Free books Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, & American Economics in the Progressive Era –

In Illiberal Reformers, Thomas Leonard reexamines the economic progressives whose ideas and reform agenda underwrote the Progressive Era dismantling of laissez faire and the creation of the regulatory welfare state, which, they believed, would humanize and rationalize industrial capitalism But not for all Academic social scientists such as Richard T Ely, John R Commons, and Edward A Ross, together with their reform allies in social work, charity, journalism, and law, played a pivotal role in establishing minimum wage and maximum hours laws, workmen s compensation, antitrust regulation, and other hallmarks of the regulatory welfare state But even as they offered uplift to some, economic progressives advocated exclusion for others, and did both in the name of progress Leonard meticulously reconstructs the influence of Darwinism, racial science, and eugenics on scholars and activists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing a reform community deeply ambivalent about America s poor Illiberal Reformers shows that the intellectual champions of the regulatory welfare state proposed using it not to help those they portrayed as hereditary inferiors but to exclude them

15 thoughts on “Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, & American Economics in the Progressive Era

  1. Ricky Ricky says:

    What a very interesting and educative book this is Given the preponderance of progressive ideology in current UK culture and politics, I thoroughly recommend it to anyone that wishes to explore its origins and dangers This book details what has become known as the progressive era in American politics In particular, it spanned the years 1890 1920, and saw a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States The main objectives of the Progressive movement, were addressing problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption.Originally, it was an Evangelical movement, that wanted to do good in the world The protest of the progressives originated not out of personal suffering but rather out of moral and intellectual discontent with the suffering and enrichment of others This do gooder attitude had a superiority complex at its heart, as found in most religions Later the movement became associated with secular preferences, yet retained its religious zeal The progressives urge to reform America sprang from an evangelical compulsion to set the world to rights, and they unabashedly described their purposes as a Christian mission to build a Kingdom of Heaven on earth In the language of the day, they preached a social gospel It was a movement that saw a problem with the individual humanism that existed in the United states, and wished to replace it with a German efficiency Many in the movement were inspired by Darwinian theory, and the US President, Woodrow Wilson, saw the government as a living organism accountable to Darwin not to Newton The movement promoted Economics as a scientific study , often requiring its students to study in Germany Germany exposed the young Americans to the ideas of the German Historical School of political economy, with its positive view of state economic intervention, quintessentially compulsory insurance against sickness, industrial accidents, debility, and old age Most of their German professors were hostile to the idea of natural economic laws, which they disparaged as English economics, a swipe at the classically liberal tendency of political economy in Great Britain John R Commons said that social progress required the individual to be controlled, liberated, and expanded by collective action Columbia progressive economist Henry R Seager declared that the industrial economy had simply obviated the creed of individualism Individuals, Ross maintained, were but plastic lumps of human dough, to be formed on the great social kneading board Economics, Seligman told his receptive confreres, was going to be the basis of social progress, and economists were going to be the creators of the future indeed, they would be the philosophers of American social life A grateful public would pay deference to the economist s expertise In essence, progressives had a mechanistic view of human nature, that abhorred free will and saw people as human ants , or cogs in an economic machine On the whole, they despised democracy, promoting an aristocratic expert governing elite of betters on a second class citizenry They had little to no regard for individual people, preferring to substitute Social Darwinian attitudes In a separate article, Mistaking Eugenics for Social Darwinism , Leonard distinguishes the original Darwinian theories from those emanating from Herbert Spencer s Survival of the fittest It was the latter that led to Eugenics, a set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population, typically by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior and promoting those judged to be superior The eventual destination of eugenics was found amongst Germany s most infamous leader, Adolf Hitler There, he adopted a racist ideology that saw the Aryan race as the superior race, and led to the extermination of millions of Jews, Disabled, Gipsies and other groups deemed inferior.The question that needs to be asked of today s progressives is whether they still see themselves as morally superior In adopting a creed, such as hate speech , do they view anyone who dissents as an inferior human being Worse still, as a lesser person If so, the racism, so evident in early progressive ideology, is still there albeit camouflaged by adherence to the creed of Critical Theory , where the whites have replaced the blacks and men have replaced women as the underclass.This book is a warning to all those who flock, without thinking, to a progressive political ideology Be careful that, in a wish to do good, you do not do irrevocable harm instead For instance, look at the current deference being paid to the SAGE Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies group advising government on its Covid 19 strategy Are we becoming too reliant on experts and their scientific models Are epidemiologists the new economists Have we lost confidence in common sense and allowed ourselves to lose our liberties without debate

