Summary of Progressive Freedom

Freedom has been the strongest cultural bond of Americans throughout
history, but various stakeholders have had different meaning of
‘freedom’, making it a birthright of some people to mock others. The
scope and meaning of freedom have been widely challenged and can be said
to have taken shape from various congressional debates and political
treaties as shown by Foner’s book, “The story of American
Freedom’’. This paper exemplifies the various arguments about
freedom, through an in-depth analysis of “Progressive freedom”, the
seventh chapter of “The story of American Freedom.’’
“Progressive freedom’ mainly discusses freedom from the perspective
of economic equality among citizens. According to Foner, 1900s saw to
the division of America into two strong economic blocks, the opponents
and proponents of Laissez faire and social Darwinism. The author
describes economic inequality as heralded by laissez faire, whereby some
individuals accumulated huge wealth on account of others. The author
quickly points out that economic inequality did not violate any natural,
ethical, religious or state law (Foner 140). According to Foner, the
progressive era, made traditional understanding of democracy and liberty
obsolete and led to formation of various movements aimed at reducing the
economic inequality and solve various labor issues that affected the
country during the progressive era (Foner 144). The author notes that
political powers were used to enhance economic freedom and disintegrate
other forms of inequalities, such as racial segregation in the south
(Foner 141). Additionally, the period was characterized by numerous
strikes by immigrant workers, who were empowered by trade unions to seek
economic equality and freedom. Among the notable strike of the period
was the “uprising of twenty thousands” in New York (Foner 141).
However the role of trade unions were strongly opposed by employees,
leading to government intervention, which gave them power. The
government supported the roles of trade unions since without employee
power the U.S. would become a country of slaves (Foner 142). Scientific
management was introduced to enable employers manage workers effectively
through intensive supervision this led to economic freedom.
Additionally, the era led to expansion of the notion of citizenship,
where everyman was required to acquire a job and earn a decent wage, the
tenets of economic freedom (Foner 144).Terms like the living wage, and
standards of living were coined to form the basis of economic freedom of
the citizens. “Poor men” were obliged to send their women and
children to search for wage employment, to supplement man’s wage. This
led to introduction of women to wage employment, leading to
establishment of women labor unions (Foner 145-147).
In the same era, production shifted from producer goods to consumer
goods and advertising agents perfected their advertising roles.
Supermarkets were established to ensure consumer sovereignty, showing
that freedom can be enjoyed in both the marketplace and workplace (Foner
148). More firms and markets were established leading to high demand and
supply, which formed the basics of American culture of abundance (Foner
148).In the Gilead age, a coalition of women labor unions,
transformational intellectuals and socialists, formed national wide
labor movements, which got the support of the middle-class, leading to
its huge popularity. Legislature was reformed to ensure economic
freedom, among these changes include the change in corporation voting
requirements and inclusion of employee health and safety measures in
corporate management. Among the conspicuous legislative development in
corporate world of the progressive era was the establishment of states,
with complete administrative agencies dealing with labor relations,
financial policies and business behaviors (Foner 152). Owing to these
developments aimed at attaining freedom, the author points out that
citizens visualized freedom as constant growth necessitated by lifetime
interaction of others this was different from the traditional form of
freedom, which sought for personal fulfillment and self realization.
From the aforementioned, it is clear that the idea of freedom had
expanded from the traditional meaning, which only sought self
realization and personal fulfillment, to include economic autonomy,
which sought economic freedom and empowerment of all people, especially
the workers. This new meaning of freedom led to formation of labor
unions which championed the plight of workers in fighting for their
rights such as better remuneration and safer working conditions.
Work Cited
Foner, Eric. The Story of American Freedom. London: Norton Publishers,
1998.
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