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The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  393 ratings  ·  76 reviews
A groundbreaking investigation of how and why, from the 18th century to the present day, American resistance to our ruling elites has vanished.

From the American Revolution through the Civil Rights movement, Americans have long mobilized against political, social, and economic privilege. Hierarchies based on inheritance, wealth, and political preferment were treated as obn
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published February 17th 2015 by Little, Brown and Company (first published February 1st 2015)
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Emma Sea
Mar 18, 2015 marked it as on-hiatus
I'm blaming this book for my experience of the last two days; hiding in bed without showering or speaking to humans and pretending the exterior universe is not present. Fuck. Just incredibly depressing and full of systematised injustices.

Bryan Alexander
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
How did Americans react to economic inequality in the past? Why do we not rise up in the present? Answering those questions is the task of The Age of Acquiescence.

The first two-thirds concern that first question. Fraser surveys how Americans perceived and often organized against economic inequality from the 1700s through the early 20th century.

This is useful stuff, a tour of labor movements, political parties, key thinkers, strikes, suppressions, and trials. We read of Haymarket and the Pullman
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Age of Acquiescence

First, Steve Fraser has a word for us to learn: “Precariat.” You can probably see the word from which this portmanteau derives, in turn riffing on “proletariat.” Yes, we are the class of the precarious.

So, why didn’t more Americans join Occupy Wall Street a few years back, or start their own, similar movements? That’s the thesis of this book.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is Chapter 10, titled “Fables of Freedom: Brand X.” Of course, branding and its adjunct, marke
Jul 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Good, but could have been better. Fraser articulates an interesting question - why was the first Gilded Age so contentious and our current Gilded Age so quiescent? - but writes (and overwrites) around the answer. This book desperately needed better editing, particularly in the first half which was painfully, almost unbearably overwritten. I'm glad I made it through the first half, because I thought his account of our current issues was much better written and much more interesting. Still, I don' ...more
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The first book in a long time to actually scare me....mandatory reading.
Mar 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: analysis
I was hoping for more. Fraser does a workmanlike, if somewhat inflated, job of comparing the gilded age of the long 19th century and our current gilded age. The traditional gilded age of the long 19th century of course included a strong labor movement, strikes, small insurrections and flirtations with socialism. Our current gilded age is one of acquiescence. Fraser does a credible job of analyzing our current powerlessness and dehumanization, but I was hoping for more insight into precisely why ...more
Victoria Waddle
May 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
I picked up Age of Acquiescence because it was recommended as a companion work to Capital in the 21st Century. Age of Acquiescence is also certainly worth the long read although its focus is narrower. Its author, Steve Fraser, asks a basic and important question: Why isn’t there an American movement that rails against the economic disparity that we see in the 21st century? Why are we ‘acquiescing’ to the monied and the very powerful, to the inequalities that stem from capitalism as we practice i ...more
Apr 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
The first half of this book is a tour de force, a biting, outraged history of the rise of industrial capitalism in the US and the multitudes of organized resistance to that power that created an unceasing tension in the American landscape for more than 5 decades straight.

The second half is necessarily bleaker. Fraser appears to have succumbed to some of the fatalism he diagnoses in contemporary America's non-response to the unending corrosion of the working class and the wholesale destruction of
Mitrik Spanner
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
After hearing the author interviewed on National Public Radio I wanted to dislike this book. I came away feeling that this would be just another left-liberal attack on capitalism. I was wrong. In fact Fraser mostly won me over to his point of view. This book is an attack on capitalism, however the author's reasoning is much different from what is normally presented, and as such it deserves our attention.

What got me was a sense that the author has genuine, humane feelings about the circumstances
Mar 30, 2015 rated it liked it
"Freedom is the promissory note issued in return for willing assent."

"Primitive accumulation in America has again and again found justification in the psychic netherworld of racial phobia."

"'On the shoals of roast beef and apple pie socialistic utopias of every sort are sent to their doom'" - Werner Sombart

"What is therefore most pernicious about the recent ascendancy of free market thinking is perhaps not so much the triumph of its public policies. Rather, it is how its spirit of self-seeking h
May 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2-star, non-fiction, 2016
read to 100 pages and quit. this shit is dense. and I'm not afraid of density, but Fraser writes with no variation in tone or style; every single sentence is formed like the one before it and the one after it and it's just unrelenting and, honestly, not as interesting as I wanted it to be. He prefers sweeping statements (like "This affected the carriage makers, the taverns, the farmland both great and small" -- I paraphrase, I don't have the book nearby). After few dozen broad strokes I started ...more
This book covers the erosion of the role of a franchised citizen to that of a consumer. This dance has been going on at least since the beginning of the 20th Century. It's not a new phenomenon, but seems to get looked over in times of trouble (scarcity), because everyone is scrambling to get what they can, and times when economic prosperity brings an abundance of products - so why rock the boat?

