- Paperback: 383 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press (August 1, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226256634
- ISBN-13: 978-0226256634
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,565,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism
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"To take a trip around the mind of Robert Fogel, one of the grand old men of American economic history, is a rare treat. At every turning, you come upon some shiny pearl of information." - The Economist "Ideologically refreshing...Fogel's book is remarkable for weaving insights from history, religion, biology, nutrition, demography, economics and even a field called 'technophysio evolution' into an integrated perspective that suggests how the priorities of today's left and right might meld into a powerful new egalitarian agenda to complete the nation's unfinished business." - Matthew Miller, New York Times Book Review "A bold and fascinating argument....Fogel uses the idea of egalitarianism, which he calls our 'national creed,' to see cultural and social transformation through a political lens. If that sounds complicated - and it is - don't worry. Mr. Fogel is equal to his task." - Susan Lee, Wall Street Journal
From the Inside Flap
"To take a trip around the mind of Robert Fogel, one of the grand old men of American economic history, is a rare treat. At every turning, you come upon some shiny pearl of information."The Economist
In this broad-thinking and profound piece of history, Robert William Fogel synthesizes an amazing range of data into a bold and intriguing view of America's past and futureone in which the periodic Great Awakenings of religion bring about waves of social reform, the material lives of even the poorest Americans improve steadily, and the nation now stands poised for a renewed burst of egalitarian progress.
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It didn't happen. As Casey Stengel famously said, "Predictions are hard, especially about the future." Vogel is a very erudite author, and it is worth looking at his predictions and why they didn't come out.
His subtitle is "The Future of Egalitarianism." Egalitarianism has been a leitmotif running through American history, very visible in the three more generally acknowledged Great Awakenings. By his accounting:
The First Great Awakening took place between 1730 and 1830. It operated mostly in the religious realm. It rejected the predestination concept of the Calvinists and the Puritans in favor of a notion that salvation was available to everybody if they worked at it. This was consistent with American society of the time. The frontier was open and anybody who wanted could obtain land, and become relatively prosperous as a farmer. All it took was the virtues of honesty and hard work.
The Second Great Awakening, 1800 to 1920, had to do with personal salvation. The theory was that we were all born equal but some had not achieved their full potential. The social movements were abolition of slavery, temperance – abolition of alcohol, and women's suffrage. The objective was equality of opportunity. The belief remained that different people will achieve different levels of success due to differences in their innate nature, but that everybody should have an equal opportunity at the start.
The Third Grade Awakening, 1890 and onward, was best characterized by the "Social Gospel" philosophy. This put responsibility for the success of members of society not on the individuals but on society itself. The theory was that people could be born into circumstances that they did not have the individual strength to overcome. This was a philosophy behind the welfare state introduced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Note that it was also the communist philosophy – people could not do it on their own, they needed a government to look out for their interests. The enemies of this time were the robber barons, the powerful trusts and corporations. At this time as well the mainstream churches atrophied, as government took over more of the social burdens – reform and welfare – that had occupied the mainstream Protestant churches in the second great awakening.
The Fourth Grade Awakening, 1960 and onward, in his words represents "return to sensuous religion and reassertion of experiential content of the Bible; reassertion of the concept of personal sin." Politically, he projected that it was an "attack on materialistic corruption, and the rise of pro-life, profamily, and media reform movements." The year 2000 may have marked the high watermark of such a movement. It existed, but it never became politically dominant and has lost steam since.
Instead of the evangelicals seizing control, other powers, notably the neoconservatives, took control of the supposedly conservative Republican Party and steered their own agenda. This agenda included support for Israel, which was supported by the evangelicals for religious purposes. It included the "war on terror" which was supported more or less by the same group. However, the millennial children of the evangelicals simply did not have the same fervor as their parents. Moreover, they are not as many of them. They never achieved much political power. Bush, and especially Obama, have flooded the country with immigrants who definitely do not gravitate toward evangelical Christianity and traditional American values. In summary, the Fourth Great Awakening died aborning.
Vogel saw an America that was rich enough to change its focus from material to spiritual well-being. He correctly saw an existential crisis – people's lives were increasingly devoid of meaning. However, the growing gap between the rich and the poor meant that incomes were stagnating and material concerns remained uppermost. It is true that America has problems with drugs and alcohol, unemployment, under education and random youth violence. However, the major political concern has remained one of income redistribution.
The book has some good and prescient observations about the effect of technology on the workplace. It is an early observation that technology is making less skilled workers obsolete. Vogel is naïve solution is more education. This has been tried and it simply doesn't work. Most people are not able to absorb more education, and simply lack the intelligence to put it to good use. The world could certainly use more engineers, but there simply are not enough people with the talent required to become engineers.
