The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism: A book review by Bob Morris

Fourth GreatThe Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism 
Robert William Fogel
University of Chicago Press (August 1, 2000)

Note: I read this book when it was first published more than a decade ago and recently re-read it while preparing interview questions. For those such as I who are now struggling to make sense of current socioeconomic developments, this book and Richard Florida’s The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity provide information, insights, and counsel of incalculable value.

Robert William Fogel’s purpose is to provide “a framework for analyzing the movements that shaped the egalitarian creed in America.” Throughout U.S. history, there have been several of these movements (“Great Awakenings”) which help to explain all manner of major transformations. The First (1730-1820) is manifest in the American Revolution. Fogel observes: “Steeped in the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and harboring suspicions of the established churches, the leaders of the Revolution tended to view all political issues through the prism of natural rights rather than divine revelation.”

As Fogel explains, the leaders of the Second (roughly 1800 until 1870) “preached that the American mission was to build God’s kingdom on earth….An array of reform movements [eg temperance, abolition of slavery, elimination of graft in government] sought to make America a fit place for the Second Coming of Christ.” The Third (from about 1890 until the 1930s) involved a continuation of certain reforms as well as the introduction of others led by modernists and Social Gospelers who “laid the basis for the welfare state, providing both the ideological foundation and the politic drive for the labor reforms of the 1930, 1940s and 1950s, and for the civil rights reforms of the 1950 and 1960s, and for the new feminist reforms of the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

In Fogel’s view, the Fourth Great Awakening now underway has resulted in attacks on material corruption, the rise of pro-life and pro-family movements, campaigns for values-oriented school curricula, an expansion of tax revolt, and an attack on entitlements. Fogel observes: All of the Great Awakenings are “not merely, nor primarily, religious phenomena. They are primarily political phenomena in which the evangelical churches represent the leading edge of an ideological and political response to accumulated technological, economic, and social changes that undermined the received culture.”

As stated previously, Fogel’s purpose is to provide “a framework for analyzing the movements that shaped the egalitarian creed in America.” In process, he places the Fourth Great Awakening within an historical frame-of-reference. Here is the sequence of subjects analyzed:

Introduction: The Egalitarian Creed in America
One: The Fourth Great Awakening, the Political Realignment of the 1990s, and the Potential for Egalitarian Reform
Two: Technological Change, Cultural Transformations, and Political Crises
Three: The Triumph of the Modern Egalitarian Ethic
Four: The Egalitarian Revolution of the Twentieth Century
Five: The Emergence of a Postmodern Egalitarian Agenda
Afterword: Whither Goes Our World?

When concluding his analysis, Fogel suggests that the spiritual struggles for those in future generations will be “more complex and more intense than those of my generation.” Nonetheless, Fogel hopes they will possess “a maturity and intellectual vitality that will help [them] find better solutions than we have found.” Meanwhile, in 2000, will anyone deny that our society has urgent spiritual needs, secular as well as sacred? I agree with Fogel that “Spiritual (or immaterial) inequity is now as great a problem as material inequity, perhaps even greater.” Rather than defer that problem to our grandchildren, we have a moral imperative to solve or at least alleviate that problem. To do so, we must first understand the nature and extent of its complexity. I know of no other single volume which can contribute more to that understanding than can The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism.

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