Draft 9/8/00. For a brief outline/summary see Synopsis. This essay is a working paper and intended to expand brief remarks to be presented at the Maple Leaf and Eagle Conference, Helsinki, Finland September 11-14,200.
Not to be quoted without permission of author at email@example.com
A revival of the term "progressive" in American politics raises questions about the meaning of the term as applied to the "progressive era" (1900-1920) and the prospects of a new progressive era. This essay revisits the period through the career of the journalist and author Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946). Baker provides a useful case study because as a journalist he saw himself as spokesman for mainstream America. "That a man is 'ahead of his time' or 'behind his time,'" he once wrote, "is an admission that he is second rate."1
Baker's varied career also mirrored the complexity of the age. A reporter for McClure's Magazine, he was one of the best-known of the journalists whom Roosevelt branded as "muckrakers" in 1906. That same year, he launched a second career under the pen name "David Grayson," with the first of nine "adventures in contentment."2 A political independent in the 1890s, he supported Theodore Roosevelt after 1901, then flirted briefly with socialism before turning first to Robert Lafollette and finally to Woodrow Wilson in 1912. He later served as Wilson's press secretary at Versailles, and became a major defender and interpreter of "Wilsonianism" in books on the Versailles peace conference and in an eight-volume biography Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters. 3
Viewing the era through Baker's career, this essay explores ways in which our understanding of the nature and legacy of progressivism have changed over the past four decades.
I. Are We All Progressives Now?4
During the past decade the term "progressivism" has regained much of the luster it lost at mid-century. In 1996 the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) argued in a "New Progressive Declaration" that the "information age" demanded a response as vigorous as that of the earlier progressives to industrialization. Bill Clinton likened himself to Theodore Roosevelt and called E. J. Dionne's book They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era (1996) the best political analysis of the year. "'Progressive,' commented one critic, is the new buzzword for those liberals who recognize that "liberal" is nowadays mostly a term of scorn and ridicule." 5
Representatives of the left and right also appropriated the label. As the collapse of the Soviet Union consigned "socialism" to the ash-heap, American leftists looked to "progressivism" for models of social justice that avoided the extremes of statist authoritarianism and an unregulated market. 6 On the right, conservative Republican Newt Gingerich, compared himself to McKinley's campaign manager Mark Hanna, declaring that a new progressive era was at hand. 7
Parallels between 1900 and 2000 might seem to support the possibility of something like a new progressive era. At the turn of the last century, the issues were labor conditions under the new industrialism, new technology, and a nationalized economy, all products of the preceding twenty years of political conservatism and relative inactivity. Now they are post-industrial downsizing, cybernetics, and globalization , also the products of decades during which Reaganism and then Clintonian New Democracy defined the political agenda. In 1900 America was enjoying "a new prosperity" (the title of a book by Ray Baker that year), although a wave of financial and industrial takeovers triggered new concern over the power of "big business." In 2000 Bill Gates is the new John D. Rockefeller as computers and e-commerce transform the way America does business. Bouyed by the victory over Spain, Americans in 1900 sought a new international role for the U.S., just as the nation now gropes for a new world role in the post Cold War Era.
Socially and culturally, there are also parallels. Then the challenge was "new immigrants" from southern and eastern Europe; now it is newcomers from Asia, Latin America and Africa and the making of a multicultural America. Then it was the coming of age of a post-slavery generation of African Americans, including a small but vocal middle class represented by W.E.DuBois and Ida B. Wells; now it is the unsolved problems of the post-Civil Rights Era. Then the "cultural wars" were over nickelodeons, dance halls, amusement parks and other forms of "popular culture," not yet so named but deeply feared by most progressives. Now it is porn on the internet and violence from Hollywood. The list could go on. Before speculating further, it is useful to look at changing interpretations of the earlier movement.
II. Changing Interpretations
The earliest history of the movement treated progressivism , not as a unified ideology but a series of "tendencies."9 But most scholars through the 1960s sought a single explanation or ethos to define the era, whether the voice of midwestern "democracy" (an echo of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis); a revolt of a disaffected middle-class (Richard Hofstadter); or the attempt to impose "order," defined alternatively as "corporatist" triumph of business under the guise of reform or " an organizational revolution" inspired by the new professionals' desire for order and efficiency. As one interpretation replaced another, Baker was a man for all seasons.
