Methodist Responses to Labor Unrest in Late Nineteenth Century America: A Critical Theory

Dissertation, Michigan State University (1994)

This research project interprets late nineteenth century Methodist responses to labor unrest in the United States. The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas, modified by Reinhold Niebuhr's concept of irony, serves as the perspective from which these historical developments are interpreted. The responses are part of the rational process of modernization which calls for rational critique of economic and political orders controlling society, culture, and personality. The irony is that Methodist "success" became the source of its failure. ;Methodist responses to labor "earthquakes" of 1877, 1886 and 1894 are summarized from three official Methodist publications, The Christian Advocate , The Methodist Review, and Zion's Herald. Data also come from writings of Methodists Rutherford B. Hayes, Frances Willard, and William Carwardine. ;Background chapters explore liberation concerns of John Wesley's Methodism, marriage of Methodist liberation concerns to liberation concerns of American civil religion, and challenges to the marriage by events of 1877, 1886, and 1894. Three basic responses were discovered. First, some sought to maintain the marriage by "defending free institutions," especially by promoting a "Pentecostal revival" of in-depth spiritual experiences. Others sought to re-structure the marriage, either with a Gospel of Wealth, putting greater emphasis on the cultivation of economic virtue, or with a Social Gospel, putting greater emphasis on converting the society to the kingdom of God. Yet others, especially Hayes, Willard, and Carwardine, labored for a renewal of the union of concerns for spirituality and concerns for political liberty by listening and communicating with labor in quest of a solution. The first two responses exemplify Habermas's interpretation of modernization leading to "colonization" of the lifeworld by the rational demands of economic and political structures. The third exemplifies his hope in the rationality of the human lifeworld to resist and restore social ordering by free communication by all, rather than order controlled by money or power. Concluding reflections suggest limitations of this hope in the human quest for rationality
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