Kazin on Populism

Michael Kazin has a timely piece in today’s Daily Beast entitled “A Short History of Populist Rage.” For those unfamiliar with the history of populism in America the essay offers a brief introduction. Kazin argues that populism has always been a part of United States political life, whether it has been the economic populism of the left or the cultural populism of the right. He is also aware that the idea of the “people” has changed significantly over the years:

Since the 1950s, however, the U.S. has been a middle-class nation. It also gradually became a stock-owning one, as 401(K) plans and Internet day-trading knit an implicit partnership between financial wizards and nearly everyone with a decent job. As a consequence, in the current economic debacle, far more Americans think of themselves as cheated investors than as horny-handed captives of “the money power.”

I have come to appreciate Kazin’s work for two reasons. First, I admire him for his willingness to take religion seriously as a factor that motivates human beings to act in the world. The best example, of course, is Godly Hero, his biography of William Jennings Bryan. If you have not read it yet, you should. Second, I admire him for his willingness to write for popular audiences and serve society as a historian and public intellectual.