  2. 木村 貴 木村 貴 says:

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  3. Monocled Libertarian Monocled Libertarian says:

    If you want to know about the origins of progressivism and its illiberal ideals and policies from the over arching presence of eugenics to economic interventionism , this is a great resource to learn about it People are increasingly and justifiably questioning the results of progressive policies With this book, readers learn about the academic and political culture and mindset that gave way to such policies If you care about such things, I personally highly recommended.

  4. Jeffrey Tucker Jeffrey Tucker says:

    This book is a mind bender, not only because this history is largely unknown but also because it scrambles everything you think you know about the right, the left, race, gender, regulation, labor law, and much else My own takeaway concerns new insight into the founding motivation behind the managerial technocratic invasive state that was born during the first two decades of the 20th century It would appear, based on this research, that eugenics and the white supremacy that drove this wicked ideology had much to do with it It was even central It was the scientific consensus I m so grateful to Professor Leonard for doing the hard work here And by the way, I followed up on a number of his sources, reading the original documents against his report If anything, the author slightly downplays the malice and crankishness of the writers he is exposing here Just imagine a whole academic class united in a death wish for non whites, and determined to use the state to carry out its aims here is what is being exposed in this riveting book.

  5. Fats Yamaguchi Fats Yamaguchi says:

    Leonard s survey of the impact of early progressive thought is balanced and well written Others have detailed how the rise of industrialism following the Civil War fostered progressivism, the idea of applying modern and scientific techniques to running government and the economy One such excellent collection is Pestritto and Atto s excellentAmerican Progressivism A Reader What Leonard offers is a focused account of how this new ideology undermined democratic ideals and personal freedoms.Perhaps Leonard s greatest contribution is his inclusion of all sides of the political impact of progressive ideas Today, progressivism is associated exclusively with the left Leonard documents how early progressive ideas also were championed by Republican leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt The idea that systematic policy could be created for the common good by gathering and evaluating data in a scientific manner dates to this era and was a conscious rejection of the previous view of the economy as a self correcting mechanism best left alone Entire new fields of academic study economics, sociology, political science, public administration were developed to provide a cadre of experts to steer government and society.Leonard does an excellent job of tracing how the idea that society must be managed impacted thought and policy in the early twentieth century Darwinian ideas were adapted to fit ideology, with races ranked in status Anglo Saxons presumably the most evolved race were to be encouraged to produce children Lesser races including immigrants from southern Europe, as well as Asians, Africans, and Latinos were to be kept separate, excluded from the gene pool if not from the country altogether Policies from forced sterilization, prohibition, and discouraging women from college and employment all stemmed from the idea of protecting the preferred Anglo Saxon race The needs of the individual were to be subordinated to the good of society as a whole.Leonard ends his account by noting that World War I dealt a heavy blow to early progressivists assurance that progress was inevitable and that social change could be scientifically managed He notes the idea of eugenics has been widely discredited, particularly in the wake of the horrors of Nazi rule and the Second World War The one element that would have added to the value of Illiberal Reformers would have been a brief concluding survey of how progressive ideology evolved in later decades Today, the name progressive and the idea of managing economies and government for social betterment are largely associated with the left Meanwhile, early progressive ideas of race, particularly the view of whites as a superior group facing demographic race suicide are now associated with the fringe right A brief survey of how this split evolved would only have further strengthened this excellent history.

