American Progressivism

I.  Who were the Progressives, and why are they important? 

II.  The Progressives and their Attack on America’s Founding

III.  How the Progressives Originated the Modern Presidency

IV. Progressivism and Socialism

V. Progressivism and the Current Crisis




I.  Who were the Progressives, and why are they important? 

R.J. Pestritto

Shipley Professor of the American Constitution at Hillsdale College 


 

American Progressivism

by Ronald J. Pestritto

Glenn has asked me to expand a bit on our discussion of America’s Progressives from Friday’s television show, which I’ll do in this and four subsequent pieces for the newsletter.  In today’s piece, I’ll explain who the Progressives were and why they were important.   

Many on the left today call themselves “progressive,” and they do so not just because it’s a nicer way of saying “liberal,” but also because they very much intend to revive the political principles of America’s original Progressives, from the Progressive Era of the 1880s through World War I.  Why would leftist politicians, like Mrs. Clinton, purposely identify themselves with this Progressive movement? 

The reason is that America’s original Progressives were also its original, big-government liberals.  Most people point to the New Deal era as the source of big government and the welfare state that we have today.  While this is perfectly accurate, it is important to understand that the principles of the New Deal did not originate in the New Deal; rather, they came from the Progressives, who had dominated American politics and intellectual cultural a generation prior to the New Deal. 

We have no less an authority on this connection than Franklin Roosevelt himself.  When FDR campaigned in 1932, he pointed to the Progressives – and in particular to Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson – as the source of his ideas about government.   

In terms of the personalities who made up the Progressive movement, some are familiar to us and others are less so.  The movement was comprised of well known politicians like Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt; but it was also comprised of intellectuals and writers who are less well known but who have been very influential in America.  There were folks like John Dewey, who was America’s public philosopher for much of the early 20th century.  Even less well known was Herbert Croly, but Croly was highly influential, since he founded and was the first editor of The New Republic – which became the main organ of Progressive opinion in the United States, and is still one of the most important journals on the Left today.  I should add here that Woodrow Wilson actually fell into both of these categories – he was both a well known politician and president, but also was, for decades prior to his entry into politics, a prominent intellectual (a college professor and president of Princeton) who wrote many books and influential articles. 

As I’ll explain in my next piece, these Progressives wanted a thorough transformation in America’s principles of government, from a government permanently dedicated to securing individual liberty to one whose ends and scope would change to take on any and all social and economic ills.  Here’s the order of the points we’ll consider in the pieces to follow: 

    1) What did Progressives think about the American founding, and why did they want to eradicate its principles? 

    2) How did we get today’s excessively powerful presidency from the Progressives? 

    3) What was the connection between Progressivism and Socialism?  Were the Progressives actually Socialists? 

    4) What are some of the critical connections between Progressivism and what’s going on in our country today? 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

 




II.  The Progressives and their Attack on America’s Founding


 

As I mentioned in my last piece, America’s Progressives aimed for a thorough transformation in America’s principles of government.  While our founders understood that our national government must have the capacity to be strong and vigorous (this is why the Articles of Confederation were failing), they also were very clear that this strength must always be confined to very limited ends or areas of responsibility; government, in other words, while not weak or tiny, was to be strictly limited.   

The Progressive conception of government, on the other hand, was quite the opposite; Progressives had an “evolving” or a “living” notion of government (yes, we get the term “living constitution” from the Progressives), and thus wanted government to take on whatever role and scope the times demanded.  The Progressives reasoned that people of the founding era may have wanted a limited government, given their particular experience with George III, but they argued that people of their own time wanted a much more activist government, and that we should adjust accordingly. 

Quite simply, the Progressives detested the bedrock principles of American government.  They detested the Declaration of Independence, which enshrines the protection of individual natural rights (like property) as the unchangeable purpose of government; and they detested the Constitution, which places permanent limits on the scope of government and is structured in a way that makes the extension of national power beyond its original purpose very difficult.  “Progressivism” was, for them, all about progressing, or moving beyond, the principles of our founders.   

