Saturday, March 2, 2013

How did American progressives pick up British Fabian ideas?

In a book titled "Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America", the following is written: (page 46)
A host of discussion clubs in New York City between 1900 and 1910 brought together Socialist and liberal activists and intellectuals, who clearly felt they had much in common. That common property was the Fabian side of American reform. The flamboyantly named X Club, for example, begun by William James Ghent in 1903, had Algernon Lee, William English Walling, and Edmond Kelly among its members, and visitors to its meetings included John Dewey, Charles Beard, Franklin H Giddings, Walter Weyl, Norman Hapgood, H. G. Wells, and Emile Vandervelde. There were others whos reach extended even further, including broad-minded businessmen. These discussion clubs built upon the earlier cooperation among reformers of varying, but at that time vaguely defined, stripes within the Good Government efforts of the 1890s. New York's City Club had involved figures such as Washington Gladden, Giddings, Jacob Riis, Edward Devine(an important figure in social work), and Felix Adler(head of the Ethical Culture Society), as well as worthies such as Nicholas Murray Butler, John Jay Chapman, and Elihu Root. Here was a bridge between the old liberalism and progressivism.

Its incredible what can be found with the right stroke of keys in a search engine. This pretty much confirms a thought I had earlier: (this is me quoting myself!)

The reformers at all levels(national, state, local) went from a disparate movement of people with all kinds of beliefs, ranging from many (that) conservatives (today) might agree with to full fledged statists within about 20 years. How?

Through the Fabian policy of permeation. As I've written previously, American Progressives were in fact reading Fabian writings. The Fabians and Progressives worked together in various academic settings. And now, they're getting together after work at political discussion forums. We have a full picture now to look at. I'm going to address some of these names:

William James Ghent: (Club Owner), Socialist writer - In his book The New Appeal, he at least knew of the existence of Fabians, having written about them.

Algernon Lee - Would go on to be the Director of Education at The Rand School of Social Sciences. For those who know the story of the London School of Economics, the story is nearly identical. Fabians like Stuart Chase were involved at Rand.

William English Walling, an American Socialist.

Edmond Kelly, who writes the following: The fabian theory of collectivism seems more sound than that of Marx.

John Dewey - Was President for life of America's Fabian Society. Father of Modern American Education.

Charles Beard - Taught at the Rand School.

Walter Weyl - First editor of The New Republic.

H.G. Wells - A Fabian Socialist. (Note the time frame. Yes, he left the Fabians, in the 20's.)

Here is the bridge between the old liberalism and progressivism. We know how profound Dewey's writings would be for the entire education sector. But look at a guy like F.H. Giddings. He was over at Columbia University, while he would come to clubs like this and rub elbows with these people. Guess what kinds of ideas he brought to Columbia? The kinds that the people at Columbia wanted to hear.

Permeation is not a one way street. Old liberalism circa the late 1800's(1880's/1890's, leading right into the first few years or so of the 1900's) was open to Fabianism because they had already abandoned the ideas of the Founders, and because the new ideas that the liberals were formulating on their own were very compatible with Fabianism. Take the 1872 "Demands of Liberalism". That's not the kind of thing that comes from the Founders' America, but an America ripe for the planting of Socialist ideas. That's why Edward Bellamy's Nationalism was so well received.

You take old liberalism and it's budding lust for bureaucratic despotism, add Fabianism into the mix and the end result is Progressivism. It's no wonder that so many of the early Progressives, many that you would recognize, had friendly relationships with British Fabians. They were working along side each other in various roles, journalistic, academic, they were meeting at discussion clubs, and they were reading each other's writings.

A historian by the name of Robert H. Wiebe wrote a book titled "The Search for Order". and on page 166 he writes the following: (Page 166 cannot be seen from Google Books)

The heart of progressivism was the ambition of the new middle class to fulfill its destiny through bureaucratic means.

That's how we got here. "Old Liberalism" + "Fabian Permeation" = Progressivism.

1 comment:

  1. Here's another one: Try digging through the Fabian Tracts and count how many times you spot the words "Progressive" or "progress".