Societies go through reform in a few different ways. The most obvious way is revolution. We don’t think of revolution as a reform, but it is a type of reformation. The stuff that does not work is swept away and new stuff is put in its place. The “sweeping” is often bloody as the the stuff being swept is attached to people with a vested interest in it. That and every revolution is driven, in part, by revenge.
Similarly, conquest is a type of reform too. A neighboring power defeats the society, forcing it to restructure itself in response. Maybe that’s as a vassal state or simply as a weak and defeated minor power as it retools for the world in which it finds itself. The Gallic sack of Rome in 390 BC ushered in a period of reform that set the stage for Roman domination of the West.
The usual way in which we think of social reform is the voluntary type where changes are initiated either in response to crisis or in response to defects in the current arrangements. The changes ushered in after the 1929 stock market crash are an obvious example of reform in the face of crisis. The 12th Amendment that altered the selection of the President is an example of the ruling class fixing something that did not work as intended.
Peaceful reform does not spring from thin air. The world changes and the current arrangements no longer satisfy the needs of the people in charge. The key point here is that this sort of peaceful reform is top-down, not bottom up. It may be spurred by popular unrest, but this sort of reform is in the interests of those in charge or those just taking charge, like our technological elites who got rich in the last generation.
In America, the last big reform period was after World War II. Yankee reformers blasted away the old system for managing blacks and they replaced it with a form of riot insurance we call the Welfare State. Youth culture and the sexual revolution came at the tail end of that reform period, as the ruling elite reconfigured the majority coalition that would dominate politics for the next fifty years. Steve Sailer’s coalition of the fringes is an entirely artificial arrangement that suits the needs of the ruling class. At least it used to.
The ructions going on today in the two parties are the result of old systems no longer up to the task of meeting the challenges of the day. The current arrangements evolved in a bygone era. The Cold War is long over yet we still have a political arrangements organized around fighting the Red Menace at home and abroad. America’s foolish blundering into the Arab world is the result of a system looking for a new enemy.
Reform is long overdue.
The question is what will be the nature of the next reform movement. The reforms of the 50’s and 60’s were cultural. The country was doing just fine economically and the large financial interests had been tamed before the war. First came the knocking down of the racial institutions, followed by new political institutions to fill the void. Then the family institutions were plowed under in the sexual revolution. Things like gay rights and tranny rights today are mostly just nostalgic echos of those reform movements of the 70’s.
The current age is nothing like the period following World War II so it is unlikely that the coming reform period will be anything like that time. That’s why the causes of this Great Progressive Awakening have seemed so silly and pointless. They are silly and pointless. The one substantive effort at economic reform, ObamaCare, devolved into a festival of vengeance against Christians, traditionalists and the white middle-class. The Left’s reformist impulse have long since burned out. What’s left is just spite.
This age is much more like the the period starting at the end of the 19th century and running into the early 20th when taking on the monsters of industry was the priority. The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed in 1890. The Clayton Antitrust Act was passed in 1914. Of course, Teddy Roosevelt made his bones in trust busting at the turn of the century. Financial reforms followed the crash of ’29, along with additional laws like the Robinson-Patman Act to limit corporate consolidation.
If you look at the economic reforms of that generation, the goal was to limit the power and influence of new industrial barons. Concentrations of wealth are the great threat to republican government so the logical response to it is to break up the large interests. A century ago that meant trust busting and strong limits on the economic activity of the super rich. It also mean laws against the sort of reckless risk taking at the root of every financial crisis.
This time around things are a bit different, but the same problems exist. The coming period of reform will be economic, aimed at returning power to the political class. That will also mean political reforms that will be necessary to enforce the economic reforms. Again, reform is about the people in charge and the public is secondary. Even so, the brewing unrest is the opening that allows reformers to usher in changes. In the coming decades, those changes will be economic and political.