Quantifying Vitality: The Progressive Paradox

Jackson Lears at the Hedgehog Review:

Statistics in the Progressive Era were more than mere signs of a managerial government’s early efforts to sort and categorize its citizens. The emergence of statistical selves was not simply a rationalization of everyday life, a search for order (as Robert Wiebe taught a half century of historians to say). The reliance on statistical governance coincided with and complemented a pervasive revaluation of primal spontaneity and vitality, an effort to unleash hidden strength from an elusive inner self. The collectivization epitomized in the quantitative turn was historically compatible with radically individualist agendas for personal regeneration—what later generations would learn to call positive thinking.

Then as now, positive thinking underwrote entrepreneurial ambition. Consider the career of Helen Wilmans, who abandoned her life as a rancher’s wife to become a prolific author of inspirational books celebrating the creative powers of mind.

more here.