I finished “What We Lost in the Great War” with a shock of nonrecognition. This is not because of Gordon’s sensible conclusions about the cataclysmic effects of World War I but because of his panegyric to the nineteenth century’s discovery of democracy and capitalism simultaneously, each dependent upon the other. Democracy flourished in the age of unrestrained plutocracy? I beg to differ. For over a generation, whichever political party won the meaningless elections merely strengthened the economic status quo. Was it the unenforced and unenforceable Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 that started to stem the power of wealth? Or was it the Progressive Era, of the early twentieth century?
After a lifetime of researching, writing, and teaching American history, I find the nineteenth century no golden age to be reattained, nor, despite the country’s overall triumphant success story, has there ever been any such desire, except perhaps in the post-Civil War South.