Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Edward Teller's Memoirs.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Age of Reform, Chapters 1-2

Not much to say here. Chapter 1 is spent debunking the myth of the self-sufficient yeoman farmer. Hofstadter argues that for most of US history, and certainly by the early 19th century, farming was a capitalistic enterprise, where families were not farming merely to produce for their own table but to produce a surplus that they could sell for profit.  The idea of a farm where people grew all of their own foods, raised the sheep or plants that produced their clothing, did their own blacksmithing, etc., was largely a myth.  Of course, since farming was a for-profit endeavor in a wider economy it was subject to ups and downs, bubbles of land speculation, and all of the other risks that come when rewards go up.

He also spends a lot of time in the first two chapters arguing that the myth of the virtuous farmer as some simpler, purer being than city folk came from a lot of romantic speculation that never matched reality, including speculation by plantation owner Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson could only be considered "self-sufficient" if (1) you ignore the fact that he used slave labor and (2) had 300 people working on his plantation, i.e. enough people that they could specialize in different things, so what he had was less a model of self-sufficiency than a model of a diversified and specialized (though thoroughly unfree) local economy.  The myth of the self-sufficient and virtuous farmer only grew larger as family farming declined, the industrial economy rose, and farmers and immigrants alike left their homes for American cities.  That era saw a lot of xenophobia, and a lot of militarism in isolationist guise:
On the surface there was a strong note of anti-militarism and anti-imperialism in the Populist movement and Bryan democracy.  Populists were opposed to large standing armies and large naval establishments; most of them supported Bryan's resistance to the acquisition of the Philippines.  They looked upon the military as a threat to democracy, upon imperialist acquisitions as gains only to financiers and "monarchists", not to the people.  But what they chiefly objected to was institutional militarism rather than war itself, imperialism rather than jingoism.  Under a patina of pacifist rhetoric they were profoundly nationalistic and bellicose.  What the nativist mind most resolutely opposed was not so much war itself as co-operation with European governments for any ends at all. (page 85)
I didn't intend to use this blog to talk about Brexit or Trump, but all of this has happened before and will happen again.

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