The earliest histories of muckraking took the journalists' call for industrial regulation, direct democracy, and social justice at face value, highlighting the midwestern backgrounds of the leading participants. In a two volume autobiography--Native American (1941) and American Chronicle (1945), Baker also stressed his Wisconsin frontier background and it values. 10
In Richard Hofstadter's Age of Reform (1955), Baker instead typified the status-driven pseudo-reformer. Desiring above all to be a novelist, the reporter was a "reluctant dragon" who viewed reform simplistically in terms of corruption and law-breaking. Like many in the unorganized middle-class, he feared the power of both organized capital and organized labor. "The unorganized public, where will it come in," he asked in 1903. "The professional man, the lecturer, the writer, the artist, the farmer, the salaried government employee, and all the host of men who are not engaged in the production or delivery of necessary material things, how will they fare?" 11
In their contributions to the "New American Nation" series, George Mowry and Arthur Link presented a competing version of progressivism, akin to the "realist" New Liberalism earlier outlined in Arthur Schlesinger Jr's The Vital Center (1948).12 As with Hofstadter, the New Liberal account was "consensus history" in that it downplayed the clash of capital and labor, rich and poor, bad guys and good. But rather than a cathartic pseudo-reform, politics consisted of the competition of interest groups , the result being compromise and an ongoing struggle for control of the state.
In Link's telling, for example, the creation of the Federal Reserve Act (1914) was neither a triumph of "the people" over the "interests" nor (as Gabriel Kolko would argue) a victory for conservative Eastern bankers but a skillfully constructed middle-road between banking interests and agrarians such as William Jennings Bryan. Baker in his biography of Wilson also applauded the compromise, and like most historians viewed the passage of the bill as one of the President's greatest domestic achievement. But going beyond Baker, Link traced a continuing battle of interests in appointments to the Federal Reserve Board, appointments that seemed to Bryan and other westerners to consolidate banker control. 13 Whereas Baker saw this bill and others as embodying "ideals" that Wilson had long embraced, Link argued that he gradually abandoned the outmoded Jeffersonianism that underlay the New Freedom to embrace a doctrine closer the New Nationalism of T.R and the Progressive Party, with its emphasis on a vigorous presidency and executive commissions rather than congressional control; a strong central government; and social justice legislation. This interpretation became a centerpiece of New Liberal historiography. 14
Despite Baker's often uncritical praise of Wilson's "idealism" in the Life and Letters, Mowry's Baker was a hard-headed pragmatist, who championed "the application of science to technology and industry, thus complementing the pragmatism of Charles S. Peirce. His muckraking was timed to serve the wheeling and dealing of partisan politics. When Roosevelt was in competition for party leadership with industrialist Mark Hanna in 1903, and thus eager to present a pro-business front, Baker obliged with an article on "The Business Achievements of the Administration", written at the suggestion of T.R. supporter Gifford Pinchot. In 1905-06, his series "Railroads on Trial" was coordinated with T.R's battle for railroad legislation.15 Link, whose biography of Wilson effectively challenged Baker portrait of Wilsonian "idealism" on many points, not surprisingly found no role for the reporter in his account of Wilson's conversion to New Nationalist doctrine.
The "organizational synthesis" directly challenged these earlier interpretations. In the "corporatist" version, radical historian Gabriel Kolko argued that big business sought regulation to achieve a stability unobtainable through earlier private efforts. In a liberal variants in Robert Wiebe's The Search for Order (1967) and the work of Samuel Hays. progressivism was the work of a new class of professionals who sought to bring order and rationality into public policy, thus modernizing American society. 16
My Ray Stannard Baker : The Mind and Thought of a Progressive (1966) echoed the post-progressive "end of ideology" view of Hofstadter using the "new liberal" views of Mowry and Link as foil, in particular Link's five volume biography of Wilson. 17 The overall themes were vintage Hofstadter: the middle-class, petty capitalist milieu of Baker's Wisconsin youth; his development from "mugwump" to "progressive;" and the conflict between "realism" (Baker as muckraker) and "moralism"(Grayson's nostalgic quest for an older America as he wandered a mythical New England countryside).
The twist lay in the contention that the Grayson books presented a more coherent world-view than the guilty moralism pictured in the Age of Reform,--a watered down Emersonianism that provided a link between earlier transcendentalism and the "positive thinking" of the 1930s. The effect, however, was again a weakening of Baker's reform impulse. After 1906, Baker and Grayson in effect carried on an extended debate in which the "post-transcendentalist" literary alter ego transformed the muckraker's journalism,. Grayson shaped Baker's portrait of Wilson, a study in which party politics, legislative details, and treaty provisions were ultimately less important--less "real"--than the "vision" that underlay them.
