The Public is the People: The Professional-Managerial Class in the Public Sphere of American Realism, 1890-1920
Author: Michele Moe
Degree: Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, 2000
This dissertation argues that the idea of a neutral public sphere functioned ideologically at the turn of the century to promote a sense of professional-managerial class (PMC) identity and solidarity. Writers and intellectuals of the PMC represented themselves as objective and professional leaders who would construct an open and unbiased forum for political, economic, and social debate. My dissertation examines how this imaginary neutral public sphere functioned as an ideological construct which allowed the PMC to dissimulate their own class interests within monopoly capitalism. The PMC and the public receptive to their leadership came to accept PMC ideology as common sense.
In this way, PMC activities and practices became hegemonic when their class interests came to be seen as synonymous with the public interest and because their vision of a neutral public sphere supported the interests of monopoly capitalism. As most readers will recognize by my use of the term "hegemonic," my interests lie in studying the dominant ideology and practices of social formations. Antonio Gramsci defines hegemony as the organization of public life and the articulation of the public sentiment according to the interests of one particular group or as a social bloc ordered around dominant classes. Gramsci identified intellectuals as the functionaries in this process, including among them not only writers, professors, and public figures typically identified as intellectuals, but also journalists, party officials, teachers, priests, lawyers, technicians and other professionals.
My analysis of turn-of-the-century realist writers and critics is informed by Gramsci's conception of intellectuals as the group of individuals who organize and lead cultural institutions, such as the church and the schools, and who operate as the sources of public information. The primary goal of my discussion of realist texts is to examine their place within the overall project of the PMC— to construct an ideology of a neutral public sphere. Thus, my readings focus on the neutral public sphere ideal as the ideological construct of the PMC.
Chapter one explores how PMC intellectuals used the discourses of realism to articulate their class vision and reviews recent postructuralist criticism of American realism in order to situate my project within contemporary realist criticism. The chapter describes the historical conditions of the PMC's emergence in order to show its role as the ideologists for monopoly capitalism. Chapter one also explains the PMC concept of a neutral public sphere as a class ideology and analyzes it in comparison to the Habermasian ideal of a strong democratic public sphere. Chapter two interprets William Dean Howells' A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890) and early twentieth-century writings by Walter Lippman as co-constructing the PMC ideal of the public intellectual as a neutral and professional public servant.
Howells' novel portrays an inherent conflict within the emergent PMC consciousness between professional public leadership and the private economic and class gains offered by literary professionalism, whereas Lippman's essays reflect the easy confidence and unquestioned political and intellectual authority of the more fully-developed PMC consciousness. I argue that Howells' novel portrays a deep ambivalence about the altruistic role of the PMC intellectual leader that had all but disappeared by the time Lippman was writing his early political essays. Chapter three describes how The Marrow of Tradition by Charles Chesnutt (1901) challenges the implicit whiteness of the PMC's ideology of a neutral public sphere. The novel argues that only black professionals can address the problem of racism in the public sphere and that cooperation between whites and black professionals is the remedy for racial inequality and racist violence. Chapter four examines Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905) for its insight into the gendered quality of the public and private spheres.
Both A Hazard of New Fortunes and The Marrow of Tradition claim PMC ideology offered objective, professional leadership as the rational alternative to the stale, ineffectual and biased cultural leadership of the upper class, as well as the remedy for the degenerate, undisciplined proclivities of the working class. Wharton's novel provides an upper-class insider's perspective on public sphere notions of professionalism and aesthetics that overlaps with PMC critiques of upper class public leadership as flawed and biased. But, instead of confirming the PMC's claim to superior objectivity over the biased upper-class' self-indulgent tastes, The House of Mirth points to the ways in which gendered ideology circumvents the possibility for a neutral public sphere. A Hazard of New Fortunes and The Marrow of Tradition complicate the notion of objective PMC leadership to highlight the ways in which class (Hazard) and race (Marrow) figure into public sphere debates over aesthetics and politics.
The House of Mirth adds to this discussion by problematizing the ideal of a neutral public sphere as implicitly male. Together, these four chapters illustrate how several turn-of-the-century realist writers contributed to the ideological project of the PMC. The chapters unpack the stakes of PMC identity and show the investedness of the PMC's model of a neutral public sphere. The dissertations culminates in the interpretation of the imaginary PMC public sphere as based upon class, race, and gender exclusions.