The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism

Robert William Fogel, Author
Robert William Fogel, Author University of Chicago Press $28 (383p) ISBN 978-0-226-25662-7
Reviewed on: 05/15/2000
Release date: 05/01/2000
Paperback - 383 pages - 978-0-226-25663-4
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Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist Fogel (Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery) ambitiously tries to integrate the history of American religion with the history of social reform and the move toward equality. Fogel says that 18th- and 19th-century America experienced three large religious revivals--or Great Awakenings--each bringing about social reforms. The first awakening began in 1730 and laid the groundwork for the American Revolution. The second began in 1800, and inspired abolitionists and temperance workers. The mandate of the third awakening, which began in 1890, was the welfare state, which culminated in the 1930s. And we are now, Fogel suggests, in the middle of a fourth awakening, which began in 1950. Fogel argues that the egalitarian platforms of the third awakening have been more or less implemented--the condition of the poorest families in America, he suggests, has improved dramatically; the labor reforms that Social Gospelers called for have been written into law; many people have access to decent health care. In order to make America even more egalitarian, says Fogel, we will need a new agenda. Leaders in the fourth great awakening, he suggests, have emphasized spiritual, rather than material, equity--they are interested in redistributing ""spiritual resources"" and in helping Americans of all ranks become self-actualized (he identifies spiritual assets as ""a sense of purpose, self-esteem, a sense of discipline, a thirst for knowledge""). Fogel applauds the democratizing of self-realization, and he emphasizes the need to provide an education for all; he is especially keen to see more Americans pursuing higher education. Fogel's thesis is provocative, though some readers may question his emphasis on higher education, which he seems to suggest would be a panacea for all America's ills. (May)
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