URBAN LIBERALISM AND PROGRESSIVE REFORM by John Buenker

URBAN LIBERALISM AND PROGRESSIVE REFORM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Is it possible that the cry ""clean government"" and ""no more bosses"" heard so insistently during the Progressive Era had a shadier side, one that ""was a major contributing factor to the current malaise of city and state government?"" Buenker charges that the Anglo-Saxon ""patrician-pietist"" business-linked reformers combatted machines which, venal though they may have been, were the only voice of the immigrant working class. Many reforms such as short ballots, city manager government, and civil service changes were ""fundamentally undemocratic""; on the other hand, Buenker provides considerable detail to show that urban political machines supported improvements in health, education, factory conditions, wages and child-labor laws. They also served as a vehicle for unions to lobby for a wide range of reforms including regulation of utilities and fairer taxes. Bunker's thesis remains one-sided -- not that he ignores the corruption of the machines, but he overstates and forces a polarity between the machines as a liberal force and the good-government insurgents as a business-oriented claque. Many of the latter certainly supported major liberal reforms, while the urban ethnic machines could and did plunge into the depths of reaction. And was the spoils system really a democratizing force that brought government closer to the people? Skewed but substantive -- and valuable as an antidote to the popular stereotype of bossism.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1973
Publisher: Scribners