The Madison Moment: Labor Historians as Public Intellectuals during the Wisconsin Labor Crisis

Source: Robert D. Johnston, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 9 no. 2, Summer 2012
(subscription required)

…With relish, labor historians joined in the spirit of democracy and peaceful rebellion that roiled the waves of Lake Mendota. We live in the age of the supposed decline of the public intellectual. Yet during the Madison moment, labor (along with other) historians placed themselves on the intellectual barricades in a supremely public fashion. In general, they acquitted themselves well. Historians spoke up when it mattered. They provided relevant analysis and complex contexts. They even brought seemingly arcane historiographical debates to bear on matters of public import. Above all, in small but meaningful ways, they stood up for the rights of working people. To be sure, there were missteps: a frequent flattening of intellectual discourse, a recurrent retreat to a facile liberalism, and a seemingly inherent inability to take seriously “the other side.” However, for those of us who see at least part of our civic duty, as well as our professional responsibility as participation in and providing solidarity for a larger union movement, the Madison moment offers considerable inspiration….

Leave a Reply