Thus, for example, as Baker came to see that poverty was not merely picturesque but a plague that must be eliminated, David Grayson and his sister Harriet could find no "poor person" to invite to Christmas dinner. The rich, were really the poor, burdened by possessions and worldly cares, he decided. Baker's hard-hitting accounts of the Lawrence textile strikes were so critical of capitalists that his editors made him tone down one article,. But he followed these with a fictionalized account in which Grayson, as a "Maker of Understandings," arranges a meeting between the radical leader and a mill owner, only to make a beeline back to his sister Harriet when the projected meeting collapses. After Baker spent two decades reporting legalized segregation (Jim Crow) and racial violence, Grayson extolled a black woman who "knew her place" ("How many people. . .white and black lack this wisdom, how few know their place" ).18
Missing in this portrait, I later realized, was any solid evidence of the "status" anxieties and resentments that drove Hofstadter's explanation. Baker's father, as a "real estate agent for the Cushing Land Company in northwestern Wisconsin, battled the corporate power of the Weyerhaeuser lumber interests (much as Ida Tarbell's father suffered under Rockefeller and Standard Oil). But the Bakers lived in one of the finest houses in St. Croix Falls and were substantial citizens by any measure. Any resentments they may have felt over their social position were more than offset by a sometimes priggish moral rectitude that could irritate some townsfolk ("A little more chruch music , pelase," wrote a local newspaper in a running battle with the Ray's father; ". . . Baker, start upon the choir.") 19 As a well-paid, professional, Baker later enjoyed considerable prestige and was a respected member of the Amherst community after moving there shortly after the first Grayson stories appeared. Although he occasionally indulged the racial and ethnic stereotypes that were common currency in WASP America, he had little time for the conspiracy theories and the vicious nativism that were the hallmark of Hofstadter's progressives. Baker, in sum, was no victim of a "status revolution," a concept which in any case soon came under withering attack on both theoretical and empirical grounds. 20
Baker fit even less well into the "organizational synthesis." In The Triumph of Conservatism, Gabriel Kolko at one point described him as one reformer who believed "monopoly to be progressive," but elsewhere branded him an "opportunist" who mistakenly believed that railroad owners and other businessmen opposed government controls 21 Although Baker's writings on race and labor betrayed an exaggerated fear of social disorder he did not generally speak the language of "efficiency" and "expertise"-- the hallmarks of the middle-class organizers. When he wrote of the work of efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor, it was to praise Taylor's character, not the cult of efficiency or expertise. 22 He used the term "social control only to criticize it and did not support eugenics, prohibition, immigration restriction or other favorites of the social controllers. Although Baker as a journalist was a consummate professional , his David Grayson stories can be read as a running attack on the pressures, schedules, and deadlines professionalism imposed.
If Baker , corporatists and professional social controllers were all "progressives, " it appeared that the movement was more complex than many had assumed.
In "An Obituary for the Progressive Movement" (1970), historian Peter Filene sounded an apparent death knell for all unitary explanations -- Turnerian, Hofstadterian, Corporatist or Wiebeian." "Progressives," Filene argued, did not constitute a "movement" by any reasonable definition of the term since the shared neither a common ideology nor organizational unity. New attention to class, ethnicity, and gender meanwhile challenged the exclusive emphasis on WASP, middle-class, male reformers--the common denominator of most unitary explanations.
Picking up the pieces, pluralists attempted to cobble Humpty Dumpty together again. These efforts came from two directions: one , the "new" social history's interest in gender, race, ethnicity, and class; the second , the"new " political history's focus on political process over substance, approaches I term "coalitionist/transactionist." Since the latter also considered the role of marginalized groups in the political process, there was considerable borrowing and overlap among the two approaches.
Studies of women and gender, in particular, took several different routes to revisionism. The first emphasized women's contributions both to public policy and to volunteer organizations. A second emphasized the extensive if sometimes hidden history of "social control," a term first popularized by the progressive sociologist Edward A. Ross in his book of that title (1901). A third examined changing definitions of gender.
