Michael Lux, author of The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, presented his book on February 6th and discussed the contributions progressive movements have made in the history of the United States as well as their recurring struggles with conservatives.
Lux argues that many of the current arguments and debates about American policy are recycled from similar debates in America's past. For example, many of the arguments today about immigration reform, such as national identity and wage competition, parallel similar arguments about the Catholics and Irish made during the 19th century. Additionally, he argues that large movements forward are typically grouped together in history because dissatisfaction builds up over one or two decades as politicians hold on to the status quo. Then big progressive change occurs in a matter of a few short years, while conservatives' reactions tend to hinder that progress.
Lux observes that the revolution contained a competition of liberals such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine on the one hand and conservatives such as Alexander Hamilton on the other. He argues that while the revolution for democracy was a triumph for progressives, it was hindered by the conservative reaction of constructing the Electoral College, which continues to threaten democracy in America. Lux also points out that even discounting the civil war, Abraham Lincoln's presidency was a time of major progress with the passage of the Homestead Act, the university land-grant bill, progressive taxation and popular election of Senators. In the 1930s a similar “big change” moment occurred with Roosevelt's New Deal. The 1960s, then, were marked with the election of John F. Kennedy.
Lux points out that this roughly 30 year cycle parallels Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s theory about cycles of history. However, this would suggest that the 1990s were ripe for a “big change” moment. Instead, he argues, that change did not come because progressives were overly cautious with healthcare.
--Event Summary by William Monroe, Intern, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation
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