This is why the Progressives were the first generation of Americans to denounce openly our founding documents.  Woodrow Wilson, for example, once warned that “if you want to understand the real Declaration of Independence, do not repeat the preface” – i.e. that part of the Declaration which talks about securing individual natural rights as the only legitimate purpose of government.  And Theodore Roosevelt, when using the federal government to take over private businesses during the 1902 coal strike, is reported to have remarked, “To hell with the Constitution when people want coal!”  This remark may be apocryphal, but it is a fair representation of how TR viewed these matters.   

In the next piece, we’ll consider how the presidency was transformed under men like Wilson and TR. 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

    2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

 




III.  How the Progressives Originated the Modern Presidency 

As I explained in my last piece, the Progressives wanted to disregard the Constitution in order to enlarge vastly the scope of government.  As a practical matter, how was this to be done?  It happened in a variety of ways, but principal among them was a fundamental change in the American presidency. 

Under the system of our founders, government was to have sufficient strength and energy to accomplish its ends, but those ends were strictly limited by the Constitution.  The principal way in which the Constitution keeps the government within its boundaries is through the separation of powers.  As readers of The Federalist and of Thomas Jefferson know, the point of separation of powers is to keep any one set of hands from wielding all of the power in national government. 

The Progressives, especially Woodrow Wilson, hated the separation of powers for precisely this reason: it made government inefficient, and made it difficult, if not impossible, to expand the power of government so that it could take on all of the new tasks that Progressives had in mind.  So they looked to the presidency as a way of getting around this obstacle. 

Under the original system, the president was merely leader of a single branch, or part, of the government, and thus could not provide leadership of the government as a whole.  In his book Constitutional Government, Wilson urged that “leadership and control must be lodged somewhere.” The president, Wilson pointed out, was the only politician who could claim to speak for the people as a whole, and thus he called upon the president to rise above the separation of powers – to consider himself not merely as chief of a single branch of government, but as the popular leader of the whole of national politics. Wilson even contrasted the “constitutional aspect” of the presidency – its constitutionally defined role as chief of one of the three co-equal branches of government – to the “political” function of the president, where he could use his connection to public opinion as a tool for moving all of the branches of government in the direction called for by the people.  

It was in this way that Wilson believed the original intention of the separation of powers system could be circumvented, and the enhanced presidency could be a means energizing the kind of active national government that the progressive agenda required.  

In the next piece, we’ll consider whether the principles of the Progressives made them socialists. 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

    2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

 




IV.  Progressivism and Socialism 

Since the Progressives had such a limitless view of state power, and since they wanted to downplay the founders’ emphasis on individual rights, it is only natural to ask if they subscribed to socialism.  There are several things to consider in answering this question. 

First, when considering the relationship of progressivism to socialism, we must be clear that we are talking about the similarity in the philosophy of government; we are not suggesting that America’s progressives were the kind of moral monsters that we see in the history of some socialist or fascist regimes (although it is the case that their racial views – particularly those of Woodrow Wilson – were indeed morally reprehensible). 

Second, we must also bear in mind that there was an actual socialist movement during the Progressive Era, and prominent progressives such as Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were critics of it.  In fact, Wilson and Roosevelt both ran against a socialist candidate in the 1912 election (Eugene Debs).  The progressives were ambivalent about the socialist movement of their day not so much because they disagreed with it in principle, but because the American socialist movement was a movement of the lower classes.  The progressives were elitists; they looked down their noses at the socialists, considering them a kind of rabble. 

Keeping these points in mind, it is, nonetheless, the case that the progressive conception of government closely coincided with the socialist conception.  Both progressivism and socialism champion the prerogatives of the state over the prerogatives of the individual.  Wilson himself made this connection very plain in a revealing essay he wrote in 1887 called “Socialism and Democracy.”  Wilson’s begins this essay by defining socialism, explaining that it stands for unfettered state power, which trumps any notion of individual rights. It “proposes that all idea of a limitation of public authority by individual rights be put out of view,” Wilson wrote, and “that no line can be drawn between private and public affairs which the State may not cross at will.” After laying out this definition of socialism, Wilson explains that he finds nothing wrong with it in principle, since it was merely the logical extension of genuine democratic theory. It gives all power to the people, in their collective capacity, to carry out their will through the exercise of governmental power, unlimited by any undemocratic idea like individual rights. He elaborated:

    “In fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Limits of wisdom and convenience to the public control there may be: limits of principle there are, upon strict analysis, none.”

Roosevelt, too, argued for a new conception of government, where individual natural rights would no longer serve as a principled boundary that the state was prohibited from crossing.  He called in his New Nationalism program for the state to take an active role in effecting economic equality by way of superintending the use of private property. Private property rights, which had been serving as a brake on the more aggressive progressive policy proposals, were to be respected, Roosevelt argued, only insofar as the government approved of the property’s social usefulness.  He wrote:

    “We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.”

In the next and final piece, we will consider the some of the most important connections between the original progressives and the resurgence of progressivism today. 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

    2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

 




V.  Progressivism and the Current Crisis 

There are important connections between America’s original Progressive Era and the crisis we are facing today, and it is useful to consider these connections on two levels. 

The first connection is at a general level, and concerns our abandonment of the Constitution.  The present crisis did not appear out of nowhere, and didn’t simply begin with the election of Barack Obama.  Politicians of both parties spent the better part of the 20th century disregarding the Constitution, as they looked to have government step up to solve every conceivable human problem.  Thus it ought to be no surprise that the Constitution’s limits on government aren’t even part of the conversation today as our politicians debate the new interventions in our economy and society that seem to come daily.   

Such a state of things would have greatly pleased America’s original progressives.  As I’ve endeavored to explain in these pieces for the newsletter, progressives believed that the role of government should be determined not by our Constitution, but by whatever the needs of the day happened to be.  This is why they sought to eradicate talk of the Constitution from our political discourse; today, that goal seems to have been realized. 

The second connection between the original Progressive Era and our situation today has to do with policy.  The progressives knew that our original system of government was not capable of handling all of the new tasks that they had in mind for it.  So they envisioned creating a vast set of bureaucratic agencies.  They argued that Congress should enact very broad and vague laws for supervising more and more facets of the American economy and society, and then delegate to the bureaucratic agencies the power and discretion to enact specific policies.  Both Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt conceived of government in this way. 

The New Deal certainly went a long way toward implementing this progressive vision, and what we have seen in our own situation with TARP and the various other interventions is simply greater steps toward the progressive plan.  Our Congress has simply said to the Treasury agencies: here’s a trillion dollars, here’s all the legal authority you need, now go out, determine what is in the public interest, and spend and regulate accordingly.  That is the progressive vision of government, in a nutshell. 

For more on the Progressives, two of my books may be of interest: 

    1) American Progressivism, which I co-edited with American historian William Atto, contains a basic introduction to progressive ideas written by Professor Atto and me, and then several selections from the actual writings of Progressives like Wilson, TR, Dewey, Croly, and others.

    2) Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, which is a much more in-depth look at Woodrow Wilson and how he was central to originating the liberalism that dominates America today.  This is for those who are really interested in history and political theory.

3,000 migrants just crossed the Honduran/Guatemala border en route to the United States. President Trump threatened both countries yesterday with pulling all financial aid if the two countries don't do something to stop it. Every year we give about 100 million to Guatemala with a good majority going to their military and security services. Over the last two years we've given Honduras over 260 million. Again, a vast majority goes to keep their military and security apparatus up and running. In short, if we stop writing those checks, both the Honduran and Guatemalan governments are going to have some very big problems.

FLASHBACK: Trump send troops to stop migrant 'caravan' headed for US — but here's who's funding the migrants

It's such a big issue that the Honduran President made a public address to his country yesterday. The foreign ministry also made a statement saying the government:

Urges the Hondurans taking part in this irregular mobilization not to be used by a movement that is clearly political.

Political? What does that mean? Well, it turns out that this caravan is different from the one coming from Mexico back in April. That previous caravan had serious backing in the form of manpower, organization and money from George Soros. It was a strategic political stunt that - at the time - dominated the media. That caravan was directed at causing waves here in the United States, but this current one isn't directed at us at all. This is all about radical left wing politics in Honduras.

