Chapter

Relapsing into Barbarism <i>Labor, Ethnicity, and Ruin in Prospective Histories of Urban America, 1865–1906</i>

in Untimely Ruins

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780226946634
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226946658 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226946658.003.0005
Relapsing into Barbarism Labor, Ethnicity, and Ruin in Prospective Histories of Urban America, 1865–1906

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Edward Gibbon claims to have conceived his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1764 while he imagined sitting in the ruins of Rome. In his book, Gibbon expressed guarded faith in the impossibility of a second Dark Age. During the course of the nineteenth century, this view came under increasing doubt, notably by the leading “Whig historian” Thomas Babington Macaulay. Macaulay envisioned a skyline reduced by barbarians to broken arches and ruined domes, and ultimately rediscovered by another race of pilgrims. Such a vision appealed especially to Americans confronting the dire conflict between rich and poor, or capital and labor, in the Gilded Age. The radical political economist Henry George took up the Gibbon-Macaulay debate within this new context. This article examines the conflicts that simmered—and occasionally boiled over—in the industrial cities of the Gilded Age, especially Chicago. These conflicts were between striking labor unions and capitalist bosses, socialists and conservatives, and immigrants and nativists. The article also looks at Jack London's prospective history, The Iron Heel.

Keywords: Edward Gibbon; Gilded Age; labor; Thomas Babington Macaulay; barbarians; Henry George; Jack London; conflicts

Chapter.  17050 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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