September 20, 2011


Susan J. Pearson, The Rights of the Defenseless: Protecting Animals and Children in Gilded Age America (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2011) ("Recent scholarship points to the fact that social control is best conceived as a function rather than a motivation. Campaigns to protect children and animals from cruelty during the Gilded Age undoubtedly exercised social control, but they did so as a function of their avowed aim: to improve the social order by lessening acts of individual violence, relieving suffering, and inculcating a humane sensibility and sense of self-control in others. That anticruelty reformers felt the social order in need of improvement was not doubt a response to the tumultuous times in which they lived. . . . Anticruelty reformers . . . were apt to conflate symptoms and cause in their rush to diagnose and cure the nation's social ills. As anticruelty reformers viewed the towns and cities in which they worked, they saw lame, thin, and overworked horses pulling heavy loads, men beating horses and mules, cattle packed tightly into railroads and goaded at stockyards, children begging on the streets, physically abused, or living without enough food, shelter or supervision. They largely believed that these acts stemmed from their perpetrators' callousness to suffering, willingness to hurt other living beings, greed, intemperance, or a passionate temperament. This temperament, and the acts that its produced, disrupted social order and anticruelty reformers sought to restore that order by appealing both to the heart and to the law." "This book details how such reformers brought together the language of the heart with the power of the law in an ideology of sentimental liberalism." Id. at 8-9. One wonders whether the "ideology of sentimental liberalism" described in this book is, an earlier version of "compassionate conservatism," with less sentimentality. Some social historian have argued that American is entering, if it has not already entered, a New Gilded Age. If so, it will be interesting to see how reformers, especially social conservative reformers will respond. What will be the balance between the language of the heart and the power of law? Will it be an updated, more proactive, more muscular version of compassionate conservatism, or will it be hard-love (if not heartless) conservatism? Perhaps the speeches, position papers, debates, etc., during the Republican primaries and caucuses and leading up to their choosing their official standard-bearers will give us an insight into how a Republican-governed twenty-first-century American Gilded Age would look. Who will be the defenseless, and who will protect the defenseless, when government, as many republicans claim to want, is reduced? Who will protect the defenseless from the powerful?).