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Discuss the tensions within progressivism between the ideals of social justice and the...

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ilovemybby | Student, Grade 11 | eNoter

Posted February 15, 2010 at 3:44 PM via web

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Discuss the tensions within progressivism between the ideals of social justice and the urge for social control.

And also, what were the driving forces behind them? What concrete achievements are associated with each wing of the movement?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 15, 2010 at 3:49 PM (Answer #2)

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On the one hand progressives wanted social justice.  For example, they wanted women to be able to have the right to vote and they wanted to limit the power of business to exploit its workers.

On the other hand, they wanted to achieve social control.  The most obvious instance of this was their push for Prohibition.  This was meant to force people to act like middle-class "native" Americans were supposed to.

In my opinion, the driving forces were the same.  The two goals were not seen as incompatible.  Instead, they were both seen as things that would promote middle class values.

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 15, 2010 at 4:06 PM (Answer #3)

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That is a good question. The irony, of course, is that those who are socially progressive want to make society in a certain way, usually under the banner of social justice. However, this is a subtle form of control from a certain perspective. Here is an extreme example that makes the point. If you are progressive and want to legalize drugs, then you are trying to make people in society agree with your ideas of what is right and wrong. You want people to make their own decision. If you succeed, then you control soceity to a certain extent. You really cannot get around it in a relativistic world.  Now concerning acheivements, there are many - women's right to vote, child labor laws, etc.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 15, 2010 at 4:23 PM (Answer #4)

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Great question.  Movements for progressive social reform have often been torn between those who strove for equality - women's suffrage, civil rights for African-Americans, Native Americans and Immigrants - and those who wanted social reform to limit individual behavior they found morally questionable - the temperance movement, the anti-birth control sect of the 1920's, and religious conservatives.

The tension between these two segments of reform were driven largely by the church on one hand, that is, fundamentalist evangelical Christianity often based in the small towns, and those more interested in social justice in the face of Gilded Age inequalities and workplace and living conditions that would be unthinkable (and illegal) today.  So a basis for the tension was also rural vs urban.

As for achievements, they were slow in coming for each side.  Women's suffrage and prohibition came at roughly the same time just before 1920 as the 18th and 19th amendments.  Both of these, however, passed largely because of World War I and women's work in the factories more than the progressive movement associated with it.  The 18th also came about because of the war, as people pointed out all the barley used for beer could bake millions of loaves of bread for the troops, and it became a call for patriotism then.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 16, 2010 at 2:48 AM (Answer #5)

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I think that the drive for social justice overran the drive for social control.  Even in the moments when Progressivists sought social control, it was done in the name of social justice.  When we examine the principles and accomplishments of Progressivism, I think the overriding theme is the motivation for social justice.  The Muckrakers, those committed to bringing previously silenced voices into the discourse, and the entire notion of power coming from the bottom up are all elements where social justice is the overriding force.  There were moments, such as aforementioned prohibition and treatment of Native Americans, where social justice ran into social control.  However, the overriding themes in these movements is the notion of equity of voice and individual freedom guiding individual action.  While there were moments when Progressivism ran into tension between both polarities, I see the drive for social justice as being more dominant than anything else.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:29 AM (Answer #6)

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Progressives wanted social justice, but only to a point. The did not really feel that everyone was equal. They wanted everyone in his place. To that end, they believed in taking care of the poor, and allowing women some rights. But they also wanted to control what people did.

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