The New Left: Most Influential School Of Thought

The New Left: Most Influential School Of Thought

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American history is plagued by three differently focal schools of thought: Progressive, Neoconservative (consensus), and New Left. Because each represents a different time in history, the historical data is interpreted differently. Such is the case for immigration during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Due to the time in which these schools of thought came to be, ideas are carried off from one decade to another. The New Left is possibly the most influential school of thought in that it acknowledges everything stated in the latter two, while it also brings up new concepts.
Predominantly in the period of 1910- 1945, Progressive historians were basically influenced by the Progressive movement. Ideals of these historians, obviously, have to deal with the fact that progress was inevitable and the United States was well on its way with progress. During the Progressive movement (1900s to about 1920s) there existed a nativist feeling amongst native-born U.S. citizens. Consequently, there were historians during the era that inherited such feelings. For instance, in Immigrants and Their Children, Niles Carpenter expresses such ideas. He clearly states that "Americanization is a matter of social and political, as well as biological assimilation" (Carpenter 250). In other words, race was something that was taken seriously by politicians and sociologists of the time. Also, it implies that scientists were concerned with the interracial marriages for it would basically contaminate what was American.
In Immigrants and Their Children, Niles talks of "Americanizing" these foreigners. In doing so, he goes on to explain that they could be divided into two groups: "old" immigrants and "new" immigrants. The idea of "old" immigrants having a better chance of being Americanized is understandable. The longer that they have been here the more adapted they are to the way of life. On the other hand, "new" immigrants have a harder time because they come to America with a certain vision in mind; simply put, they come with the idea that the United States is the "land of Opportunity", where there is a better chance of improving ones economic and social conditions. This ties into another one of his statements in that immigration takes much of its importance from its relation to the economic development of the United States (Carpenter 296). Because he explores the fact that immigration is a result of the economic well being of the United States, he introduces the concept that there will obviously be social conflict between the immigrants.

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This is often typical of a progressive historian because most concentrated on conflicts between social classes.
The particular chapter that I read does a good job in explaining the difficulties in which immigrants faced when they were applying for their citizenship. He comments on the fact that while "old" immigrants might have had a likelier chance of receiving their citizenship, there were still many requirements. Such include literacy tests, the educational, residential, and other requirements, which the conditions under which they live and work often render extremely difficult of fulfillment (Carpenter 250). Because of course he is a Progressive writer, he concerns himself with the matter of immigrant labor. According to him, not only does immigrant labor force influence the country's productive capacity, butt it is also intimately bound with the problems of labor. Even though he thoroughly explains himself in the matters of immigrant labor and citizenry, he fails to acknowledge specifics such as the happenings of certain immigrants.
Neoconservatism is considered another major school of thought in the interpretation of historical information. This type of historical information is due largely to the fact that it is similar to the way of thinking before the Progressive school of thought. Neoconservatism, or Consensus, dominates the time period of the late 1940s early 1960s, roughly. The difference in this type of interpretation is that most of the writers were skeptics and they concentrated less on the idea that the United States was well off in advancing toward a greater everything. Many neoconservatives disagreed with the nativist approach that historians before them used in their writings and interpretations. The thing about Neoconservatives is that whatever a people might have praised; they would almost break things down to make them seem not as good as before.
The Uprooted, by Oscar Handlin, deals with the problems that immigrants faced due to the widely accepted ideology of "Americanization". To paraphrase Oscar Handlin, immigration is not simply a part of American history; rather immigration is the principal wellspring from which so much of America's dynamic character and identity have originated. What Handlin tends to do in his essay, is that he criticizes the idea of Americanization. To him, the process was a rather unreal. No one can possibly teach immigrants coming from different regions and having different beliefs to lead the same life that native born Americans have (Handlin 213). He targets the idea of racial superiority as stupid without any scientifically proven fact; rather the people chose to believe what they wanted. He goes on to support his point by giving specific details of instances where a book was published claiming that those who were not Anglo-Saxon were mentally ill and dirty, uncivilized beings, and people believing such details. Not only does he mention books, but he also makes a reference of college presidents supporting such stupidity (Handlin 217). He delves into the fact that Americans had trouble in coming up with a true definition of what made a person American other than ancestry. He accused them of criticizing the separateness of immigrants, while they themselves only sought to distance themselves (Handlin 214). Handlin is rather successful in bringing out the faults and stupidity of American people during this time period.
Another point that Handlin discusses is that really, no matter what immigrants did, they could never really be Americanized. He states that immigrants can not fit into the standard because "you cannot make an American citizen out of a slum" (Handlin 214). While children might have been to adapt more into society, the adults had a difficult time. Because adult immigrants were so accustomed to their native culture, it was hard for them to try to adapt the new cultural principles presented to them. Those principles were based on completely different religions, language, and style of living. Overall, Handlin was very successful in giving the reader a different view historical interpretation: he made them see some realities.
The most recent school of thought is known as the New Left. This way of interpreting data came to be around the 1960s - 1970s. This school of thought is different in that it focuses on the conflicts of groups that had been previously ignored. As the Neoconservative movement identified more with the period before the Progressive school, the New Left tends to identify itself more with the latter. Its main focus was not agreement, stability, or solidity; rather they were more focused on social and economic conflict in American history. The New Left bases its ideas on the standards in which it is not affiliated to any specific political group or party, but very political. Also that it have tactical or theoretical debates, and that it covers all types of progressive struggles. It should be willing to make historical comparisons as well as recognize the specific character of individual conflict (New Left Notes).
In "Who Is An American?" Eric Foner speaks of the way in which national politics and economic life helped to clearly define ethnic and racial differences. This in turn lead stimulated the creation of a "more homogenous national culture" through Americanization (Foner 187). In his article, Foner criticizes political figures because of their racist attitudes. The Progressive desire to improve the "quality" of democratic citizenship and employ scientific methods to rationalize public policy were only set to be disregarded with idiosyncratic assumptions about the superiority and inferiority of particular "races" . Accordingly, it influenced the pragmatic need for immigrant labor by the political power of descendants of the "old" immigrants. The fact that he talks about immigrant's social problems, such as the Ku Klux Klan posing a large threat to anyone who was an immigrant, especially Jewish people and Catholics, implies that he has strong New Leftists ideals.


Foner, Eric. "Who Is an American?" The Story of American Freedom.
New York: Norton & Co. Inc, 1998. 185-192.

Handlin, Oscar. The Uprooted. Canada: Little Brown & Company, 1951. 207-220 (in Conflict and Consensus by Allen F. Davis and Harold D Woodman.)

Carpenter, Niles. "Who Is an American?" Immigrants and their Children. Washington DC: Govt .Print. Off., 1927. 250-266.
book online at

"New left Notes." 2007..
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