  6. JustinB JustinB says:

    Not a bad book, but here is the truth yes, some of the progressives had eugenics a popular, bad idea of that period subtly and sometimes not embedded into their reform efforts and were not perfectly inclusive, but they still were highly inclusive compared to the rest of society at that time The author seems to discount this a lot, and his anachronistic way of perceiving and in many ways maligning them seems unfair and excessive On this note, what I did appreciate about the author, as a modern progressive myself, is that he did make it clear that not all progressives were racially and exclusionary minded But what he does not address, at all, and this is where the book falters, is the fact that the progressives gifted us all with reforms that we benefit from today including the author himself The Progressives gave us overtime pay, the 40 hour work week, a minimum wage, protection from safety hazards at work, and And he does not provide much space to at least honoring these staples of our society and the good intentions that underlay all of them I mean, if some of the progressives were eugenically minded, at the very least they were also trying to help a significant number of people in the name of compassion and dignity This does not excuse any of their actions or their proclivity for eugenics in any way, but the author seems to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater I find it ironic that many of the book s supporters who use its contents to dismiss all of the Progressives contributions to our society and our lives, excuse President Trump s personal flaws and point to his accomplishments.

  7. M. Steckbeck M. Steckbeck says:

    Leonard uses source material i.e., journal articles, opinion pieces, etc from the writings of those he is discussing There is no conjecture, nor is there any speculative history where Leonard tries to inject what he believes the economists he is writing about are intending to say.John R Commons, Frank W Taussig, and Richard T Ely are just a few of the founders of the American Economic Association that Leonard reveals had pretty extraordinary racist leanings Again, it wasn t uncommon for the time, which is something Leonard regularly explains, but he goes on to show that these pillars of academia and their ideas were considered the top scientific ideas of the period.Leonard also does a great job of explaining the founding of the American Economic Association and its transition from its classical liberal roots to formalistic scientism Wanting to be viewed as a true hard science, which was becoming in vogue at the time, these academics eschewed the moral philosophical heritage of economics and shifted the curriculum toward positive science.I highly recommend this book, and have used it in an undergraduate setting with great success.

  8. Clay Garner Clay Garner says:

    Woodrow Wilson, on the campaign trail in 1912, told voters that it was time for the federal government to be liberated from its outmoded eighteenth century scheme of checks and balances Why liberate government Government, Wilson said, was a living organism, accountable to Darwin, not to Newton Since no living thing can survive when its organs work against one another, a government must be free to adapt to its times, or else it will perish The adaptation Wilson had in mind was to neutralize Congress and consolidate power in a vigorous executive What Neutralize congress Free will for officials and none for people It was a plan he had been elaborating and revising for than thirty years, an early version of which, Congressional Government, he completed while still a graduate student at Johns Hopkins Freedom of humans to freedom for government Wow How did liberal meaning allowing each human to manage and exercise his own free will change to the demand that all individuals submit to the control of experts and government Leonard provides a chilling answer.This is a review of how the progressives moved into the ruling class and removed freedom from American culture in the name of Science Fascinating PART IThe Progressive Ascendancy Redeeming American Economic Life Turning Illiberal Becoming Experts Efficiency in Business and Public AdministrationPART IIThe Progressive ParadoxValuing Labor What Should Labor Get Darwinism in Economic ReformEugenics and Race in Economic ReformExcluding the UnemployableExcluding Immigrants and the UnproductiveExcluding WomenEpilogueFrom the prologue The progressives combined their extravagant faith in science and the state with an outsized confidence in their own expertise as a reliable, even necessary, guide to the public good They were so sure of their own expertise as a necessary guide to the public good, so convinced of the righteousness of their crusade to redeem America, that they rarely considered the unintended consequences of ambitious but untried reforms.Even so, they failed to confront the reality that the experts no less than the partisans, bosses, and industrialists they aimed to unseat could have interests and biases of their own It is important to understand that the progressive campaign to exclude the inferior from employment was not merely the product of an unreflective prejudice Progressive arguments warning of inferiority were deeply informed by elaborate scientific discourses of heredity Darwinism, eugenics, and race science recast spiritual or moral failure as biological inferiority and offered scientific legitimacy to established American hierarchies of race, gender, class, and intellect.Economic progressives were profoundly influenced by Darwin and other evolutionists Chapter 6 shows how the economic progressives and their critics drew deeply on evolutionary science s conceptions of heredity, progress, competition, selection, fitness, organism, and the role of human beings in controlling nature Chapter 7 shows the uses economic progressives made of race science and eugenics, the social control of human breeding.Among other things, biological ideas offered Progressivism a conceptual scheme capable of accommodating the great contradiction at the heart of Progressive Era reform its view of the poor as victims deserving state uplift and as threats requiring state restraint Eugenics and race science are today discredited But the progressive vision of how to govern scientifically under industrial capitalism lives on Expertise in the service of an administrative state, what progressives called social control, has survived the discredited notions once used to uphold it Indeed, it has thrived Chilling Government, Wilson said, was a living organism, accountable to Darwin, not to Newton Since no living thing can survive when its organs work against one another, a government must be free to adapt to its times, or else it will perish The adaptation Wilson had in mind was to neutralize Congress and consolidate power in a vigorous executive 65 Government is alive in a important way than individuals Germany, Russia both adopted this belief at this time Hitler, Stalin destroyed 30 million 65 million in service to this concept.A stunning theme THE MENACE OF THE UNEMPLOYABLE The term unemployable, popularized by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, was a misnomer, for many of the unemployable were, in fact, employed and others desperately wanted to be The Webbs used the term to describe people incapable of work, as well as those who could work but who accepted wages below a standard reformers judged acceptable The latter group posed the threat Sacrifice people to heartless theory What theory Of all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites, the Webbs opined, the most ruinous to the community is to allow them unrestrainedly to compete as wage earners For the unemployable class, unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health When New York state established America s first industrial labor colony in 1911, it was applauded by the AALL as a scientific and humane method of keeping the unemployable out of labor markets, thus improving employment prospects for the worthy poor This is done as Science The last three paragraphs express Leonard s considered conclusions Progressivism reconstructed American liberalism by dismantling the free market of classical liberalism and erecting in its place the welfare state of modern liberalism The new liberalism discarded economic liberties as archaic impediments to necessary improvements to society s health, welfare, and morals It is well known that modern liberalism permanently demoted economic liberties Few twenty first century progressives think that minimum wages or maximum hours or occupational licensing unjustly infringe upon a worker s right to freely contract on her own behalf But the original progressives illiberal turn did not stop at property and contract rights This attack Liberty did not end They assaulted political and civil liberties, too, trampling on individual rights to person, to free movement, to free expression, to marriage and to reproduction The progressives denied millions these basic freedoms, on grounds that their inferiority threatened America s economic and hereditary security They were wrong on both counts That did not stop them, nor has it stopped those who, unaware of the history, repeat the same false claims today Leonard writes in a rational, analytical style Nevertheless, this history is stunning The emotional impact can should be profound.Around seven hundred footnotes Provides insight into the present by looking into the past The past is not dead, it is not even past See also The Sacred Project of American Sociolgy Christian Smith Progress and Anarchy in Modern America Robert Nisbet Liberal Fascism The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning , by Jonah Goldberg the New Work by Arthur Herman 1917 Wilson and Lenin , great

