Reconsidering Gabriel Kolko: A Half-Century Perspective
By Robert L. Bradley Jr.
Roger Donway

This article appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of The Independent Review


Historian Gabriel Kolko argued that the “progressive” reforms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came about because titans of big business worked with their political counterparts to promote regulations to tame smaller business rivals and to stave off threats from antibusiness political movements. Kolko successfully challenged the simplistic Progressive interpretation of American history, but his thesis is marred by his invalid conception of “political capitalism,” his failure to apply methodological individualism, and his surprisingly weak evidence—shortcomings that warrant a reappraisal of his work, especially by libertarians who believe Kolko’s work helps support the case for laissez-faire.



In our essay “Reconsidering Gabriel Kolko,” we alleged (on p. 573) that Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism had doctored a quotation from J. J. Hill. We have since learned that this is false, and we regret the error.

The confusion arose because the clause Kolko quoted appeared twice: once in a 1901 symposium published in the North American Review, and once when three of the symposium essays (including Hill’s) were reprinted in a 1902 volume: The Trust: Its Book. Kolko’s footnote for Hill’s clause cited authors from both the 1901 magazine and the 1902 book, and we relied upon the book’s text of Hill, which was then available via the Internet, assuming that the clause’s wording was identical in both places.

Unfortunately, the clause Kolko quoted from Hill had had a word added in its book version, whether because of a printer’s error or because of an authorial correction. In any event, we were thus led to believe that Kolko had changed Hill’s wording. But Kolko’s book cited the magazine version of Hill’s clause and the quotation in the magazine, we now know, appears as Kolko rendered it. We have examples of quotations that Kolko doctored to change their meaning, but Hill’s is not one of them.

That said, Kolko did delete the subject and verb of Hill’s sentence with an ellipsis and thereby altered the implication of the clause in question. Hill was not saying, as Kolko suggested, that the trust had been a valuable institution because it obviated “ruinous competition.” As we wrote: “Hill’s contention instead is that the ‘general feeling of hostility’ toward industrial consolidation is understandable because the old-fashioned trust ‘was not on its face a healthy arrangement.’”


Other Independent Review articles by Robert L. Bradley Jr.
    Summer 2010   Capitalism, Socialism, and the “Middle Way”: A Taxonomy

Other Independent Review articles by Roger Donway
    Summer 2010   Capitalism, Socialism, and the “Middle Way”: A Taxonomy

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