chapter  1
24 Pages

Secular Liberalism on Trial in the Turbulent 1920s

America had been taken over by “strangers,” declared Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans in 1926. The worst offenders, cried Evans, were morally suspect intellectuals who defended unlimited immigration and who validated the culturally decadent ideas and practices associated with the Jazz Age.1 In making this charge, the Klan’s leading official dramatized the discomfort with which traditionally oriented Americans viewed the presumed influence and power of scientific experts and secular intellectuals following World War I. As cosmopolitan elements of the middle class entertained the advanced theories of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein, moral traditionalists tied the nation s intellectual guardians to the legitimation of disputed social and cultural change. By exploring key elements of the Leopold-Loeb case, the Scopes trial, and the rhetoric of 1920s KKK leaders, this chapter connects criticism concerning the social authority and influence of intellectuals and theorists to widespread anxieties over the fate of modern society.