It starts out by grounding the narrative in a walk through the history of acquiescence which highligh
Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
A densely written informational book about the relationship between the working class and the wealthy capitalist that for the most part control their economic fate. This covers the period from the end of the Civil War to the present. The principal thesis as indicated in the title is that historically workers used strikes, violence and other means to voice their displeasure. Now, starting in the Reagan years people are working longer hours with less pay and benefits and are taking it without a w ...more
Alan Zundel
Dec 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Why aren’t the majority of U.S. citizens rising up against their gradual (or not so gradual) impoverishment under the current economic system? That’s the question Steve Fraser sets out to answer in his book from earlier this year, “The Age of Acquiescence.”

It might look like an ill-timed question, given the surprising mass support for the Presidential campaign of self-described democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders later in the year. But the impoverishment has been going on nearly fifty ye
May 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
I don't think I can recommend this book. It was a struggle to get through. It's not the content (although that is depressing, it's not fundamentally different from the other books I choose to read), and Fraser definitely knows his material. It's the style. One reviewer called it "dense"--it is, but being dense isn't inherently bad. It's (as another reviewer put it) "overwritten." I actually like academic writing, but not when it's this turgid. This book would probably work for you if you have a ...more
Wiebke Kuhn
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a very dense book, with lots of historical context packaged frequently in fun and creative language.
The point of the book is the comparison of the two gilded ages - the historical Gilded Age is the second part of the 19th century, leading into WWI and up to the 1929 Great Depression, marked by the US version of the industrial revolution, its dealing with labor, its oppression of women and men fighting for their rights, and it pacification of the poor through the New Deal, thus saving cap
Dustless Walnut
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
Very little said with a whole lot of words. Industrialism was evil, but then deindustrialism is evil too. I really just don't get what the thesis is. People aren't organizing against wealth/power? Even in 2015 this book wouldn't have made sense, but in 2020 it's utter nonsense. Wish I had DNF'd this, kept holding out for some relevancy or overarching purpose but it never appeared. ...more
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So incredibly insightful and informative. A great history of the US economy, the US's relationship with labor, and the political ties to both. Highly recommend! ...more
After reading this provocative, engaging, well researched book I can't decide whether to crawl in my bomb shelter and give up or start raging against the Acquiescence. Being an old boomer who was proactive in the 60's my inclination is to rage. My parents and their siblings, products of the "Great Depression", are dead. This book reiterated their situation, their trials. I remember their stories, their thrift. I also happen to live in an area that was/is the embodiment of the First Gilded Age. P ...more
Lee Harold
Mar 22, 2015 rated it liked it
I wanted this book to be great because I've been looking for an examination of the late 19th century culture of pro-labor protests and why we don't see the same kind of ground-level activism today (aside from the short-lived Occupy Wall Street).

Fraser does a credible job covering the history around the first Gilded Age, although at times he seems to take for granted a certain level of knowledge on the part of the reader. For example, William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech is counted as
Screaming Viking
This is an unforgettably caustic read by a great despiser. Not to be missed.

