Stacy Dorgan notes for 2/18/04 


Rodgers, Daniel T., Transatlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age 


Study Questions:



Chapter 1: Paris: 1900

Chapter 2: The Atlantic World

Chapter 3: Twilight of Laissez-Faire

Chapter 4: The Self-Owned City

Chapter 5: Civic Ambitions

Chapter 6: The Wage Earners' Risks

Chapter 7: War Collectivism

Chapter 8: Rural Reconstruction

Chapter 9: The Machine Age

Chapter 10: New Deal

Chapter 11: London, 1942


Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age – Daniel Rodgers 


Atlantic functions not as a barrier but as a connective life-line for the movement of people goods Ideas and aspirations. 

Defines 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. 

This 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 together.

Rodgers 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 interesting experiments. 

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. 

Rodgers does 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. 

Older historiography to which Rodgers is responding

  1. 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 stories
  2. 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
  3. 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.
    1. The central story in social politics was an infusion of power from the bottom up.
    2. Response to this type of theory is backlash that more often it is imposed as a set of rescue operations from above.
    3. third 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.
    4. From those 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.

Rodgers 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 a career. 

According 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. 

Rodgers 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.

Two phenomena of 19th century North Atlantic made the progressive connection possible:

  1. 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.
  2. A 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.

 Progressive politics in the North Atlantic economy had its own international dynamics and institutions. In Europe they were constituted by:

  1. legislation passed form one nation to another sometimes despite acute distrust and rivalry
  2. the international conference of like-minded reformists whether expert or amateur
  3. public or private inspection visits to industries on neighboring countries
  4. influential publicists with a keen interest in other nation’s social policies

 Americans 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:

    1. An early channel through study abroad – a generation of American students studies economics and social science abroad, mainly in Germany.
    2. Bureau of Labor who made key investigations into the question of comparative standards of living in European countries.
    3. The social gospel movement – Fabian Society, German evangelical Social Congress, and other agents of Social Protestantism.
    1. settlement house movement
    2. Democratic Socialism – broad-based working-class socialist movement
    1. International Conferences
    2. Journals of Liberal and progressive opinion
    3. Later on 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.

 Rodgers 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

  1. Contracted interest in American progressivism
  2. Europeans believed Americans backward

 Because of the physical difference American progressives

  1. rarely saw anything in the working phase – they always saw finished institutions
  2. because they were continually surprised by what their sense of behindhandedness was reinforced.


Definition 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.” (p. 100) 


The process 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 

Civic Planning

Emphasis on the creation of aesthetically pleasing city lay-out – street design, public buildings, cityscapes all important on both sides of the Atlantic.

Haussmann in Paris

German style acquisition of public land on the city’s rim

Creation of European inspired architecture in Chicago World Fair in 1893, layout of Central Park in NYC 

Also concern of creating recreation space in urban settings as well as affordable subsidized housing.

Monumental 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. 

Labor Laws

Push for working regulations – health and death insurance, public relief, pensions, wages and workplace conditions. 

Factory 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. 

World War I

American 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 aside.

  1. labor achieved leverage because of the government’s need for good relations between labor and industry for war-time production
  2. government subsidized housing for war-industry workers

These 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  

Americans take 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. 

After WWII 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.