  9. Bob Bob says:

    It s so surprising reading this and knowing how these beliefs shaped modern day leftism To call them liberal would be a misnomer Progressivism has always been formed and motivated by arrogance, by people who think they know better than everyone else They believed that only the state can shape society for the greater good, which time and time again has proven otherwise From eugenics to naturally selection to labor, they made a horrible mess in the name of science, and Leonard puts all of this in a fascinating,if not shocking, account condescension and arrogance.

  10. Customer Customer says:

    An excellent concise history of America s Progressive Era and Gilded Age This book tells the enlightening but grim tale of a period of American history that is often either glamorized or ignored As far as I m concerned, there exists no better lesson on the difference between positive and normative analysis for the modern reader.Sadly, there are some issues with the Kindle version, none of which are egregious enough to inhibit understanding Words and punctuation are missing here and there and such mistakes were so frequent that I asked whether anyone seriously proofread the text I do not know if this is the case in the print edition.

  11. Paul H. Davis Paul H. Davis says:

    This book was a huge eye opener for me about how our current government came to be what it already was when I arrived on the scene The tragedy of history is that everyone assumes what they grow up with to be normal, and it isn t until you read something like this that you come to understand the perverse basis for it all and realize it s completely honorable and worthwhile to push for rolling all the useless stuff back out and restoring the principles of what this country was founded on.

  12. Shawn T. Miller Shawn T. Miller says:

    This book is great in that it shows the evil of Progressives with good intentions who want to help others by controlling them and forcing them to obey More than anything else, the Progressives wanted the power to decide who would have children and who would be prevented from doing so The road to Hell is paved with good intentions Unfortunately, there were many annoying typos throughout this book They should have hired a proofreader to find and fix all the little things that make reading the book less enjoyable.

