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Paperback Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Revised) Book

ISBN: 0674002016

ISBN13: 9780674002012

Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Revised)

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"The most belated of nations," Theodore Roosevelt called his country during the workmen's compensation fight in 1907. Earlier reformers, progressives of his day, and later New Dealers lamented the nation's resistance to models abroad for correctives to the backwardness of American social politics. Atlantic Crossings is the first major account of the vibrant international network that they constructed--so often obscured by notions of American exceptionalism--and...

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Superior scholarship, but tedious at times

Daniel Rodgers' thesis in Atlantic Crossings is simple and direct: "the reconstruction of American social politics was of a part with movements of politics and ideas throughout the North Atlantic world that trade and capitalism had tied together." (3) He concludes that from the 1870s through World War II, America was not an internalist or an imperialist nation, but instead these years saw an "opening" for social reformers in the U.S. to import foreign models and ideals from other North Atlantic countries. Furthermore, these imported policies and reforms (mostly from Britain and Germany) were not adopted in America (if at all) unchanged upon reaching the Atlantic's western shores, but instead were adapted to the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of American society and political structure. Finally, Rodgers argues, the seeds of the New Deal can be found in the activities and positions of the social reform activists of the last two decades of the 19th century and the first thirty years of the 20th century. Rodgers convincingly supports his thesis by describing "a largely forgotten world of transnational borrowings and imitation, adaptation and transformation" (7) from the 1870s through the 1940s, a time during which Americans had an abundance of solutions to the myriad social problems of their day. This "borrowing" was a process that changed significantly over time. Initially, Americans were primarily recipients of reform ideas from abroad. Later, during the prosperity of the 1920s, a more even exchange of social solutions took place among North Atlantic countries, which eventually led to "a great gathering...of proposals and ideas" in the New Deal. Finally, by the end of World War II, the differing experiences of the nations of the North Atlantic world and the varying effects suffered by each from the conflict largely ended the former transnational exchange, and saw the Cold War rise of American exceptionalism. Rodgers provides numerous convincing examples of the cross-national exchange process of ideas and reforms to illustrate his arguments. Workmen's compensation insurance in America, for example, was based upon a pre-World War I British model, a "ready made solution with a history of success behind it" (248) that made similar acts in the U.S. possible. Additionally, housing, health and streetcars were a major concern of American social reformers in large cities, who often borrowed ideas about municipally-guided urban and industrial projects from experiments and visions in Berlin and London. As Rodgers notes regarding the new "self-owned" city, "municipalization was the first important Atlantic-wide progressive project...[that] borrowed experience and transnational example." (159) European precedents gave American progressives "a set of working, practical examples." (144) "He describes, however, in chapters 5 and 6, the impossibility of wholesale American import of strong European municipality due to the unique and equally strong tr

The next definitive work on the Progressive Era.

This is the policy-side answer to Kloppenberg's UNCERTAIN VICTORY. While that book focussed on intellectual links between European (esp. German or French) thought and early American pragmatism, Rodgers seeks more practical applications, well into the 20th century. He is so well versed in the literature that scant references are made to secondary sources. It is rich in the literature of the time, particularly journals, magazines, and newspapers from several different countries. Interestingly, unlike Kloppenberg this book examines England and Scotland which provide springboards for American reforms. Rodgers' thesis is that the Europeans tried numerous policies which Americans learned about and then implemented, almost always later than their counterparts across the Atlantic--and sometimes with very limited success. The book is also noteworthy for some of the most practical applications of MODERNISM yet seen in contemporary scholarship. This is a hot topic, largely seen in discussions of art or literature. Here Rodgers takes all that knowledge, absorbs it, and then demonstrates it in action across the POLITICAL spectrum. Despite the enormous research behind it, Rodgers has written an enjoyable, readable work that is of considerable importance. After all, this is the author of the famous article, "An Obituary for the Progressive Movement," (1970) which claimed that there NEVER WAS such a movement. Here Rodgers answers his own claim, saying that the American reform impulse built upon a European foundation and produced policies which survive to the present. My only complaint is that this book is slanted TOWARDS Europe, with maybe 60% of the discussion dwelling across the Atlantic ... the format gets a little tedious, with most chapters beginning in Europe, then the Americans pick up on the policy (welfare, municipal gas/water etc) and then they try it themselves. This is nitpicking, though, for such a substantive, well-researched, lucid work that defines this generation's scholarship on the Progressive Era.
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