A four-star book. It was an honest, earnest effort by a very wise man, but he was not gifted with the ability to see the future. None of us are.
"The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism" is not as controversial as his study of slavery, but Fogel made the case in it that there have been four cycles of religious fervor, driven largely by evangelicalism, and this has fueled a never-ending march toward greater equality. In it he offers “a framework for analyzing the movements that shaped the egalitarian creed in America” (p. 39). One of the most interesting aspects of this book is Fogel’s characterization of these various “Great Awakenings.”
1. The First Great Awakening (1730s-1820s general dates), arose from a mixture of Enlightenment principles with greater equality. It found its greatest manifestation in the American Revolution. Fogel stated: “Steeped in the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and harboring suspicions of the established churches, the leaders of the Revolution tended to view all political issues through the prism of natural rights rather than divine revelation” (p. 20).
2. The Second Great Awakening (1800s-1870s general dates), undertook a remaking of society through greater egalitarianism with the abolition of slavery as the penultimate success of the era. “The abolition of slavery was the most radical and far-reaching of the reforms sought by the evangelicals of the Second Great Awakening, especially with respect to the egalitarian ethic” (p. 104). Ultimately, according to Fogel, these reformers sought to make the Earth acceptable for the coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
3. The Third Great Awakening (1890s-1930s general dates) continued many of the reforms left unfinished by earlier crusaders, but emphasized the rise of a Social Gospel. This effort “laid the basis for the welfare state, providing both the ideological foundation and the political drive for the labor reforms of the 1930, 1940s and 1950s, and for the civil rights reforms of the 1950 and 1960s, and for the new feminist reforms of the late 1960s and early 1970s” (p. 25).
4. The Fourth Great Awakening emerging in the 1970s and 1980s and still going strong has emphasized seeming retrenchment—pro-life and pro-family emphases, values-oriented school curricula, and attacks on the failures of the Welfare State—but in actuality are disagreements over tactics over the method of achieve greater egalitarianism rather than the opposite.
Fogel comments: “As set forth here, the Great Awakenings are not merely, nor primarily, religious phenomena. They are primarily political phenomena in which the evangelical churches represent the leading edge of an ideological and political response to accumulated technological, economic, and social changes that undermined the received culture” (p. 39).
Collectively, this structure of cycles of reform in American history have been called, by others and not by Fogel himself, “The Fogel Paradigm.” John B. Carpenter commented, “Fogel’s paradigm is drawn from what he believes are cycles of ethical challenges America has undergone provoked by technological innovations that create moral crises that, in turn, are resolved by evangelical awakenings” (“The Fourth Great Awakening or Apostasy: Is American Evangelicalism Cycling Upward or Spiraling Downward,” "Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society," 44/4 (December 2001): 647).
Fogel makes clear that these egalitarian reform movements achieved reality only through the intervention of government, at all levels. Accordingly, such achievements as the increase of income and life spans has been possible through public investment. Subsidies for all manner of “public goods,” especially through New Deal and Great Society programs, led to what he calls an “egalitarian revolution” in the twentieth century. It changed everything. Most of these changes have been accomplished through a relatively simple transfer of funds from one part of society to another, and as much as some many complain about this it has been a generally positive process for America as a whole. What is harder, and Fogel tries to address this in the last part of his book, is the need to pursue reforms in relation to “immaterial goods”—a sense of purpose, a work ethic, a spiritual well-being—as the major egalitarian agenda for the twenty-first century. The spiritual gap that Fogel perceives cannot be resolved through simple transfer payments from one part of society to another. He sees the need for mentoring, extended education, greater community, and the like as the challenge before all Americans.
At sum, Fogel argues that “the egalitarian creed...is at the core of American political culture” (p. 32). He demonstrates that while political elements in the United States might disagree over methods, individual objectives, and even short-term outcomes all sides agree on both the opportunity and the mandate to make the world a better, more equitable place. They might differ over the end-state, “equality of opportunity” versus “equality of condition,” but they do not disagree over the desire for greater egalitarianism.
Fogel’s argument is masterful, bringing together insights from history, religion, biology, nutrition, demography, economics, and sociology. The result is an impressive analysis that merge the priorities of both the political left and right into an egalitarian crusade that has been underway for more than three-hundred years.
If there is one take-away, it is that both Great Society liberals and hard-edged conservatives have the same objective, making the world a better, more fulfilling place. They differ over tactics and approaches. I don’t know if Fogel thought of himself as a political uniter, but he drew closer connections between those seemingly divergent groups than I had thought about before. This may be a helpful perspective for those seeking a way forward in our political process.