Our Constitution promises a government of the people, by the people, and for the people - but who are "the people"? And who can honestly claim to speak for "the people"? Here, in the first comprehensive history of populism in our nation, Michael Kazin examines the strange career of populist politics from the era of Thomas Jefferson to the era of William Jefferson Clinton.Our Constitution promises a government of the people, by the people, and for the people - but who are "the people"? And who can honestly claim to speak for "the people"? Here, in the first comprehensive history of populism in our nation, Michael Kazin examines the strange career of populist politics from the era of Thomas Jefferson to the era of William Jefferson Clinton. Once identified with the dispossessed, the poor and exploited workers from farm and factory, populism in recent years has been brought to the forefront of the political landscape, embraced by the likes of Ronald Reagan and Jesse Jackson and glibly applied to figures ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Rush Limbaugh. Kazin calls populism an impulse rather than an ideology. He defines it as a mode of political persuasion that combines anti-elitism, adoration of the common people (usually defined as hardworking, pious, and, until quite recently, white), and a belief in the American ideal of democracy that the power brokers in business, government, and academia have betrayed. Kazin argues that populism has undergone two major transformations since the defeat of the People's Party, the original Populists, in the mid-1890s. The first was a split between those who viewed "the people" as a group belonging above all to God and those who viewed ordinary Americans in primarily economic terms. The second, an ongoing shift to the Right, began in the McCarthy era. The movement was transformed by the onset of the Cold War, the ideological mellowing of the labor movement, and the New Left's self-imposed alienation from the American mainstream. In the 1960s, George Wallace showed how to attract blue-collar Democrats with populist rhetoric. Then Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan captured and refined populist themes for the benefit of the Republican Party. Kazin shows that the Right's conception of a struggling middle class beset by an inept, immoral state remains vigorous and limits what Bill Clinton or anyone to h...
|Title||:||The Populist Persuasion: An American History|
|Number of Pages||:||400 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
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The Populist Persuasion: An American History Reviews
Excellent stuff. Highly recommended if you want an illuminating look at the tradition of populist rhetoric in American politics, from the pre-Civil-War era down to the 1990s.
Populist Persuasion is the gold standard for books on populism in the United States. Written by progressive historian Michael Kazin it describes the continuous presence of the populist persuasion in American politics, pretty much from its founding to today (although it was written before the Great Recession and the emergence of the Occupy movement and the Tea Party). Perhaps most surprising to many will be Kazin's sympathetic attitude towards populism, which is strongly influenced by his quite favorable reading of the original agrarian populists of the late 19th century. In the conclusion he writes, for example, "At the core of the populist tradition is an insight of great democratic and moral significance... We should not speak solely within its terms, but, without it, we are lost."While Populist Persuasion is a fascinating history of a much ignored yet fundamental aspect of American politics, it is at times a bit frustrating, as Kazin's definition and application of populism is quite loose and it is not always clear how central the "populist persuasion" is to the political actors he describes.It is also at times a bit too political for my taste, calling upon his (assumed progressive) readers to fight the good fight. At the same time, his own populist critique of the progressive elite is quite refreshing.Of particular interest, at least to me, a fellow scholar of political discourse and ideology, is his short reflection on methodology, at the end of the book. It is rare for scholars to be explicit about their assumptions and Kazin's approach is clear and convincing.
If you combined this book with T Frank's extremely accessible What's the Matter with Kansas? and A Hartman's recent history of the culture wars (splicing in some of Isaac Martin's Rich People's Movements too, maybe), you'd have the perfect history of the American Populist-ish Right. As is, Kazin's book is a little too rushed, totally dependent on primary sources read through secondary sources...and yet perfect at many points, as his central argument demonstrates convincingly how the shift from prairie populism to Patbuchananism makes perfect sense, historically speaking. A worthy read, and probably easy enough for sharp undergraduates to understand.
