Observation one: In earlier editions of The Nation, excerpts of some of the profiles were characterized as “The Fifty Most Influential Progressives of the 20th Century.” Since then, the title of the actual book has changed the characterization from “Progressives” to “Americans.” They are also now called the “greatest” rather than the “most influential.” Had Dreier kept the same title as the articles listing the same individuals, at least he would have been honest by showing his core group of readers that he is highlighting for recognition activists and leftists. But now he makes a different assertion. With “The 100 Greatest Americans,” he is saying that they were all “progressive;” i.e., men and women of the Left.
To that, I ask some simple questions. Does Dreier actually have no room in his list of the greatest Americans for any businessmen, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and other Americans who were not defined by their politics? Does he not have space for any president save Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt?
What about any men of business? He may not like Andrew Carnegie (God forbid, as he was an anti-labor steel manufacturer), but his philanthropic efforts created the now-endangered public library system throughout our country. He also was a proud anti-imperialist who opposed the U.S. annexation of the Philippines and the new power of the U.S. in Cuba after the end of the Spanish-American War. Like so many others, he was a man of contradictions, but one would think Dreier might appreciate some of what he chose to do with his wealth. But don’t look for Carnegie or any other manufacturer in the book — by definition, a capitalist made money and is hence a reactionary.
No, Dreier’s great heroes were, as he writes, “organizers and activists who mobilized or led grassroots movements for democracy and equality,” anyone “who challenged prevailing ideas and inspired Americans to believe that a better society was possible,” and politicians who “gave voice to social justice movements in the corridors of power” and wrote laws “that changed society.”