Brett Williams's Reviews > The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America

The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn
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This 3.6 star book is informative for our current populist movement. With just a little history external to this text it becomes ever clearer that a sizable fraction of governance is an unending exercise in damping realignments of passion and grievance, sometimes valid, sometimes not. Consider the author’s example: “The old Jacksonian resonances…containing as they did the Jeffersonian vs. Federalist struggle, were all but obliterated by the massive realignment [of Civil War]. The memories and even some of the slogans of ancestral debates still persisted in the postwar American ethos, but they no longer possessed a secure political home. Sectional, religious, and racial loyalties and prejudices were used to organize the two major parties…that ignored the economic interests of millions.” Sound familiar? Fast forward 120 years to American Democrats today, once champions of our working class against descendants of robber barons of this earlier 1880-1900 agrarian revolt, a Democratic party now obsessed with identity politics of race, gender, minorities and victims real or invented. Compared to Republicans, onetime promoters of fiscal responsibility, Constitutional government, and Christian morality, now violators of it all, despite they still parrot the old slogans.

We see the mutation of these clans can be remarkably fluid. “The urban working class of the North, which fought for the Union,” writes the author, instead “voted in heavy majorities for the rebel-tainted Democratic Party [of the South].” Why? Because “adrift in a sea of Yankee Protestant Republicanism, the overwhelmingly Catholic urban workers clustered defensively in makeshift political lifeboats.” (Oh, of course.) Which then got a counter response from the Protestants to vote Republican “against the ‘immigrant hordes’ who voted Democratic.” (Ah huh…)

For me the author could have much attenuated his 1970s-style intro which acts as a soapbox from which to preach against representative republican democracy, instead for his favored direct democracy which could never work in a large republic and nobody wants it anyway, least of all work-addicted Americans. I’ve no quarrel with his opposition to the malignancy of growing oligarchy, more now than 43 years ago when he wrote this, but his recipe for and implicit support of revolutions against cultural deference as though it were oppression made me want to gag a little on tired-now-revived post-60s naiveté. Though he does recognize the problem: “Revolutionaries, like other humans, do not yearn to spend their lives fighting down counter revolutionaries.” No kidding. We had a good one already in 1776. Better to fix what we got through return to its founding principles to avoid those of the kind we had in 1861.
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Reading Progress

November 30, 2016 – Started Reading
November 30, 2016 – Shelved
January 5, 2019 – Finished Reading

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