This article argues that Americans operate with a concept and practice of political autonomy centered on a notion of “mastery,” which is inextricably linked to race, gender, and class hierarchy. I adopt Max Weber's concept of mastery and use it to broaden the construct of a Herrenvolk democracy beyond its traditional association with White supremacy. I then use this theoretical framework to illuminate the emergence of segregation in Atlanta between 1880 and 1910. This period marks a crucial transformation in the concept of race in the United States, as the paternalism of Southern agricultural relations is transposed by Southern Progressives into more urban and industrial settings. I conclude by raising the possibility that the concept of political autonomy currently operative in the United States shares important common ground with the ideological achievements of the Southern Progressives, confounding institutional attempts to foster citizen autonomy.
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