February 05, 2008
Book Alert I: Jack Beatty - Age of Betrayal
Late to it, here's another book to read: Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900 by Jack Beatty. From a review in the Boston Globe:
What makes his "the saddest story" is a great moment of promise betrayed. In the bloodbath of the Civil War, two measures -- the Emancipation Proclamation and the Homestead Act, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1863 -- offered a radical vision of freedom, citizenship, and economic independence by ending slavery and providing cheap land for settlers in the trans-Mississippi West. It was a vision that would give national footing to Lincoln's America and enable the United States to stand apart in the 19th-century Atlantic world. Unfortunately, the promise steadily gave way before the twin engines of racism and industrial capitalism, leaving a very different society by century's end.Interviews with Mr Beatty in The Borzoi Reader and the Atlantic. Extract here.
"Engine" does indeed seem the proper metaphor. The central relationship of America's betrayal, in Beatty's view, was the alliance between government and business: an alliance that makes a mockery of the notion that the 19th century was an age of laissez-faire, and one that established the foundation of an emerging state capitalism. The central institutions were the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, which whittled away the promises of freedom, citizenship, and independence for ordinary Americans and instead handed them over to the corporations. And the central vehicle of this truly revolutionary transformation was the great engine itself, the railroad.