Synopses & Reviews
In a detailed study of life and politics in Philadelphia between the 1930s and the 1950s, James Wolfinger demonstrates how racial tensions in working-class neighborhoods and on job sites shaped the contours of mid-twentieth-century liberal and conservative politics. As racial divisions fractured the working class, he argues, Republican leaders exploited these racial fissures to reposition their party as the champion of ordinary white citizens besieged by black demands and overwhelmed by liberal government orders. By analyzing Philadelphia's workplaces and neighborhoods, Wolfinger shows the ways in which politics played out on the personal level. He highlights how the Republican Party reinvented itself in the mid-twentieth century by using race-based politics to destroy the Democrats' fledgling multiracial alliance while simultaneously building a coalition of its own.
By analyzing Philadelphia's workplaces and neighborhoods, Wolfinger shows the ways in which politics played out on the personal level. People's experiences in their jobs and homes, he argues, fundamentally shaped how they thought about the crucial political issues of the day, including the New Deal and its relationship to the American people, the meaning of World War II in a country with an imperfect democracy, and the growth of the suburbs in the 1950s. As Wolfinger demonstrates, internal fractures in New Deal liberalism, the roots of modern conservatism, and the politics of race were all deeply intertwined. Their interplay highlights how the Republican Party reinvented itself in the mid-twentieth century by using race-based politics to destroy the Democrats' fledgling multiracial alliance while simultaneously building a coalition of its own.
"Wolfinger persuasively argues that scholars should be thinking more nationally about the origins of modern conservatism. He demonstrates that the roots of the late-twentieth-century Republican white cross-class alliance are found as much in the urban North of the 1940s and '50s as in the South and West. Well written and clearly presented, Philadelphia Divided also makes valuable connections to contemporary concerns."--Roger D. Simon, Lehigh University "Wolfinger makes an important contribution to the history of liberalism and conservatism in this fine book. Through a case study of Philadelphia politics in the supposed heyday of the New Deal coalition, Wolfinger shows that the roots of the New Right in the urban North are deep and tangled. His argument is sure to generate fruitful discussion and debate."--Thomas J. Sugrue, University of Pennsylvania "Philadelphia Divided is an impressive piece of historical work. It joins an important historiographic trend that sees the unraveling of New Deal liberalism in struggles over race among northern New Deal supporters during the 1940s and 1950s. Wolfinger identifies racial tensions within the New Deal coalition even earlier--the late 1930s--and shows how the Republicans actively encouraged and benefited from racial tension way before the southern strategies of Goldwater and Nixon."--Joshua B. Freeman, Queens College and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York
About the Author
James Wolfinger is associate professor of history and education at DePaul University.