the new ‘spirit of the age'
Most workers during this period were deeply troubled by the selfish individualism at the heart of the new economic system, which they viewed as the source of many of its ills. One labor leader writing in the Voice denounced this new “spirit of the age,” the imperative that people should be blindly driven by greed to “get gain…gain wealth…forgetting all but self.”
This new emphasis on greed and accumulation was seen by many workers as immoral, and corrosive of the altruistic and benevolent parts of human nature. “Man is a social being, the very nature and the circumstances necessary to the development of his natural capacities proclaim,” wrote one worker, noting that “sympathy” was “the only true principle” which “rightly associates the human family. But how often is this great principle misruled by the demands of want – or the schemes of vain or pecuniary policies?”
Disturbed by the rapid spread of this selfish, individualistic ethic, workers looked to the various reform movements of the period, which organized production according to cooperative, rather than competitive, principles.