Traditionalists vs Modernists

Beginning in the 1920s, the United States begins to undergo an obvious shift in societal values. Cultures begin to transform and new ideas are implemented in to the American population. This change in society brought forth the Modern Culture of the 1920s, one that would not remain unchallenged and had to run against the Traditionalist ideals of America. Traditionalists, as the name suggests, wanted to ensure that the nation maintained the same image that was already making America known throughout the world because of the culture it already had. Their world truly got flipped upside down by the emergence of Modernists. Traditionalists imposed their values heavily upon Modernism, often with little to no effect since Modernists were not fazed and continued to support their cause.

In the 1920s, a sentiment known as nativism, or the radical protection of citizens born within the country, was now taking shape once again. The famous Ku Klux Klan from the 1860s and 1870s, now re-emerged in the Midwest and the South (Newman and Schmalbach 486). The movie directed by DW Griffith, Birth of A Nation, glorified the early Klan and influenced whites to once again gain the motivation to continue on with it. They wanted to expel immigrants from the country due to their low wage jobs which many businesses would exploit. Soon enough, the push for the defense of traditional values took a great leap. They no longer simply terrorized immigrants or those who were classified as racially impure, they threatened those who also posed a threat to what they stood for, their traditional values. (Brinkley 632) Klan members would act out their own versions of vigilante justice with killing people, strange rituals, and hurting many more.

The Klan seemed to be rising more and more as time passed. White Americans at first accepted the Klan and what it stood for since it seemed to depict Christian morality by casting out those not cut out for the glory and by driving out adulterers and gamblers. In 1925, the Klan began to suffer a massive downfall with several scandals hitting the core. A northern newspaper reported that corruption and fraud “in the KKK were rife”. The Indian Klan leader named David Stephenson brought headlines to the klan as he was responsible for the murder and rape of a young secretary. Membership took a dive but the Klan marched proudly 40 years later in to the 60s.
The extremely fierce and debated topic of prohibition was one which was widespread throughout the 1920s. Alcohol was viewed by many as an evil which needed to be rid of. It was causing too much chaos in society in many people’s s eyes. The passing of the 18th amendment was meant to keep a workforce which was sober during wartime concerns by banning all production and distribution of alcoholic beverages throughout the entire United States. This had very little effect on the selling of alcohol as bootleg liquor was sold at bars throughout the country at a rampant rate. The selling of illegal liquor was almost encouraged since police did little to stop the alcohol infestation because they were paid to be kept quiet. At the time, President Harding was even seen serving illegal alcohol to his White House guests. Fervent supporters of the ban on alcohol pointed out a decline in alcohol related deaths but they failed to recognize those numbers were being replaced very easily due to a rise in criminal activity. (Newman and Schmalbach 484) The famous crime lord named Al Capone prospered during this era by selling alcohol. He hired as many as 1000 gunmen to guard his alcohol and they caused over 250 deaths in the city of Chicago (Brinkley, 631). In 1933, the “Modernists”obtained another victory as the 21st amendment which repealed the Prohibition amendment was finally passed.

The famous “Scopes Trial” proved to be another crucial victory for the Modernists over the traditionalists. The Modernists wanted to adapt religion to the teachings of science through the theory of evolution while the “Fundamentalists” or Traditionalists wanted to keep the Bible as the sole interpretation of the creation of the world. The teachings of Charles Darwin were rejected but Fundamentalists and they soon banned teachers from teaching any creation theory other than the Bible.(Brinkley, 633) John T. Scopes, a professor in Dayton, Tennessee, agreed to be the defendant in a mock trial offered by the American Civil Liberties Union. Clarence Darrow was called to defend Scopes while William Jennings Bryan came in as a Bible Expert. The conclusion seemed to be that this would be a great victory for the Fundamentalists over this new generation but the Modernists stood out. Darrow challenged Bryan and made his biblical truths look foolish. Jennings Bryan even admitted to the radio that there is not one interpretation to all religious dogma.

Modernists were also able to impose their hand upon traditionalist by applying the pressure themselves. They caused a revolution in the Classic morals that had been brought upon by Traditionalists. Perhaps the most extended change in young people’s lives in the 20s came in the form of sexual taboos. For example, Sigmund Freud “stressed the role of sexual repression in mental illness”. Premarital sex was now taken as a new “invention” during the era. Birth control too was beginning to garner a crowd of people and gain popularity thanks to the advocation of Margaret Sanger along with others. The flapper movement was also seen as a big revolt by Traditionalists. Women began to feel more freedom and liberty. They now began bobbing their hair to make it short instead of long and wore skirts which reached down to the knee instead of the ankle. Modernists were beginning to gain prominence in society as well as influence.

As society has evolved, it is clear that modernism had its influence placed upon society due to the clear cut changes from the traditionalist ideals in the 1920s. The Modernists came out victorious in the long run as they were able to dispose of most fundamentalist views. This is seen clearly through the Scopes Trial when Clarence Darrow put Jennings Bryan and creationism against the wall. Traditionalists also failed themselves and their cause with the Ku Klux Klan through causing several controversies. All in all, the Modernists were able to urge their ideals upon society forever.

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