Are We Living in a "Second Gilded Age"? The Perils and Promise of Historical Comparison

It seems so obvious that we are living in a “Second Gilded Age.” Rampant economic inequality amid an exploding growth in technology, a tidal wave of white supremacy, political corruption at the highest levels, attacks on government programs and even the very idea of a social contract, deeply polarizing conflicts over immigration and nativism, the swelling of populism…. All this—and plenty more!—lend plausibility to the idea that our own era represents the rebirth of one of our most caricatured historical periods.

Yet does such a comparison truly make sense? In this discussion-oriented seminar based on scholarly reading done in advance of the seminar, we will explore the perils and promise of this historical comparison along two major axes. First: was there even a “Gilded Age” in the late 19th century? And does the concept “Second Gilded Age” actually do any more than provide a glib label for our lives today that obscures more than it illuminates?