This is an interesting and enlightening overview of the history of populism and populist rhetoric in the United States. Kazin cogently demonstrates the flexibility of populist language and discusses the enduring appeal of populism, with particular emphasis on how the definition of 'the people' has changed over time to suit the needs and aspirations of politicians and activists alike. I found the chapters on the CIO, Joe McCarthy and George Wallace especially illuminating. Kazin also provides a thought-provoking analysis of how and why populist themes and appeals have moved from the left to the right.I'd like to see him publish an updated version of this book (it was published in 1995) as I'd be interested in if and how he places movements like Occupy Wall Street and the campaign to elect Barack Obama within populist traditions.
Historians often think of Populism, the political ideology that coalesced around ideas such as free silver, government-controlled railroads, and a graduated income tax, as a part of the policy backbone of the People’s Party in the 1890s. This political party, strongly supported by southern and mid-western farmers, was over almost as quickly as it began. Different from this definition of rooted in the Peoples’ Party, is populism, a political tool used by both the ideologically right, and the ideologically left. This form of populism has more to do with political rhetoric, tactics, imagery, and little to do with ideology (or pop-culture uses), contends Michael Kazin in his book, The Populist Persuasion: An American History. For Kazin, United States history is fraught with numerous instances of populist rhetoric, “from the era of Thomas Jefferson to the era of William Jefferson Clinton” (2). Perceived enemies of “the people” have often changed from time to time, and have included corporate America, cultural elites, and government bureaucracy. The distrust of elites and elitism is a distinctly American quality, which Kazin argues originated in nineteenth-century American political tradition. Two major themes have dominated populist rhetoric. The first theme is a uniquely American “producer ethic” ideology, which respected the labor of middle-class workers and distrusted elites. It began with anti-monarchical sentiments, which disliked the political systems of Europe. The producer ethic, founded on principles of the enlightenment, holds that through self-determinations, people can rise, unfettered by restrictive elites (10). Second, what Kazin refers to as a “pietistic impulse,” which originated in the Protestant Reformation and rejuvenated in subsequent Great Awakenings, which held that the nation was a fundamentally Christian nation, and its focus should be on the ethical beliefs of the majority (17). While not specific to Christianity, or religion, for that matter, the pietistic impulse presented itself in various political movements throughout American history. Kazin contended that populist rhetoric often used heroes to convey images, which have conformed to the goals of various leaders throughout American history. The Populist Party coalesced around attacking both big business, particularly banks, and big government, which they believed, ignored the common person. The Bible and writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln gave credibility to populist rhetoric throughout American Political history. This is evident in the Populist Movement. This tendency is visible in written accounts of speeches by Ignatius L. Donnelly and William Jennings Bryan. During the election of 1896, Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech framed the problems of the country in “pietistic terms” urging voters not to “crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” This trend would not subside, though often the names would change. Kazin argued that the Populist Party coalition (workers and farmers), could not hold together the competing elements the party had hoped to maintain. Essentially, producer ethics and pietistic impulses, coupled with a domination of these images from both the Democratic, and the Republican Parties created intra party divisions. Kazin documented the rise and fall of the American Labor movement as well as the use of populist arguments within the movement. He also examined the ideological switch that occurred in Samuel Gompers’ leadership of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Initially, a Marxist, Gompers later changed, fearing the growth of government ownership, thus embracing producer ethics, eschewing pietistic arguments, subscribed by the socialists of the day. Additionally, pietistic impulses within political movements were evident within temperance advocates such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU promoted temperance in pietistic terms, attempting to abolish “the evils of a patriarchal society” under the leadership of Francis Willard (83). The WCTU took direct aim at government officials who seemed too cozy with alcohol producers and establishments. Additionally, efforts to “improve society” seemed to be the order of the day in the years approaching prohibition. Efforts by the Anti-Saloon League (ASL), sought to characterize the manufacturers as “King Alcohol,” stoking fears of big alcohol business. The effectiveness of these movements ushered the passage of the eighteenth amendment, thus dissolving their membership. Soon, however, opposition to prohibition