One example that McGerr points to in A Fierce Discontent is the labor movement, which was generally supported by Progressive leaders. From the relatively conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL) to the radical socialist Industrial Workers of the World (known as the IWW or the "Wobblies") labor leaders encouraged workers to unite in recognition of their mutual interests. In this way they attempted to get better working conditions, higher pay, and enhanced government regulation. McGerr observes that the increasing radicalism of labor alienated both the courts, which he describes as a "longtime enemy of organized, assertive wage earners," and more moderate Progressive reformers, who hoped to ameliorate class conflict (143).
McGerr contrasts the spirit of mutualism with the idea of individualism, which he characterizes as the opposite of Progressive ideals. Prohibition, perhaps the most glaring example of attempts to "reshape adult behavior," depended in many ways on mutualism. First, it was the result of an organized movement, one which prominently featured women. Second, the idea that drink and other vices represented the "celebration of selfishness" was central to Prohibition (85). Alcohol abuse was portrayed by many reformers as the most obvious manifestation of this destructive individualism.
Even Protestant ministers, who had long emphasized the individual relationship between God and man, turned to a more mutualistic approach, one which emphasized communities of believers (and, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, led to an emphasis on the effects of one's behavior on the community.) They blamed individualism, and especially placing material wealth above spiritual gains, for class conflict, and they sought to spread their message through reform-minded societies like the YMCA and others. Many promoted a new sense of activism that they called the "Social Gospel" that aimed at moral uplift and promoting cooperation, rather than antagonism, between the social classes.