  13. Astrify Astrify says:

    Challenges the conventional view of the progressive era that most Americans are taught in high school and college The social darwinists were not apostles of laisez faire economics but rather progressives who believed they could improve the American population through eugenics and other forms of social engineering This book is both readable and scholarly I would like to think that it will become a standard part of the college curriculum in this country but, alas, I fear that it is too heterodox for that.

  14. applewood applewood says:

    Illiberal Reformers gives a wonderfully detailed and engagingly written account of the somewhat convoluted and paradoxical history of the early 20th century American Progressive Movement It is especially useful given that the movement continues today but with sometimes contradictory ideologies often in naive self denial of these roots Even though it isn t a very flattering picture of Progressivism s roots with its abundance of elitist notions of overt racism, eugenics, and secular Puritan do gooderism , I d think it would be something modern Progressives would want to study too, if only to clarify and perhaps distance their own current positions within the larger umbrella of the historical label.For those of us not so enad with Progressivism s ongoing meddling this book is a delight well researched, abundantly footnoted and wryly critical from the perspective of 100 years on It answered many nagging and lingering questions I ve had for decades about how such a movement could gain such widespread acceptance and influence an outgrowth of the late 19th century fascination with social Darwinism and the push to administer society with scientific efficiency and so drastically change the direction of American politics and culture, as well as explain the variety of contradictory positions held by Progressives then Most importantly it showed me how the modern Progressive ideas arose and have morphed while staying in orbit around that core elitist top down ideal of centralized planning over time.The book is roughly divided into two parts, the first third being a history of the movement s ascendency idealistic secular reformers, beginning with the rebellious children of New England ministers followed by detailed discussion of various specific and now often controversial policy issues such as valuing labor, social Darwinism, eugenics, control and limitation of minorities, immigrants and women.I don t remember the word being used by the author, but what is being described here is fascism a third way form of socialism with central government s administration of consolidated corporate industries for the greater good , a policy the Americans embraced, but one the Europeans then made infamous, and one which is ubiquitous today in a sanitized friendly smiley faced form Apparently hope springs eternal and the excesses of early American Progressives, Italian Fascists and German Nazis are conveniently ignored today as the modern variety maintains devout faith in their ability to manage a mixed economy, achieving the impossible in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and that they are as the authors say about their predecessors like nearly all economic reformers were, supremely confident that Hamiltonian means could be made to serve Jeffersonian ends, so long as the wise minority was in the saddle p 60 One thing I have always wondered is how our classically liberal Constitutional Republic was able to shift so drastically left resulting in the ascendancy of the Executive Branch , and this book makes that clear Administrative government in turn demanded that the divided powers of the US government be consolidated The Constitution s separation of powers doctrine, which decentralized power by design, was as inefficient and obsolete as was the planless scramble of little profiteers in the age of consolidated industry Efficient administration required that government, like industry, be consolidated, centralized, organized and administered p.65 Or as, Woodrow Wilson, on the campaign trail in 1912, told voters that it was time for the federal government to be liberated from its outmoded eighteenth century scheme of checks and balance The adaptation Wilson had in mind was to neutralize Congress and consolidate power in a vigorous executive The president, as the only government official who faced a national election, should be at liberty, in both law and in conscience, to be as big a man as he can, Wilson wrote Only his capacity will set the limit to his power p 66 Of course what had to follow first was the 17th amendment, but the thread led on directly to Obama s I ve got a pen and I ve got a phone version of executive action All rather tame compared to the other big men of the 20th century like Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot which unfortunately Wilson passed away before getting to witness lead their nations.But life goes on, and I guess to be charitable I d have to say the American Experiment is ongoing, in ever greater complexity, with ever changing parameters, and so far at least it still continues

  15. R Smith R Smith says:

    Modern progressivism claims it combines the authoritative allure of scientific fact with enlightened reason yet many of the core civil rights issues we face today are the product of late 19th and early 20th progressives This is the first book I ve seen that unmasks the progressives role in making a racist intolerant America and it serves as a warning for modern Americans of where this intellectual hubris is taking us yet again.