In “A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America,” Michael McGerr discusses the rise and fall of the American progressivism movement in the early 20th century. The author discusses the reasons behind the movement, its goals, and faults that inevitably made it succeed in some areas while failing in others. McGerr overviews their history and voices skepticism over their attempts to rebuild the American society through reshaping its people.
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McGerr voices his view progressives were fueled by their desire to reshape society through an individual man. A perfect community could not be built without guiding people onto the true path of good nature. Alcoholism, extreme individualism, and sexual behavior were seen as a threat to the family core of American society. Throughout the chapter, McGerr chips away at their idealism, bringing up more and more obstacles in their movement that they could never overcome. While the progressives succeeded in some ways, such as banning child labor, their idealized idea of the US never came to fruition.
McGerr demonstrates a clear bias in his argument, often dismissing or underplaying the positive changes that the progressives brought. McGerr’s writing poses them as morally driven, anxious, and ultimately doomed in the end, and the root of many modern predicaments, painting them in a rather negative light. While he accurately pointed out many flaws and self-contradictions, he paid little attention to the positive side of their efforts, especially when it came to positive changes aimed at bettering the living conditions of women and children. His clear stance was to dissect and criticize the flaws and weaknesses of the progressive movement instead of offering a more two-sided and fair judgment of their flaws and victories, some of which led the path for more positive changes in the rights of women, children, and middle class in the future.
The 1900s were a divisive era of American history, a shift into a new, industrial era that brought natural anxiety among many. Progressives made many attempts to control this change and guide it to reshape America into their ideal. The new generation did not adapt their family-oriented, home-centered belief system. Still, some of their attempts brought positive changes for children and women and were not fueled by pure moralism. The author focuses on the failures, hypocrisy, and weakness of progressives in the 1900s, ignoring how they succeeded and had a positive impact on history.