The result was a series of paradoxes: gains with losses, and a "welfare state" coded for gender, race, and class. Women, for example, played an important role in obtaining factory and other legislation designed to protect women. But the "maternal welfare state," as sociologist Theda Skocpol and others have termed it, not only disadvantaged many women in their competition with men in industry, but failed to seize an opportunity to shape the system of Civil War pensions into welfare measures to benefit both sexes. 23 Gender roles changed dramatically as new social freedoms challenged the stereotypes of "true womanhood," whether in the athletic "Gibson girl," the emancipated college woman, or the working girls now attending dance halls unchaperoned. But these freedoms came at a price as women lost power that had adhered the "homosocial" world of female networks. 24
Class and gender intersected as middle-class women reformers imposed their values on less fortunate sisters creating sometimes-hidden systems of social control. Contributing to a collection of essays on Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive era ( 1991 ), Eileen Boris argued that women reformers and their working class clients held different conceptions of "family," the former seeing it as a haven from market pressures, the latter in terms of economics. The reformers used the state to protect a traditional "private" family in ways that did not correspond to the realities of working women's lives. Rejecting a straightforward "social control" interpretation, however, Boris judged the result to be ambiguous, the outcome of a complex tug of war between patrons and clients.25
Interest in gender by the late 1970s also produced new studies of "manhood." 26 By the 1890s, various historians argued, young men found earlier ideals of the "self-made" businessman and the pioneering frontiersman anachronistic in an age of increasing urbanization and social organization. The threat of feminization appeared in pressures to conform and cooperate in the white-collar workplace. An emerging consumerism threatened to make everyone a shopper.
Probably the best-known response was the cult of the "strenuous life," as preached by Theodore Roosevelt, the novelist Jack London, and the Boy Scouts. In every field practitioners became highly-trained "professionals" and in the social sciences embraced a statistical methodology and more masculine objectivity." 27 Others embraced a relatively new vision of "masculine domesticity" in their private lives, fusing earlier celebrations of domesticity and with the new suburban living. 28
The result, as I argued in a paper presented at the Tampere American Studies conference in 1989, was a "Remasculinzation of American Culture." Progressivism in this regard, appeared different to women than to men.
The cult of the strenuous life masked fears of feminization and often had a misogynous underside. Professionalism celebrated detachment, objectivity, and related attitudes that subtly devalued traditionally "feminine" values. "Masculine domesticity," in contrast, promised increased sharing of household duties and cooperation in the raising of children until it was subverted by events during and after the First World War.
A second group of pluralists redefined progressivism in terms of the success of building political coalitions or intellectual transactions among reformers. Although several historians during the 1960s argued that workers and immigrants contributed to progressive reforms,29 , John Buenker was one of the first to attempt a synthesis of the conflicting views of that decade. 30 Prior to 1900, he argued, groups of various sorts --labor, ethno-religious, business, women--organized privately to achieve their different goals, turning finally to politics only when these efforts failed. Examples ranged from the Sons to Italy and the National Association of Manufacturers to the National Women's Suffrage Association and the WTCU. This turn to politics, and the resulting coalitions, defined "progressivism. "
Political success, Buenker continued, followed a distinct pattern. Economic reforms (tax reform, control of industry, even labor and welfare measures) proved easiest. Political change was partially successful although more difficult because it threatened economic coalitions. Issues involving manners, morals and religion often proved almost impossible, shattering earlier alliances. Not surprisingly these were often labeled "special interests (for example, Woodrow Wilson on women's suffrage) and were translated into legislation when "progressivism" in national politics was on the wane.
A decade later, still "In Search Progressivism, " Princeton historian Daniel Rodgers took a linguistic turn to synthesize the best of the pluralist and Hosfstadterian rhetorical analysis in opposition to the Wiebe-Hays and corporatist interpretations. Progressives, he wrote, drew on three "languages of discontent." By 1900 a broad segment of the middle class had adopted an older language of anti-monopolism to express their fear of unprecedented concentrations of economic power. A second was communitarism--a language of social bonds--rooted in an older but now suddenly fashionable Idealism. By the end of the decade, a third language of efficiency expressed a desire to avoid conflict, as well as a reaction against soft-headed sentimentalism. Although some progressives spoke more than one these languages, Rodgers' portrait remained pluralist, echoing the "tendencies" Benjamin DeWitt had described more than half a century earlier. 31
Avoiding the narrowly political emphasis of the earlier pluralists, David Nord's study of newspapers in St. Louis and Chicago of the 1890s highlighted the role of the press in creating a "new politics" at a time of declining party strength. Newspapers set agendas (telling people not what to think but what to think about) and conveyed the information that was the life blood of the new style reform organizations. 32 Process eclipsed substance as the focus shifted from what was accomplished to how it was done.