would build. Using “Jeffersonian arguments,” Groups such as the Association of the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA), hoped to convince Americans of the need for “individual liberty and local sovereignty” (105). Just as prohibition-forces, used fear of big businesses attempts to “enslave the common person with alcohol,” so too did the AAPA use populist arguments, presenting a fear of an all-controlling centralized government, which inhibited the power of local governments. Kazin also examined the social populism of Father Coughlin. Coughlin, a nationally renowned speaker popular in the Depression Era, use of well-documented populist arguments presents a compelling example for Kazin. His formation of the National Union for Social Justice placed clear blame on, “the money changers,” a reference both biblical and populist, due to the banking crisis of the era. Using arguments found in Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and Bryan, Coughlin employed populist rhetoric to criticize bankers and the banking system (120). Initially favoring and helping to elect Franklin Roosevelt, Coughlin eventually had a falling out with FDR and sought to defeat him politically with his Union Party. Coughlin’s populist rhetoric was no match for FDR’s populist programs, giving him no chance for victory. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Kazin pointed out, also used populist rhetoric to garner support. Along with the AFL, the CIO used heroic images of American workers in an effort to deemphasize their socialist roots while “masculinizing” the worker. For them, government was not the enemy, but a friend to Americans, hard hit by the Great Depression and anxious for New Deal Jobs. Kazin wrote, “Labor activists tried to fashion a populism that isolated the corporate elite but embraced the new political one—without alienating ordinary Americans who were less sanguine about an interventionist state” (138). The “Industrial Democracy” concept the CIO employed hoped to elevate worker's status politically. Nevertheless, many Americans began to become concerned with the CIO’s close affiliation with government. Fears of “Big Government” and “Big Labor” became more apparent in anti CIO rhetoric began to emerge by 1938 (158). Kazin wrote, “Until the 1940s, conservative populism was an oxymoron” (165). He contended that the Cold War era presented conservative populists with a rare opportunity to use both the fear of government and the fear of elites to engage the public. Fear of the oppressive government, evident in the Soviet Union, elevated fears of an over reaching government in America. Using imagery pioneered by leftist, these new populist Conservatives, “found a storehouse of populist language a potent weapon for their anti-statist crusade” (167). Many felt the government had gone too far, and sought to reverse the massive government control of numerous industries. Like leftists before them, Conservatives referenced the “common man” in their efforts to reverse a two-decade “assault” by the political left. The fear that a “modernizing elite,” which attempted to undermine “conservative values,” became a rally cry for the conservative movement. The reaction was significant, if not short lived. By the 1960s, much of this movement deteriorated, leaving room for a new leftward movement. The dominance of the post-war conservatism, Kazin lamented, gave rise to the New Liberal Left, “who anxiously turned back the assault of the postwar Right” (196). Student groups, such as the New Left Group (SDS), mobilized against the Vietnam War. Hoping to instill ideas of popular democracy, the New Left abandoned pro-American imagery, presenting the industrial-military complex as the enemy. Kazin countered the New Left establishment against supporters of George Wallace (apparently representative of all conservatives), the notorious segregationist governor of Alabama. He pointed out that Wallace effectively used populist arguments, steeped in the tradition of states’ rights to fight the segregation. In this vein, Kazin does demonstrate the propensity of the American people to rally around anti-intellectualism. Kazin contended that conservatism was again on the rise with the Nixon Presidency. Using language of populism was thoroughly entrenched by this time. Conservatives stoked fears of “Big Government,” and the Soviet menace. A decade later, Ronald Reagan also would use fear of government, individual property rights, and the USSR to garner support. Kazin contended that Conservative Republicans had, “posed authentically in populist dress by keeping cultural resentment uppermost in public mind” (266).Kazin made an effective argument that political populism is a tool for political action in addition to the nineteenth-century political Populist political movement, which the word populism is associated. American populism is distinct from the world in its ability to encourage political mobilization, without the violence seen in Europe, prior to World War II.
Read this for a grad class. Very interesting examination of the trend of populism throughout American history. I plan to reread this one in the future, since reading books chapter by chapter over the course of a semester drives me crazy.
Reviewed at The Atlantic
A more up-to-date history of populism.
Discutido enLa razón populista Pág.250-258
An easy read on the arc of populism in American politics.