The Challenges Of Modernity

Submitted By hunterrowe
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03. The Challenges of Modernity

- Americans living in 1877 felt dismayed by the chaos they were witnessing o “Great Uprising” of 1877 was an ominous sign of what was to come o Americans liked to view themselves as a classless society, but by 1877, it was hard to ignore the class tensions and the growing disparity of wealth o Influential Americans expressed concern that disgruntled workers might reject capitalism and violently turn to socialism or communism—the foundations of American society were under attack
- Americans living in the late 19th century had a much different relationship to government and conception of what government should do than we do today—huge paradigm shift o We expect things out of our government that were unheard of coming out of the Civil War when government was miniscule
The Shifting Sands of Gilded Age America
- Americans’ life was being transformed o Shifts from agriculture to industry, from artisan and household production to a reliance on mass produced goods, from water and animal power to fossil fuels, from country living to city living, from economic independence to wage dependence o New technology—telegraphs and railroads—links the nation and allows for the creation of a national market o Introduction of mass culture o Everything was in flux—race relations, gender roles, the ethnic makeup of the country, the role of religion
- For some Americans, the changes are improving the quality of their life considerably o Era of the Robber Barons o Ostentatious displays of wealth, or “conspicuous consumption” (Thorstein Veblen) o Examples: Consuelo Vanderbilt and Biltmore
- But industrialization, while bringing tremendous benefits for a few, is having a negative impact on others o Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives
- Name we often assign to this period—“the Gilded Age” o Term coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner o Suggested that there was a dark underside to the industrial development that nation was experiencing—if you scratch away the gold you find the real object and that was not always so pretty o Gilded Age was marked by great wealth but also by great poverty—gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” would widen considerably during the last decades of the century
- The federal government, created at a different time in a very different environment, would have to adapt and would have to do so quite rapidly
- We refer to this as the creation of a modern American state
Nineteenth Century Liberalism and Its Limitations
- Definition
- In modern usage, “liberal” is a loaded term, opposite “conservative”
- 19th century usage was rooted in classical liberalism, which comes from the Latin word liberalis, meaning “of freedom”
- Liberal and liberty share the same root and liberalism is grounded in a notion of freedom
- Today’s liberalism assumes that government is a necessary force in providing and protecting freedom, broadly defined to include prosperity
• Government takes an active role in regulating the economy and protecting civil rights of minorities
- 19th century liberalism stemmed from the nation’s recent experience as a colonial subject
- US was founded in rebellion against tyrannical king
- 19th century liberalism emphasized constitutional checks and balances and guarded against the arbitrary power of centralized authority
- Throughout the 19th century, government remained small and largely decentralized
- Most authority was reserved to the states, but really local governments played the biggest role
- Laissez-Faire Economic Policy
- During the Gilded Age, liberalism particularly translated into a belief that government should NOT interfere in the marketplace
- Belief in the free market; comes from the French, meaning “let do” or “leave it alone”
• Market should be regulated solely by supply and demand
- Pure capitalism—no government interference—market is regulated solely by supply and demand
- In general there was strong