Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Another Gilded Age

Though I'm not an American political history specialist, a parallel has occurred to me, in an attempt to make sense of the current political environment and the sense that, although the country is skidding ever-more toward oligarchic totalitarianism, there was another era to come.

I'm reminded of the Gilded Age (Mark Twain's term), that period between post-Civil War Reconstruction and the onset of the Spanish-American war. It was the period of America's greatest industrialization to date, a period that saw the mushrooming power of huge "trusts" (vast monopoloistic corporations) and of their murderous repression of labor organizing (murder, torture, violations of civil liberties), the period of America's first massive imperial and colonial aspirations (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Panama Canal, Hawaii, etc). Corporations owned government; politicians were controlled by corporations; the wealthy were enriched; the poor were repressed and the social safety net (barely in existence) was constantly attacked. External bugaboos ("Bolsheviks," "Jews," etc) were used to justify the erosion of domestic civil liberties, activists were jailed and deported without trial.

But it also led to the Wobblies (the "One Big Union"), American progressivism in Greenwich Village and North Beach, the first public hospitals and libraries, and the "trust-busting" of Teddy Roosevelt.

So what follows a "Gilded Age"? Revulsion: when the middle class who really dictate long-erm social change reject the greed, chauvinism, and naked imperialism of the oligarchy. It takes a long time--but it works.

Slate agrees.

No comments: