Anti-democracy's college : an outline of the corporatist culture of organized social machinery and the leadership of the land-grant agricultural colleges in the 'Progressive' era

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


The Morrill Act of 1862 established a national system of land-grant colleges and universities. Generations of scholars have viewed these institutions as democratic because the schools supposedly diffused opportunity to realize the traditional liberal principle of individual freedom for self-determination. Through an analysis of the leaders - presidents, deans, and directors - of the land-grant agricultural subdivisions in the "progressive" era, the purpose of this dissertation is to examine whether the leadership's completion in that period of a tripartite organization of resident instruction, research, and extension accorded with democracy. Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony guided the examination. This idea refers to a cultural process of practicing principles in such a way as to form class alliances that secure popular consent to a dominant politics. Use of the historical method of "internal criticism" established the credibility of primary material that entered a dialogic encounter with the Gramscian conception, which provided a provisional explanation of the original documents. The results of the dialogue show the tripartite structure as a class alliance embodying the Newtonian world machine as a business corporation based on corporatist principles of centralized authority, priority of office over individual, and fragmented functions. Agricultural college leaders helped convey specific forms of organized corporatism to farming people. Corporatism consisted of organization that supplanted popular reconstruction of society with central coordination of mass objectives as the fragmented pursuit of single-issue interests. In the countryside, this conveyance sought to reproduce elements of the organizational design exemplified by the tripartite arrangement, and thus aimed to secure consent to a dominant politics of corporate liberalism that shifted liberal agency from individuals to centrally coordinated groups. The study concludes that collegiate participation in and support of this rising mode of political dominance took form in assistance in constructing a "corporatist culture of organized social machinery" -- the extension of corporatist principles and practices in a society that the college leadership imagined to be a machine. This diffusion constituted an anti-democratic denial of the individual and popular capacity to determine their societal destiny.




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