Reformers and Remedies Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In this penultimate section we consider views regarding the matter of social reform and what could be expected of it. Not everyone, of course, believes that social reform is a worthwhile enterprise. On varying grounds, individuals may object to the size, scope, approach, or ultimate value of a reform effort. One of the more prominent perspectives on this topic before the turn of the century was that of Social Darwinism. Social Darwinists argued that society advanced according to set principles of evolution, and human actors were foolish to think that they could somehow alter the trajectory. It was a matter of “survival of the fittest.” We hear from one adherent of this philosophy, William Graham Sumner, in this section.

In this penultimate section we consider views regarding the matter of social reform and what could be expected of it. Not everyone, of course, believes that social reform is a worthwhile enterprise. On varying grounds, individuals may object to the size, scope, approach, or ultimate value of a reform effort. One of the more prominent perspectives on this topic before the turn of the century was that of Social Darwinism. Social Darwinists argued that society advanced according to set principles of evolution, and human actors were foolish to think that they could somehow alter the trajectory. It was a matter of “survival of the fittest.” We hear from one adherent of this philosophy, William Graham Sumner, in this section.

Also included here are statements from 1) temperance leader Frances Willard on the social responsibilities that Christians must bear and bring forward to aid others; 2) social worker Jane Addams on the need to create settlement houses to serve families in need; 3) philosopher John Dewey on the social responsibility that come with the possession of freedom; and 4) Theodore Roosevelt and a conference of state governors on the need to preserve the natural environment for the use and enjoyment of all. We end the section with a document by a temperance advocate arguing for the prohibition of alcohol–or at least its sale. In that effort, however, like the effort to secure the vote for women, supporters would have to wait until after World War I to see their hopes realized.

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