some of the reasons were
Contracted interest in American progressivism
Europeans believed Americans backward
the physical difference American progressives
rarely saw anything in the working phase – they always saw finished
because they were continually surprised by what their sense of
behindhandedness was reinforced.
of socialism with regard to what the students of economics in Germany learned:
not class centered but at heart ethical. “Socialism was the antonym of
competitive individualism: an extension of the social idea that had struck them
abroad. Socialism meant revolt against the “each one for himself” doctrine in
economics…It meant a wider scope for the “forces which tend to weld society
together and to render the idea of self subservient to that of the common weal.”
of urbanization caused cities to be the sites of social-political mobilization,
experiment and controversy. Water, streets, trolley cars, public baths,
gasworks, and housing were areas of contestation. Questions of who should
control these public works the trans-Atlantic revolt against laissez-faire and
predatory commercial interest were enacted.
In the United
States government moderation of public works less extensive than that of
European countries because 1) timing and extensive nature of private interest 2)
lack of blanket prohibition that kept American cities from the development of
municipally owned enterprises and 3) corruption in the government
the creation of aesthetically pleasing city lay-out – street design, public
buildings, cityscapes all important on both sides of the Atlantic.
style acquisition of public land on the city’s rim
European inspired architecture in Chicago World Fair in 1893, layout of Central
Park in NYC
of creating recreation space in urban settings as well as affordable subsidized
street planning and zoning were adopted by Americans. The idea of subsidized
housing however did not make it across the Atlantic for a myriad of reasons: 1)
private property laws 2) no lobby for limited-profit housing – funds for
philanthropic housing small.
working regulations – health and death insurance, public relief, pensions, wages
and workplace conditions.
legislation, minimum wage, and pensions for the blameless poor, contained by
gender boundaries though they were, were all absorbed into American policy. The
contested area was social insurance – where worker’s well-being became
industry’s responsibility. Voluntary mutual insurance was o.k.
progressives experienced the outbreak to World War I with dismay. The collapse
of the progressive social agenda seemed complete in Europe. American
progressives were offered an example of the war-time collectivized state by
Woodrow Wilson. Momentarily the anti-state attitude of progressives was set
labor achieved leverage because of the government’s need for good relations
between labor and industry for war-time production
government subsidized housing for war-industry workers
war-time changes happened on both sides of the Atlantic and portions of them
retained after the war had ended. Labor became radicalized as employers
attempted to roll back the advances they had made during the war and strikes
broke out in European nations and the US. In the United States labor was
especially radicalized. The ensuing Red Scare and anti-communist targeting of
Progressive approach made the conflict more virulent than in Britain. In America
there was also a political union of intellectuals and labor occurred
the lead in Progressivism after World War I, and it is at this time that the
change in the flow of ideas takes place. This change happens alongside the
export of American goods to Europe, a phenomenon facilitated by mass production
of the assembly line. Another reason was the flood of American social workers to
Europe in order to help rebuild the war-torn nations – “Fordism” Measured by
access to consumer goods, the advantages of American over European wager earners
was now a fact. The US had invented a mass-production economy without
antagonistic class interests, without inherent political warfare, without hard
political trade-offs. Fordism invaded Europe as a progressive idea: future
oriented, flexible and melioristic.
The New Deal
solidified the role of America as the beacon of Progressive light in the world
arena. The New Deal went farther than ever before in intervention of state
policy in economic matters. The state sponsored relief programs were unmatched
in European nations during the Depression.
with Americans bestride the world and the fortunes of the European social
democracies diminished, with the hazards of the Cold War politics, and a new
exceptionalist literature growing in historical and political science circles,
with the markets working miracles of abundance that seemed uniquely American,
the transatlantic progressive connection’s ability to shape the agenda of
politics no longer had as much force.
- Do you
accept Rodgers' argument?
this book fit in with the previous historiography on progressivism? Why is it
important? How does Rodgers define Progressivism? Is it mainly social or
domestic concerns change progressive policy as it traverses the Atlantic? Does
Rodgers provide a satisfactory explanation?
Atlantic approach, Latin America is obviously left out. Do you think this is a
detriment? Do you think Latin America would fit into Rodger’s thesis?
ethnicity and race fit into Rodger’s analysis? Is it present at all? If it
isn’t, how would its inclusion affect the telling of this particular story?
basically discusses the mutual flow of progressive ideas between Western
Europe and the United States, but this flow is not mutual – in the beginning
it is from Europe to the US and after WWI it is mostly from the US to Europe.
Does this affect Rodger’s thesis at all?
mainly an intellectual history, what are the natural biases of intellectual
histories such as this one?
fact that it is mainly a self-selecting intellectual class that Rodger’s is
examining a liability of his approach?
Rodgers Atlantic history approach affect the way historical events are
discussed? How could it be used in other disciplines of history? What are the
benefits and detriments in this type of evaluation