In Atlantic Crossings, Rodgers extended a transactionist approach to the international scene, detailing the myriad channels through which reformers on both sides of the Atlantic exchanged plans and strategies during the first half of the 20th century. 33 Rodgers thus underscore continuities between progressive reform and New Deal, a continuity Richard Hofstadter denied in The Age of Reform (1955). For Rodgers the collapse of progressivism occurred not in the inter-war years with the triumph in a newly prosperous U.S. of a full employment, "commercial Keynesianism." The postwar "welfare states," with their heavy reliance on statism and social insurance were quite different than earlier plans --a critique that echoes the new institutionalist attack on modern state bureaucracies.
Despite their strengths, these two sorts of pluralist analysis also left questions unanswered. For some progressives, the quest for a new masculine identity served better at the social-psychological level than "status anxieties" or even the search for order and efficiency. But it was only one dimension of their lives, and not one most would have recognized. The coalitionists' emphasis on process over substance correctly note that success in politics depends on ability to set agendas and to forge political alliances across interest group lines. But aside from a few theorists such as Arthur Bentley in the Process of Government (1908), most progressive politicians including Roosevelt and Wilson rejected the interest group model even if practicing it sub rosa.
The turn toward free-floating discourses--the "languages" of Rodgers' account--recognizes that individuals at any given time are limited by language in the way they express grievances, making the search for their "real" concerns a risky business. 34 The linguistic approach also avoids the awkward problems of political infighting and failed coalitions that raise questions whether a "movement" existed. But a focus on disembodied discourses, even more than the emphasis on political process, leaves one wondering why given individuals choose to express themselves in one way or other, support this or that specific reform, or rally to one or another leader.
The transactionist approach of Atlantic Crossings describes the important role the press played in the exchange of reform ideas domestically and internationally apart from success or failure in the political arena. But for all its rich and brilliant analysis, this study says little about what motivated reformers individually or collectively, or what political circumstances determined success or failure. Nor does he provide a clear notion of what distinguished "progressives" from those to the left and right on the political spectrum during the progressive era itself. Rather he applies the term "progressive" to many programs that were not enacted in the progressive era, and in many cases, never became policy, echoing current political usage in which "progressive" describes good things the particular writer desires. . Ironically, in omitting gender and women from his analysis, Atlantic Crossings also illustrates the gulf that divided different versions of pluralist analysis.35
Return to Unity
By the 1980s, a unified view of progressivism reemerged from two quite different sources: first, political scientists' studies of "state-building;" second, in renewed interest among intellectual and cultural historians in the religious backgrounds and convictions of leading progressives.
"New institutionalists" such Steven Skowronek, Theda Skocpol and others argued that the chief legacy of the progressives was a new conception of the American "state, " shifting the focus back to middle-class professionals and the common element underlying diverse reforms. The United States of the 19th century lacked the elements of a pre-modern polity (monarchy, a standing army and bureaucracy, and recurring mobilization for military action against relative equals). The American "state" in the 19th century instead consisted of the courts, political parties, and locally-oriented politicians. In their battles against political corruption and reactionary courts, the progressives substituted a "state" that rested on a vigorous presidency , executive commissions staffed by experts, and an amorphous, ill-defined "public opinion."
