Title: The Populist Vision
Author: Charles Postel
Year: 2007
Categories: Populism, Reform, Modernity, Politics, Rural, Bureaucracy, Progressive Era, Anti-Monopolism, Market
Place: Rural West, South
Time Period: 1880s-1890s

Argument Synopsis
Postel takes an explicitly revisionist approach to explaining the Populists of the 1880s and early 1890s. He works against the conception of Populists as Don Quixotes "tilting at the windmills of modernity and commercial change." This view was posed most scathingly by Richard Hofstadter - that the Populists were backwards-looking, intolerant reactionaries. Even the more charitable view of Lawrence Goodwyn, that the Populists were a courageous last stand of democracy against the capitalist forces of progress, isn't good enough for Postel. Instead, he argues that the Populists were thoroughly modern. Instead of resisting the political economy, they sought an alternative vision of capitalism that would harness power for themselves and better serve their interests in taking advantage of access to global markets (reform rather than resistance). They held a deep, abiding faith in science, rationality and empiricism. They advocated for a kind of capitalistic cooperatism, advocating for consolidation and a stronger federal government that would take advantage of economies of scale and establish bureaucratic order (epitomized in their love affair with the postal system). Postel highlights their embrace of technology and use of communications and media to build their coalition at a national (rather than just a regional) scale. He also expands a rather "big tent" of Populists to include any number of reform organizations, including labor groups, farmers alliances, women's groups, prohibitionists, and perhaps most surprisingly, urban bohemian intellectuals and nonconformists. The darker side of all of this was their racism, but this was in fact quite modern, as they embraced the scientific and intellectual racism of the day and used race to argue for their own manhood and inclusion in the political economy. The legacy of the Populists, despite their defeat in 1896 and quick demise, can be seen in the Progressives, which Postel sees as sharing far more similarities with the Populists than other historians. 

Key Themes and Concepts
- Modernism
     - Faith in science and empiricism (scientific agriculture)
     - Use of technology and communications infrastructure 
     - Racism (often scientific)
- Reform rather than resistance
     - Offered not a resistance to capitalism, but an alternative vision of capitalism 
     - Embraced corporate organization
- "Big Tent" definition: urban intellectuals, women's groups. prohibitionists inclusion of women

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U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries by Cameron Blevins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.