Jack Beatty’s Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900
Here are some interesting passages from Beatty’s book, showing its relevance for us today.
“While ‘industrialization adds immensely to national power, and may also promote the long-term betterment of the material conditions of the mass of the population. . . it also involves the creation of structures of power, and, indeed, conquest. This turn requires the economic and cultural subordination of the mass of the population and the redefinition of the terms of their social and cultural existence.’”
This subordination was difficult in the United States because of democratic politics and mass suffrage, which had appeared before industrialization had achieved full power. Hence, the need for disenfranchisement of the people. New York State tried to do this formally by limiting the franchise, but this failed. But “It wasn’t necessary to assault democracy so frontally.”
The party system was used to insulate America’s industrializing elites “from democracy through a politics of distraction, based on the manipulation of real hatreds and sham issues. ‘Parties as they exist today are bellowing imposters and organized frauds,’ a former Populist lieutenant governor of Kansas asserted in 1898, when his own party had decayed into an organized fraud. ‘They are either reliable machines of the plutocracy and corporations, or they are the handy tools of hypocrites and harlequins, and are as much responsible, through the deceptions they have practiced and the corruption they have defended, for the servitude of the masses to plutocratic usurpers, as are the lawless exactions of organized capital for their plundering.’ Distraction, deception, corruption – the editor omitted only force.” [pp. 22-23]
That industrialization “requires the economic and cultural subordination of the mass of the population and the redefinition of the terms of their social and cultural existence,” helps me make sense of Teddy Roosevelt’s intense concern, while was police commissioner of New York City, with redefining the social and cultural lives of the working classes in the city. It also helps explain what our “cultural wars” are all about, viz., redefining the social and cultural lives of the mass of our population. These wars are part and parcel of the informal disenfranchisement of our democracy, a disenfranchisement required to insulate our oligarchic or plutocratic elites from the masses deemed to be “beneath” them.