New institutionalists view the results to be unfortunate. As Skowronek put it:" modern American statebuilding progressed by replacing courts and parties with a national bureaucracy , and this dynamic yielded a hapless confusion of institutional purpoes, authoritative controls, and government boundaries. "Early democratization in the 19th century brought support for public schooling, Skocpol added while a political patronage system fostered and extended system of the Civil War benefits. . When government professionalized and bureaucratized after 1900, reformers dismantled these benefits in their battle against "corruption," assuring that any future U.S. welfare state would not be built upon these early initiatives.36
While the new institutionlists were "bringing the state back in," 37 intellectual and cultural historians brought religion and ideology back in. Writing in the late 1970s, Robert Crunden argued that progressivism could be discussed as a "frame of mind" or a "tone" (as in the work of psychologist Erik Erickson). Dismissing "status" as "sociological," and the corporatists as excessively "economic," Crunden proposed that religion held the key to the progressive mind, a view he expanded in his Ministers of Reform (1982).38 Others stressed the "republican" roots of progressive ideology39 or referred more loosely to its devotion to the "public interest" or its effort to restore social cohesion40
What is significant about the progressives, Crunden argued, was not that they experienced personal conflicts but that they resolved them in socially constructive ways. The important thing was not that a Jane Addams or John Dewey fit uneasily into social and sexual roles defined by their parents, but that they constructed new social roles, the settlement house in the first instance, the progressive school in the second. 41
The new institutionalist and religious/ideological views converge in Eldon J. Eisenach's The Lost Promise of Progressivism (1994) and essays in Progressivism and the New Democracy (1999), 42 although with a less favorable view of the progressives. Combining a new institutionalist and religio-ethical perpective, Eisenach defined progressivism in terms of new institutional arrangements and a coherent world-view. These two developed within and in opposition to a 19th century order of "constitutional formalism," party politics, and a "rights language" that covered both property and states rights. Progressives rejected earlier conceptions of "public opinion" as accumulated personal preferences expressed in elections or in the market. Rather they conceived of it in Rousseauesque terms as a common dedication to a public good, imperfectly registered in mechanical election totals. Based in a spiritual, historicized conception of the American "nation," this ideology had roots in 19th century religion, as filtered through memories of Civil War idealism and a mythologized Abraham Lincoln. Institutionally, this progressivism was situated in the new universities, the national press, and other organizations which stood outside the older order of courts and parties.
The fatal weakness of progressivism, Eisenach, concluded, lay not simply in its inability to capture a major party on a permanent basis (as coalitionists maintained) but in the larger failure to translate this ideological-institutional revolution into a national/political identity. Indeed, Eisenbach argues, this progressivism faltered at the height of its influence when in the 1912 election Woodrow Wilson, a defender of both party and constitution, appropriated the "newly legitimated and expanded resources of the federal government to subsidize and preserve the values and ways of life that federalism and other tights based constitutional values had previously protected." (p. 260) Thus also, the south and the periphery adapted to their own uses progressive ideals originally developed in the churches of the North. 43
Expanding this argument, political scientist Jerome Mileur argued that the progressives actually recast Lincoln, substituting "nation" for "union" and investing all the ideals of "republicanism" in "democracy. This recasting finally undercut democracy itself when the progressives proved unable to "devise an institutional structure for national politics capable of sustaining the national government of their construction." 44 By the 1920s, Mileur concluded, echoing Skowronek and others, the presidency and a federal bureaucracy emerged as the substitute.
Just as gender and behavioral coalitionist analysis of the 1970s rarely overlapped, so Eisenach's effort at synthesis leaves a gap between religio/ideological and new institutionalist analysis . Emphasis on the religiosity of a progressive "clerisy," as one reviewer notes, omits the drift to bureaucracy , scientific themes, and the cult of efficiency --a source of major tension within progressivism. So also, if universities, philanthropic organizations are "parastates," as he insists, does not logic dictate granting them state power as was done for some private organizations during WWI? But this route leads directly to corporatism, an interpretation Einsenach explicitly denied. 45
III. Baker/ Grayson and the revisionists
The revisionism of the past three decades provides interesting new perspectives on Baker's career: in highlighting the importance of gender; in reassessing his role in the political process; and in emphasizing the role of religion and cultural values.
In ""David Grayson and the Woman Reader," an unpublished essay, I have argued that David Grayson--the "gentle David" as fans called him--represented not only Baker's response to the pressures and strains of urban, professional life, but a resolution of gender conflicts that formed an important subtext of Baker's career. An alternative to T.R.s "strenuous life" philosophy, Grayson spoke to a host of "modern" discontents outside the political sphere. The Grayson stories were thus more than a retreat from social reform .
Baker the journalist contributed to progressivism by serving as agenda setter and conduit among the loosely knit organizations of reformers ----for example, the Civic Federation of Chicago, and the Municipal Voter's League, and the work of the settlement houses in his repoorts for the Chicago Record in the 1890s. His McClure's article were less important for what the advocated (or in most cases failed to advocate) that in shaping the political agenda.
Baker is also a prime example of his generation's transformation from geocentrism to internationalism. His Seen in Germany (1901), initially a series in McClure's illustrates, in Daniel Rodger's words, how journalists "formed a channel of social-political knowledge and exchange." (p. 67) . During the war years, Baker attempted to infuse "Wilsonianism" with the spirit of the British Laborism , an effort that suggests the David Grayson may not have so completely eclipsed Baker the reformer as I once believed. A weakness of my account was a failure to stress the many small ways in which Baker attempted to keep the spirit of progressivism alive during the 'twenties and 'thirties.
A religio-cultural analysis, in turn, captures an important part of Baker that is lost in the psychological reductionism of a gender approach or a behaviorial analysis of the coaltionist/transactionist approach . Reared in a religious home, Baker remained deeply spiritual even after abandoning his youthful denominationalism and theology. He venerated Lincoln almost as much as he loved his own father, a connection cemented by the fact that "Major Baker" once met the Great Emanciptor and that a close relative (Luther Baker, chief of the Secret Service) participated in the capture of John Wilkes Booth. Baker's internationalism he held the spiritualized, historicized view of America that Eisenach saw at the heart of progressive thought.
Crusading journalism did not of itself satisfy Baker, and thus cannot be said to have marked a successful resolution of the religious, cultural, and gender tensions of his early years. But thanks to Grayson, as Baker often commented, he continued to work and write for causes in which he believed.
These new perpectives also underline the limits and weaknesses of Baker's progressivism, providing view of its legacy somewhat diffrent than existed four decades ago.
(1) While David Grayson's male readers recognized and welcomed his kinder, gentler view of manliness, women found it irrelevant or worse. Grayson in the end presented a male vision of the ideal life that heralded a rise of suburban living and the separation of work and leisure that would soon become dominant features of American life. Under different conditions the footloose wanderer would reappear in Jack Kerouac's On ethe Road (1957) and by extension is the Hippies of the 1960s, manifesting what critic Barbara Ehrenreich termed the "male flight from responsibility. 46 In David Grayson, as in other aspects of the progressive era male liberation was for women a mixed blessing.
(2) As a journalist Baker contributed to the coalition building that was one of progressivism's great strengths. As participant in a larger trans-Atlantic dialogue , he helped create a legacy that, as Rodgers has argued, endured into the 1930s. But his role in the "new politics" also had a down side, as he himself soon discovered working for T.R and then Woodrow Wilson. Along with muckraking came increasing attempts by politicians to manage and exploit the media. As creator and early master of this system, T.R. used it effectively, cultivating Baker as needed (for example during the fight of the Hepburn Railroad bill of 1906), then orchestrating the attack on "muckraking" when he believed the press was going too far. Forty years later Baker recalled bitterly how T.R assured him privately that he targeted only Hearst and the "yellow press" in his attack on muckrakers, but publicly drew no such distinction. As Wilson's press secretary at Versailles, Baker was promised full access to information, but was given much less. One of his tasks was to orchestrate the news leaks regarding Wilson's imminent departure from the Versailles conference aboard the Geroge Washington, leaks intended to put pressure on recalcitrant French delegates.
(3) Baker must also shoulder some responsibility for the creation of the "state" of presidency and bureaucracy which new institutionalists lament. Although he did not explicitly advocate a state based on presidential charisma (as did Herbert Croly in The Promise of American Life 1909) , his lifelong quest for a "true leader" led him to stress the role of presidential over legislative action, for example in his discussion of the Federal Reserve Act noted above. Likewise he accepted executive commissions as part of the new order, failing to see, for example, that Wilson's move to this "New Nationallist approach in 1913-15 marked a departure from his earlier position. He also contributed to the attack on "party" and in his Woodrow Wilson downplayed the role of Congress in passing the legislation of 1913-14, one of perhaps only four times in this century Congress and President have worked effectively together.
