In chapter 2 of A Fierce Discontent, McGerr discusses how the Progressivists represented an ideological middle ground between the upper and lower classes. Referring to the Progressive movement as a “radical center,” McGerr explains how the Progressivists’ goals were not as individualistic as the upper classes’ values but not as supportive of some of the socialist ideals of the working class. To explain this concept, McGerr provides a brief outline of the middle class’s development in nineteenth-century America and the emerging crisis of Victorian culture. For example, he notes how middle-class homes provided a “refuge” of sorts from the chaos of working-class urban life, yet still expressed the values of hard work and “postponed gratification” that the wealthiest class didn’t have to worry about (McGerr, 44).
In chapter 4, “Ending Class Conflict,” McGerr discusses the theory and application of one of the Progressive movement’s goals to decrease class conflict. To explain the context of these ideas, he discusses several examples of class conflict in America at this time. For example, he calls the coal strike of 1902 "the greatest conflict between capital and labor ever waged in the history of the world” (118). McGerr discusses how such conflicts led to a rise of support for ideas of worker cooperation, such as Frederick Winslow Taylor's theory of scientific management. He also explains how such ideas prompted groups like the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to advocate for government regulation of fair labor conditions.