The Unfinished Nation: Chapter 24 “The New Era”


Chapter 24 Main Themes


  1. The effect of the automobile boom and various technological breakthroughs on the economic expansion and agricultural malaise of the 1920s.

  2. The attempt by businesses to craft a system of "welfare capitalism," and the reasons for its ultimate failure.

  3. The emergence of a nationwide consumer-oriented and communication-linked culture, and its effect on society and the "new woman."

  4. The disenchantment of many artists and intellectuals with postwar life, and the broad cultural conflicts over ethnic and religious concerns that plagued the New Era.

  5. The ardently pro-business administrations of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, which, despite their dissimilar personalities, followed a very similar course.



A thorough study of Chapter 24 should enable the student to understand:


  • The reasons for the New Era industrial boom after the initial period of economic readjustment following World War I.


  • The nature and extent of labor's problems in the New Era, particularly with regard to "welfare capitalism."


  • The plight of the American farmer in the face of agriculture conglomeration and advancing technology.


  • The changes in the American way of life and American values in the 1920s in the areas of consumerism, communications, religion, and the role of women.


  • The reflection of and reaction to these changed values in American literature and art.


  • The effects of prohibition on American politics and society.


  • The reasons for xenophobia and racial unrest in the 1920s, and the religious controversies that dominated the era.


  • The debacle of the Harding administration, and the pro-business tendencies of all Republican administration in the 1920s.






"Bohemian" The term that came to be generally applied to artists, writers, and others who chose to live unconventional lifestyles that often shocked traditional society. Bohemia is a region of the Czech republic associated with gypsies.

"Closed Shop" A workplace in which no one can be hired without first being a member of a union.

"Drys" Proponents of Prohibition.

"Open Shop" A place of employment where no worker is required to join a union. The crusade for the open shop, euphemistically titled the "American plan," became a pretext for a harsh campaign of union-busting in the New Era.

"Parity" In agriculture, a complicated formula for setting an adequate price for farm goods and ensuring that farmers would earn back their production costs no matter how the national or world agricultural market might fluctuate.

"Wets" Opponents of Prohibition.

Associationialism A concept that envisioned the creation of national organizations of businessmen in particular industries, through which they could stabilize their industries and promote efficiency in production and marketing.

Behaviorists Those who adhere to the basic tenet of behaviorism as promulgated by John B. Watson: That psychology should become a science by using the techniques of objective observation and measurement characteristic of natural sciences such as biology.

Flappers Modern women of the New Era whose liberated lifestyles found expression in dress, hairstyle, speech, and behavior. The flapper lifestyle had a particular impact on lower-middle-class and working-class single women.

Fundamentalists Provincial, largely (although far from exclusively) rural men and women fighting to preserve traditional faith and to maintain the centrality of religion in American life.

Issei Japanese immigrants.

Modernists Mostly urban, middle-class people who were attempting to adapt religion to the teachings of modern science and to the realities of their modern secular society.

Nisei The American-born children of Japanese immigrants.