Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War

This book reinterprets the rise of the natural and social sciences as sources of political authority in modern America. Andrew Jewett demonstrates the remarkable persistence of a belief that the scientific enterprise carried with it a set of ethical values capable of grounding a democratic culture—a political function widely assigned to religion. The book traces the shifting formulations of this belief from the creation of the research universities in the Civil War era to the early Cold War years. It examines hundreds of leading scholars who viewed science not merely as a source of technical knowledge, but also as a resource for fostering cultural change. This vision generated surprisingly nuanced portraits of science in the years before the military-industrial complex and has much to teach us today about the relationship between science and democracy.

“Andrew Jewett has written an ambitious and important book. He significantly revises our understanding of the way scientists—or a good number of them, including social scientists—understood the relationship of the scientific authority claimed by their various disciplines to democracy, showing that this understanding aimed to bolster rather than challenge democracy. On the basis of both wide-ranging and deep research he identifies an ever-changing but long-standing line of ‘scientific democrats’ between the Civil War and World War II.”
—Thomas Bender, New York University

“With extraordinary sweep and erudition, this book challenges the idea that a ‘value-free’ model of scientific objectivity fixed narrow limits to the moral and political imagination in U.S. academic intellectual life. From the 1870s to the 1940s, leading thinkers and university reformers viewed science as the best carrier of values that would build a democratic society of citizen participation, rational deliberation, freedom, and collective commitment to securing social justice. Explaining how that long-running vision succumbed to positivist conventions in the mid-twentieth century, Andrew Jewett offers a strikingly new image of what ‘the higher learning in America’ once was.”
—Howard Brick, University of Michigan

“In this impressive and wide-ranging book, Andrew Jewett reconstructs a hitherto underappreciated tradition of American political thought. This tradition, which Jewett terms ‘scientific democracy,’ emerged with the university movement of the post–Civil War decades, and fed on the new cultural authority of science among intellectuals and opinion makers. As Jewett deftly shows, scientific democrats shaped myriad aspects of education, politics, and cultural life during the first half of the twentieth century. Anyone who works on American thought and culture during the period stretching from the Civil War to the Cold War must now take account of Jewett’s remarkable study.”
—Joel Isaac, University of Cambridge

“The key question for the understanding the social disciplines is not when or how they chose to follow the model of science, but what it meant to be scientific. Andrew Jewett shows in this comprehensive study how the alliance of natural and human sciences in America, framed for decades by a democratic ethic of knowledge, finally gave way to an ideal of specialized, technical knowledge in the era of the Cold War.”
—Theodore M. Porter, University of California, Los Angeles