The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America
Review by John Gabree
“The Populist Moment” is a reworking for the general reader
of “Democratic Promise,” a history of American Populism.
For Prof. Goodwyn, the destruction of Populism as a political force
is an example of the ways in which a powerful elite can thwart democratic
reform. By removing whole areas of public life from democratic control,
the powerful elite is able to limit citizens' freedom while pretending
to uphold democracy.
of 1896 between McKinley and Brian, and ostensibly between the gold
and silver standards, effectively removed democratic limitations on
economic power, in the same way that foreign policy was withdrawn from
democratic control during and after World War II.
sees Populism as a movement of democratic promise. Like the popular
the '60s (continued in a distorted form
in the single-issue politics of the '70s), Populism was important much
less for its programs and organizations than for its "actions" in
bringing thousands of a ordinary citizens in contact with each other "in
a self-generated culture of collective dignity and individual longing.
As a movement of people, it was expansive, passionate, flawed, creative
-- above all, enhancing in its assertion of human striving.”
history presented here, it is, if not surprising, at least disheartening
that Populism has become a dirty word. Populism
was the largest and strongest mass democratic movement in American
history. The Populists showed how people who felt powerless "could
create for themselves the psychological space to dare to aspire grandly" and
to challenge the oppressive "received culture" (received,
that is, from those who control and benefit from the status quo).
The Populist idea
was simple (if subtle): People could work together to achieve individual
freedom. It is an idea that still animates many
citizens, such as the anti-nuclear activists, the “anticipatory
democrats” and some trade unionists. It might even work. (1978)
Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn
Promise by Lawrence Goodwyn