Guided by David Grayson, Baker defined "democracy" not as a mechanical tallying of votes but the realization of a common good. "Democracy," as I wrote in my study of Baker, "descibed the inexorable process whereby all things moved more closely into harmonious relationship to achieve. . .the unity that characterized the spiritual realm." Thus Wlson's battles at Princeton for a tutorial system, residential college to replace the eating clubs, and a graduate school at the heart of the campus-- reforms rooted in current debates over education--were part of a struggle for "democracy." The League of Nations likewise was merely a "mechanism" and the details of the Treaty correspondingly unimportant in light of Wilson's goal of bring the nations of the world together. "Public opinion," by the same logic, was not a mechanical tallying of votes, but a spiritual consensus which a true leader would divine. The apparent repudiation of Wilsonianism in the off-year election in 1918 did not alter the fact that "peoples " of the U.S and the world supported him. It was the job of "creative" journalism in the post-Versailles era to make the public aware of their "real" feelings. 47
Although Baker's career sheds light on why some progresives were blind to the drift to the growth of bureaucracy, goverment by experts, and the emergence of a corporatist order, on the one hand, and to and consumerism, and the growing separation of work and leisure on the other, the tension between the moralism and scientism of the progressives, a recurring theme in changing interpretations, remains a problem. To use Daniel Rodgers' terms, why did some progressives speak a language of "community," and others a language of "efficiency"? Although this question cannot be answered in detail here, a comparison of Baker to other scientistic progessives suggests that the key factors were a combination of generation (those born by early 1870s vs. 1880s); background (secure WASP middle class versus geographically /class/ ethnically marginalized); and unanticipated developments, many the result of World War I. 48
IV. A New Progressive Era?
Progressivism was a product of fortuitous confluence of subjective factors and objective conditions, personal crises and a special political climate. In their private lives, progressives resolved personal conflicts in socially constructive ways, creating new social and institutional roles in the universities and schools, settlement houses, and the press. Is such a convergence likely to reoccur?
Despite all the speculation about generations "X" and post-X, it is not clear which group or groups will or could provide the heart of a new progressive crusade . For the progressives' memories of Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the current generation has JFK and Marilyn Monroe; for the Civil War, a tarnished Camelot. Religion, once the great progressive force in U.S. history (witness movements from Abolition to the Social Gospel) now produces mostly grumbling over "lost values" or, as at the recent political conventions, religious posturing to prove who is the genuine "un-Clinton."
During the 1960s Grayson's revolt against civilization produced calls to "turn on, tune in, drop out." Today an attenuation of his philosophy of the Open Mind has become a philosophy of anything goes. His resistance to incipient consumerism and popular culture seems no longer to exist , or where it does, produces political extremism of the "siege of Seattle " variety.
Politically, progressivism drew on a felicitous combination of technological, social , and political factors which today also work in quite different ways. Then a newly created national press (the muckraking magazines) helped energize the progressive crusade. Now, television, which first transformed American politics in election of 1960, has become a major reason why elections have become prohibitively expensive and "soft money" a major problem. The internet provides new channels for the exchange of information and--some argue--the prospect for a increased democracy .49 But its very ubiquitouness encourages, not political alliances, but a bewildering multiplicity of causes. Although the charge of "corporatism" in the progressive era overstates the influence of business on progressive legislation, national corporations during the progressive era accepted some controls in the interest of stability (the meat packers and the Meat Inspection Act, for example, or the bankers and the Federal Reserve Act). The result was a more powerful federal government. Today's multinationals, working in the context of the internet and a global labor pool, threaten the power of the national state. The new universities, a backbone of progressivism and again of the social ferment of the 1960s, also look quite different today.
Some of todays issues are not unlike those the progresives faced, and may produce effective action: controlling the power of HMOs; guaranteeing consumer saftey, improving global working conditions or providing environmental protections. But an even greater number involve morality, lifestyle, gender, sexual orientation, and race --precisely those areas where progressive coalitions fell apart or where their solutions "solutions" (immigration restriction, Jim Crow, prohibition of alcohol, eugenics etc) now seem part of the problem.
Finally, progressivism took shape when political parties retained the ability to forge creative alliances despite their declining power. The "progressive era" began serendipitously when T.R. replaced the assassinated William McKinley. Progressives succeeded nationally when a split in the Republican Party in 1912 allowed progressives to commandeer the Democratic Party for two terms. Parties today are less successful in defining issues and forging compromises. The 19th "state" of parties and courts has yielded to one of federal agencies and presidential power, with only sporadic judicial intervention. The right to abortion and affirmative action, two of the most controversial issues of the day, are kept alive, not by legislative action but largely by government bureaucrats and the courts, neither directly elected. Leadership is provided , not by Congress, but by charismatic presidents (the only two term presidents in forty years have been Reagan and Clinton, both charmers). The "public opinion" that once energized a T.R. or Wilson is today the poll that breeds caution and the spin. When T.R. assumed the presidency one observer moaned that that "damn cowboy" was now president, although T.R. and the Republicans went on to surprise the nation. Something similar may happen after this next election. But with the "populism lite" of a Bryan wannabe versus the faux diversity of a modern day Ivy League cowboy, 49 I wouldn't hold my breath.