Why is the United States the only advanced capitalist country with no labor party? This question is one of the great enduring puzzles of American political development, and it lies at the heart of a fundamental debate about the nature of American society. Tackling this debate head-on, Robin Archer puts forward a new explanation for why there is no American labor party--an explanation that suggests that much of the conventional wisdom about "American exceptionalism" is untenable.
Conventional explanations rely on comparison with Europe. Archer challenges these explanations by comparing the United States with its most similar New World counterpart--Australia. This comparison is particularly revealing, not only because the United States and Australia share many fundamental historical, political, and social characteristics, but also because Australian unions established a labor party in the late nineteenth century, just when American unions, against a common backdrop of industrial defeat and depression, came closest to doing something similar.
Archer examines each of the factors that could help explain the American outcome, and his systematic comparison yields unexpected conclusions. He argues that prosperity, democracy, liberalism, and racial hostility often promoted the very changes they are said to have obstructed. And he shows that it was not these characteristics that left the United States without a labor party, but, rather, the powerful impact of repression, religion, and political sectarianism.
Robin Archer is director of the postgraduate program in political sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was previously the fellow in politics at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford.
"In an intriguing and elegant exposition of comparative history, Archer uses the labour politics of the 1890s in both countries to illustrate the similarities and the differences between the two societies . . . the innovative quality of Archer's approach, together with the clarity of its exposition, will unsettle established opinions and rejuvenate what has been a venerable debate into an altogether fresher controversy."--Michael Foley, Times Higher Education
"Most conventional explanations have relied on comparisons with Europe. Such analyses tend to highlight factors like levels of relative prosperity, early suffrage, racial hostility, and commitment to social-egalitarian values...[Archer] proposes that the more useful comparison is between the United States and Australia, which did establish a labor party in 1891. By contrasting those two New World countries, Archer reveals that the most widely accepted causes are not in fact responsible, and that they often had effects that were the opposite of those that are usually ascribed to them."--Evan Goldstein, Chronicle of Higher Education
"It seemed everything had been said about this enduring question of US history, a deceptively simple question that goes to the heart of whether or not the US can reflect on an 'exceptional' history, different from Europe's. Sociologist Archer has revisited this topic, and through extensive research has persuasively overturned conventional explanations for the absence of a US labor party. . . . This new book will engage students and scholars by showcasing the potency of thoughtful comparative history."--T. Goyens, Choice
"This is a book of great scholarship and painstaking research."--Jeff Shaw, Sydney Morning Herald
Table of Contents