The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon (Politics and Society in Modern America)

The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon (Politics and Society in Modern America)

Robert D. Johnston

Language: English

Pages: 424

ISBN: 0691126003

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


America has a long tradition of middle-class radicalism, albeit one that intellectual orthodoxy has tended to obscure. The Radical Middle Class seeks to uncover the democratic, populist, and even anticapitalist legacy of the middle class. By examining in particular the independent small business sector or petite bourgeoisie, using Progressive Era Portland, Oregon, as a case study, Robert Johnston shows that class still matters in America. But it matters only if the politics and culture of the leading player in affairs of class, the middle class, is dramatically reconceived.

This book is a powerful combination of intellectual, business, labor, medical, and, above all, political history. Its author also humanizes the middle class by describing the lives of four small business owners: Harry Lane, Will Daly, William U'Ren, and Lora Little. Lane was Portland's reform mayor before becoming one of only six senators to vote against U.S. entry into World War I. Daly was Oregon's most prominent labor leader and a onetime Socialist. U'Ren was the national architect of the direct democracy movement. Little was a leading antivaccinationist.

The Radical Middle Class further explores the Portland Ku Klux Klan and concludes with a national overview of the American middle class from the Progressive Era to the present. With its engaging narrative, conceptual richness, and daring argumentation, it will be welcomed by all who understand that reexamining the middle class can yield not only better scholarship but firmer grounds for democratic hope.

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mushing dogs in Alaska when the temperature hovered around forty-six below.14 Yet Lane much more frequently angered his fellow senators with his quixotic independence and scorn of rules. Lane insisted that all government business be done in the open so the public could see. He thus advocated doing away with the Democratic caucus just when Woodrow Wilson was attempting to tighten party regularity. Lane’s idea that the Senate should bypass committees Francis Newlands called “revolutionary,” and

democracy. During the first two decades of the twentieth century Americans most commonly referred to the entire package of electoral reforms such as the direct primary, direct election of United States senators, the recall, and direct legislation as the “Oregon System.” Such a failure to explore the era’s most significant manifestation of democratic radicalism has led to a crucial “dedemocratization” of Progressivism, where figures as ideologically diverse as Gabriel Kolko and Michael McGerr

the Other Founders Thus were engrafted upon the Constitution of the State of Oregon the ideas of Rousseau, Mirabeau, Tom Paine, and Franklin, which many men tried in vain to incorporate in the written constitution A Syndicalism of Housewives • 157 of the State of Pennsylvania and of the United States itself, and might have succeeded had it not been for the sober counsel and clear thought of Madison and Jefferson. —L. B. SMITH, “A Little Patriotism for a Change: A Political Review of the Oregon

to Willi Paul Adams, “one direct consequence of increased self-confidence among the ‘middle class of men.’ ” Both revolutionary Pennsylvanians and Progressive Era direct democrats saw a second house as a bulwark for aristocratic, propertied interests; Benjamin Rush “thought it only sensible for men of ‘middling fortunes’ to combine their forces in one chamber to defend their interests against the rich.” As in the U’Ren grand reorganization, the (plural) Pennsylvania executive held no 158 • “The

Commentator “Opti Mist” quoted God’s injunction to Moses The Single Tax Movement • 175 and the Jews not to sell the land, a favorite single tax verse (Lev. 25:23). Stating that the imperial drive for land caused World War I, Opti Mist mused: Truly we have wandered far from the ways of our Lord. I have always been curious to know why the Old Testament was cast aside by us moderns— And why it was necessary that we kill off the noble red man— But it’s all plain now— It was the land question. And

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