As the three thousand migrants crossed into Guatemala, the Guatemalan government detained one man. His name is Bartolo Fuentes, and he's the organizer of this entire charade that - just like back in April - is beginning to get massive coverage... and even a tweet by President Trump. And this is exactly what Fuentes and his merry band of Leftists want.

Fuentes is the ex-deputy of the Honduran Liberty and Refoundation Party. Their members are supporters of the former Honduran President that was ousted by the military in a coup back in 2009. Saying they're Leftist doesn't quite give it justice. They wanted to form a partnership with both Hugo Chavez and the Castros to create some kind of South American Communist mega alliance. The former president was ousted on the eve of a special election where he wanted to rewrite the constitution to make sweeping changes. His followers, like this current caravan organizer, never forgot. They've been staging political stunts ever since to try and undermine the more right leaning government.

They want a showdown at the U.S. border. And you better believe they want the cameras rolling when it happens.

The use of these "migrant caravans" is only going to get worse. Leftists like Soros, and even this group in Honduras, have no qualms at all with using men, women and children in incredibly dangerous situations to further their politics. They don't really care about these people. They're doing the same thing that Hamas is doing with the Palestinians in Gaza.

They want a showdown at the U.S. border. And you better believe they want the cameras rolling when it happens.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) joined Glenn Beck on Monday's show to refute the progressive narrative that America's founding documents, in particular the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, are irrelevant in modern-day America.

"Fact or fiction?" Glenn asked.

"Absolute fiction. It's the anti-truth. It's a false doctrine of the first order," replied Lee. "The Declaration of Independence is sort of the spiritual founding document of our country. It provided the feeling of the American people and still supplies that to this day."

"The Constitution is also important because it provides the structure," he continued. "The spirit of our country, what it means to be an American, is still in the Declaration of Independence."

The conversation turned to the question of slavery and how our Founding Father's could have believed that "all men are created equal" when many of them owned slaves. Glenn shared that he has acquired an 1830 engraving of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. According to this draft, Thomas Jefferson originally made a strong case against slavery, but the passage was removed in the final version.

"How is this not being taught in school?" Glenn asked. "How come we don't know that? Because it changes everything, does it not?"

"It certainly does," Lee answered. "I think it gives meaning, first of all, to the early lines within the Declaration of Independence, that these truths are self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they're endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments are instituted among men to promote and protect these ends."

Watch the video clip above to catch more of this conversation.

This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.

Well, it's officially official… Michael Avenatti is the worst lawyer in the history of ridiculously bad lawyers. I'm trying to figure out what "National Day" this should be, because with Avenatti it really could go either way. Right now it's a toss up between "The No Good Very Bad Lawyer Day" or "The No Good Very Bad Political Operative Day."

A federal judge yesterday seemed to be confused on that as well. Avenatti has been representing Stormy Daniels in a defamation lawsuit against President Trump. It all started when Avenatti, with his infinite superstar lawyer awesomeness, decided to build his case off of - get this…. A TWEET from the president. Trump tweeted this back in April regarding a man, allegedly sent by Trump, that had threatened her not to come forward with her story:

A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!

BOOM, Avenatti let loose the hounds of… well, a defamation suit.

But the judge yesterday couldn't tell if this was just bad lawyering or some kind of game of political football. Either way, he opted to rule it as both. The judge stated that the president's tweet was "rhetorical hyperbole", protected under the first amendment, and all or part of the quote "politics and public discourse in the United States."

So forget for a moment that a federal judge has just highlighted that a defamation lawsuit between a sitting U.S. President, a pornstar, and a political activist - masquerading as a lawyer - is now considered normal and business as usual. Consider for just a second that this "lawyer", is actually considering running for president. A man that has shown no qualms at all with parading women (first Daniels and then Swetnick) in front of the entire world, embarrass them, and do it all for his own ugly political greed.

To everyone that donated, you just paid President Trump's lawyers over half a million dollars.

The federal judge ordered the case closed, and Stormy Daniels to pay for all the president's legal fees. And this might be the funniest thing to come out of all this. Daniels set up a Crowd Justice page, kind of like a Go Fund Me, back in April to pay for all her legal fees. As of today that page has raised five hundred and eighty-six thousand dollars. So, to everyone that donated, you just paid President Trump's lawyers over half a million dollars.