"The ubiquity of market thinking has transformed combative political instincts into commercial or personalized ones or both. Environmental despoiling arouses righteous eating; cultural decay inspires charter schools; rebellion against work becomes work as a form of rebellion; old-form anti-clericalism morphs into the piety of the secular; the break with convention ends up as the politics of style; the cri de coeur agains
Baal Of
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a depressing book. I'm glad I read it, because it has helped me understand just how it is that people really think that cutting taxes for the rich will benefit everyone, even though it is well demonstrated by this point that it does no such thing. It has helped me understand dozens of more aspects of just how American society has surrendered to the power of wealth, all the while trumpeting freedom. That's not to say that I understand all this shit, because I don't. There's just so much comp ...more
Apr 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
I had assumed the central thesis of this book was 'Why is the resistance to wealth in 1900 absent in 2015?'. But this question is only addressed in the last 2 chapters. The rest is a competent history of the organized labor movement 1890-1920 that implies that it was the speed of dramatic societal shocks from the industrial revolution that contributed to labor movement more than just pure injustice/inequality that united the lower classes; The gilded age of 2015 has just been slow frog boiling f ...more
Jenni Link
Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it
In two parts - one on social/economic justice action during the Gilded Age, the other on the relative lack of such action, or even much focused public resentment of economic inequality in today's 'second Gilded Age' - Fraser outlines a number of patterns of thought, public policy, economic development, and public discourse that help explain the American public's acceptance and even celebration of the supremacy of the 1%. This was a slog at times. It could have used a good edit, both for length a ...more
D.L. Morrese
Oct 25, 2015 rated it liked it
How similar is the current U.S. economic situation with that of a century ago? You know, the Gilded Age, with its great disparity between rich and poor, the rise and ultimate fall of the stock market, the resulting home foreclosures, unemployment, business failures. It's a fascinating question, but if you're looking for a clear and succinct answer, it's not here. Sometimes the prose used in this book seems almost intentionally meant to obfuscate the points it is trying to make. It's not an easy ...more
Brian Morris
Oct 20, 2015 rated it liked it
This book sets out to answer a very interesting question: why did the Gilded Age produce a vigorous and often violent pushback from the populace while today's age of increasing inequality has only generated a few whimpers like the Occupy movement? The author has a lot of fascinating insights into this question, and I enjoyed reading about the differences and similarities between the two times. But the writing was a little overdone for me. It was an exhausting read at times. ...more
Oct 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
A great read on where we came from and how it is we ended up as powerless and impoverished as we are increasingly becoming. Should be the standard American history text for all U.S. high school curriculums.
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sad account of how this resistance has shriveled and (all but) died in the USA. The New Gilded Age is in full swing, the owners of the government and practically all property and wealth, have unchallenged power over everyone else.
Jan 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Didn't feel like it really taught me anything I didn't already know. Also jumped all over the place like a lot of books on contemporary political/social issues. ...more
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. On one hand I learned a lot about resistance movements throughout U.S. history, and Fraser tackles the how/why aspects of the normalization of complacency in much of American culture. But at most times Fraser was very one-sided, and stated his observations about social evolution, capitalism, hierarchy, consumer culture ,and American ideologies as though they were concrete and not debatable.

I really appreciated the thorough research that went into putting
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Steve Fraser is an author, an editor, and a historian whose many publications include the award-winning books Labor Will Rule: Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor and Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life. He is senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and cofounder of the American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books. He has written for the New York Ti ...more

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“The all-consuming selves we take for granted today are “merely empty receptacles of desire.” Infinitely plastic and decentered, the modern citizen of the republic of consumption lives on slippery terrain, journeying to nowhere in particular. So too, nothing could be more corrosive of the kinds of social sympathy and connectedness that constitute the emotional substructure of collective resistance and rebellion.
Instead, consumer culture cultivates a politics of style and identity focused on the rights and inner psychic freedom of the individual, one not comfortable with an older ethos of social rather than individual liberation. On the contrary, it tends to infantilize, encouraging insatiable cravings for more and more novel forms of a faux self-expression. The individuality it promises is a kind of perpetual tease, nowadays generating, for example, an ever-expanding galaxy of internet apps leaving in their wake a residue of chronic anticipation. Hibernating inside this “material girl” quest for more stuff and self-improvement is a sacramental quest for transcendence, reveries of what might be, a “transubstantiation of goods, using products and gear to create a magical realm in which all is harmony, happiness, and contentment… in which their best and most admirable self will emerge at last.” The privatization of utopia! Still, what else is there?”
“In a sense, the farmer was the looniest speculator in a nation overrun with them. He was wagering he would master this fathomlessly intricate global game, pay off his many debts, and come out with enough extra to play another round. On top of that, he was betting on the kindness of Mother Nature, always supremely risky. But the farmer had no choice if he hoped to sustain himself and a way of life, the family farm. Instead, he was drawn into a kind of social suicide. The family farm and the whole network of small-town life that it patronized were being washed away into the rivers of capital and credit that flowed toward the railroads, banks, and commodity exchanges, toward the granaries, wholesalers, and numerous other intermediaries that stood between the farmer and the world market. Disappearing into all the reservoirs of capital accumulation, the family farm increasingly remained a privileged way of life only in sentimental memory.

Perversely the dynamic Lincoln had described as the pathway out of dependency—spending a few years earning wages, saving up, buying a competency, and finally hiring others—now operated in reverse. Starting out as independent farmers, families then slipped inexorably downward, first mortgaging the homestead, then failing under intense pressure to support that mortgage (they called themselves “mortgage slaves”) and falling into tenancy—or into sharecropping if in the South—and finally ending where Lincoln’s story began, as dispossessed farm and migrant laborers.”
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