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The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History,…

by Gabriel Kolko

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A radically new interpretation of the Progressive Era which argues that business leaders, and not the reformers, inspired the era's legislation regarding business.

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Gabriel Kolko is a liberal historian whose scholarship prevails over ideology. Now deceased, in 2014 at age 81, he wrote "Railroads and Regulation" (1965), on the early history of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and "The Limits of Power" (1972), on the early history of the Cold War.

"The Triumph of Conservatism" (1963), is a definitive history of the Progressive Era, 1900-1916. Professor Kolko looks at the two decades of the twentieth century when the government finally started to regulate monopolist businesses. He makes a strong case that big business in fact played a major role in designing and imposing the new regulations. He shows that monopolist private stock companies were able to contain competition that could not be stopped by market means. "As new competition sprang up, and as economic power was diffused throughout an expanding nation, it became apparent to many important businessmen that only the federal government could rationalize the economy...". It was not the existence of monopoly that caused the federal government to intervene -- "trust busting" -- in the economy, but the lack of it. Sherman and Teddy Roosevelt, were, after all, from the GOP.

The thesis, that Conservatism in the plutocratic sense triumphed in the so-called Progressive Era, is never really shown. This work does not explain the dramatic expansion of the Middle Class during this era, which happened in spite of the best efforts of the monopolists.

Kolko does sober up the liberal myths about benevolent reformers and conservative myths about independent, market-loving businessmen. This book remains a watershed moment in the New Left's emerging critique of the corporate state, and in spite of the author's own progressive inclinations, the so-called free-market libertarians can find some comfort in it.

Reason Blog has a great post-mortem 2014 review of Kolko May 20, 2014 ( )
1 vote keylawk | Jun 4, 2014 |
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A radically new interpretation of the Progressive Era which argues that business leaders, and not the reformers, inspired the era's legislation regarding business.

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