As the kids these days say… L-O-L

Wait, 'white woman' is now a disparaging term? I can't even.

Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

Feminism began in the 1830s as a revolution by affluent white women who wanted birth control and the right to vote. As feminism developed, it expanded its focus so that women of every sort were included. It has even expanded further beyond women, to "marginalized communities." Lately, it's gone a step further and started doing some "marginalizing" of its own.

The madness of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing was a watershed event. The entire country got an up-close view of what feminism has come to. It has become remarkably anti-truth, or at least unconcerned with truth. Instead, it's about destruction.

RELATED: Kavanaugh might be the force to turn back the blue wave

A lot of women sided with Dr. Ford, because they saw Ford as a symbol of womanhood, just as many people saw Kavanaugh, not just as a man, and not just a white man, but as the symbol of the system they claim to fight, the patriarchy.

For many reasons, the term "white man" has become derogatory, an honest-to-God insult that is not applied to any other race or gender, not in that openly insulting way. The indenting-obsessed feminists and activists have led an untiring charge against white men, and, until now, he's faced the outrage alone, quietly. White women, on the other hand, were part of that struggle against white men. They, like their fellow marginalized people, were the victims of white straight cis-gendered men. But postmodernism and social justice don't stop until the entire house collapses, so now they're going after white women as well.

A recent article in National Review titled "'White Women' Becomes a Disparaging Term" examines this shift.

Today, white women are being lumped together into a giant bloc subject to absurdly broad stereotyping and vitriolic condemnation. They're being told to step back and know their place by writers in the New York Times ("white women benefit from patriarchy by trading on their whiteness to monopolize resources for mutual gain"), The New Yorker ("despite the enduring legacy of testimony by black women, white women have often played the protagonists in the history of sexual violence, and black women have been relegated to the supporting cast") and NBC News ("white women who voted for Trump . . . clearly have no issue with the president's openly misogynistic behavior, his demeaning of female reporters and his mocking of [Christine Blasey] Ford).

The author adds that:

A writer for The Root castigated Taylor Swift because "like some white women, she uses her privilege to not be involved until she's directly affected." Talia Lavin, the New Yorker fact-checker who resigned in June after erroneously suggesting that an ICE agent (who turned out to be a combat-wounded Marine Corps veteran) had a Nazi tattoo, continues to contribute to The New Yorker and tells her 51,000 Twitter followers, "patriarchy won't protect you no matter how hard white women fight for it." "White women use strategic tears to silence women of colour," ran a headline in the Guardian. On the basis of five phone calls, plus the story of what happened to Emmett Till in 1955, Rolling Stone published an essay entitled, "Why White Women Keep Calling the Police on Black People," blaming them for "a new 21st-century version of Jim Crow."

The mainstream media, like 4th wave feminists—and, believe me, there is a serious overlap—has become interested in activism. They want to destroy everything that they disagree with—the most horrible person to them would be the cis-gendered straight, able-bodied, financially-independent white man who is politically conservative and Christian, especially if he voted for Trump and listens to Kanye.

The Left's kind of activism is dangerous, too, because it's a postmodern form of activism, so truth doesn't matter and language is a weapon used to attack whoever is deems "oppressors," which has, until now, been mostly white men and anyone who tries to defend them and anyone who disagrees with the postmodern politics of the Left. Anyone who has tried to stand up and say, "This isn't right, you're being sexist and racist by accusing 'white men' of all these things, and calling them sexist and racist." But that doesn't matter. And it doesn't work. These people have literally accused Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, of antisemitism, and called Candace Owens and Kanye West, who are black, white supremacists. They call Christina Hoff Sommers, who is a feminist woman, a misogynist. We could spend all day going through examples, but you know plenty already.

These activists can say whatever they want and attack whomever they please and nobody can stop them.

These activists can say whatever they want and attack whomever they please and nobody can stop them. As anyone who has so much as disagreed with them will tell you, they are ruthless. White women used to be part of their tribe. But now, they are finding out how ruthless their former allies can be. Hopefully, there's enough sanity left among enough people in that tribe to realize what's going on. Hopefully, they realized that maybe they'll be next.