“Why Violence Matters,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism, January 2007

In his 1966 article “Violence in American Labor Disputes,” Philip Taft laid out a paradox for American history. On one hand, he wrote, class relations in the United States have been among the least ideological in the world. On the other hand, American labor conflicts have been among the world’s most violent. “It may appear anomalous,” Taft commented, “that the United States, a country in which class feeling and class ideology are almost entirely absent, has experienced a considerable amount of violence in labor disputes.” He resolved this anomaly by arguing that class violence in the United States was mainly an adaptation to structural circumstances: In conflicts where vital interests, especially union recognition, were at stake, workers and employers tended to resort to brute force. By this logic, the intense violence of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era fit quite comfortably within the exceptionalist narrative of the United States as a nation largely free from ideological conflict.

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