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Dale E. Soden

Good Intentions

Lessons from reform movements a century ago.

Defining the spirit of an age has never been easy. Still, American historians looking at the first two decades of the 20th century have not been shy about characterizing this critical period. while the years between the Spanish American War and the end of World War I have commonly been labeled the "Progressive" era, the dominant theme of this time has also been described by historian Robert Wiebe as a "search for order" among middle-class reformers who were responding to the disruptions of the industrial age. In ontrast, Gabriel Kolko, a leftist historian, characterized the period as a "triumph of conservatism" because he believed that reform impulses were hijacked by the business community for their own benefit David Traxel's Crusader Nation: The United States in Peace and the Great War, 1898-1920 is a welcome addition to these considerable efforts to define the character of this era.

As the title suggests, Traxel finds the idea of "Crusade" to be an appropriate lens through which to interpret the motives and actions of a wide variety of both famous and not so famous individuals from that era. They range from political figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to more radical visionaries such as Emma Goldman and Mother Jones, and they include lesser known figures such as Jack Reed, the itinerant journalist who eventually fled to Soviet Russia in pursuit of his own personal dream of a better world. Though diverse and indeed often sharply divided in their convictions, these individuals "had faith in their particular visions the good society and fought to establish these with a passionate intensity that often blinded them to other points of view."

Like many historians before him, Traxel describes this post-Civil War generation as impatient "for their turn at the levers of power" to ameliorate social problems associated with industrialism and urbanization. He briefly credits religious ideals and humanitarian values as motivators, along with the "desire to organize ...

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