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Production of American Religious FreedomThe Production of American Religious Freedom$
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Finbarr Curtis

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781479882113

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479882113.001.0001

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Sentiment Rules the World

Sentiment Rules the World

William Jennings Bryan and Populism

Chapter:
(p.42) 3 Sentiment Rules the World
Source:
Production of American Religious Freedom
Author(s):

Finbarr Curtis

Publisher:
NYU Press
DOI:10.18574/nyu/9781479882113.003.0004

Many progressive historians and political commentators who celebrate William Jennings Bryan’s early populist crusade for economic justice lament his later decline into religious conservatism. However, Bryan’s views on the relationship between religion and economy remained consistent throughout his career. For Bryan, financial reform was grounded in the cultivation of sympathy with the plight of farmers and workers, and these sympathetic bonds in turn depended upon a shared spiritual sensibility. Without the bonds of sympathy and sentiment shaped by a pervasively Christian environment, social deterioration and degeneration were inevitable. The logic of Bryan’s populist rhetoric confounded secular liberal distinctions that divided religion, politics, science, and economy into discreet and autonomous spheres of social life. Rejecting abstract and quantifiable measures that reduced the economy to sets of technical problems, Bryan emphasized shared experience of human welfare and suffering that criticized individualism as the basis of social and economic life. However, this same emphasis on sympathetic attachments also animated racial and regional forms of identification that undermined the possibility of a broad populist coalition of farmers and workers.

Keywords:   individualism, populism, prohibition, Scopes Trial, sympathy

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