A “DESTRUCTIVE IDEOLOGY”
by RoseAnn Salanitri, TPATH Contributor, ©2016
“If anything, Progressivism represented the height of Western/rationalist arrogance about the ability to superintend a large national economy and society. It believed too much in reason and, therefore, viewed constitutional limits on power as foolishly outdated.”
Galup’s statement described Progressivism under Woodrow Wilson, but it fell short of the ideals expressed in the 1912 Platform of the Progressive Party, as advocated by its founder, Teddy Roosevelt. In the Industrial Age of Roosevelt’s time, monopolies crushed competition, children were forced to work as slaves in order to help families survive, women were treated as inferior human beings, seven-day work weeks were commonplace, and the American worker was largely abused and condemned to work in unsafe, and often dangerous environments.
The introduction of the 1912 Declaration of the Principles of the Progressive Party reads as follows:
The conscience of the people, in a time of grave national problems, has called into being a new party, born of the Nation’s awakened sense of justice. We of the Progressive Party here dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of the duty laid upon us by our fathers to maintain that government of the people, by the people and for the people whose foundation they laid.
We hold with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln that the people are the masters of their Constitution, to fulfill its purposes and to safeguard it from those who, by perversion of its intent, would convert it into an instrument of injustice. In accordance with the needs of each generation the people must use their sovereign powers to establish and maintain equal opportunity and industrial justice, to secure which this Government was founded and without which no republic can endure.
This country belongs to the people who inhabit it. Its resources, its business, its institutions and its laws should be utilized, maintained or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest.
The words above could have been written by any Conservative Constitutionalist today, but as usual, the devil is in the details, and it was the details (as well as the philosophy) of Progressivism that were forever changed by Woodrow Wilson.
Roosevelt understood what Wilson advocated against: that the foundation of this government, as designed by our Founders, was something to be respected and upheld, whereas Wilson believed the Constitution should be considered a living document subject to the change of those who believed they knew better or were more “evolved.”
As noble as Roosevelt’s intentions may have been, the cost of his Progressive Party ideologies proved to be detrimental to the general welfare he was trying to protect. The cost included greatly expanding the powers of the Executive Branch through the use of Executive Orders, something that has been abused by the current administration. He also instituted business regulations that have developed into restrictions that have stifled the growth of American businesses. He allowed the formation of unions that improved working conditions for those in the manufacturing industry, but which grew to the point of strangling companies and brought many to the point of bankruptcy; and as in the case of education, has become a type of monopoly within itself. Roosevelt also grew the military, a good thing with bad consequences that set the foundation for America’s standing as the world’s policeman. And while I am grateful to this Rough Rider for preserving our national parks and monuments, he laid the foundation for oppressive environmental regulations that have driven many American manufacturers overseas. Yes, Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” is arguably an extension of government’s constitutional right to provide for the “general welfare,” but as is the case for many good intentions, this too has added pavement to the road to hell, a road the disillusioned elitist Woodrow Wilson re-engineered.
Who in the Conservative Movement of today could argue with the premise in the 1912 Progressive Platform that addresses “The Old Parties,” especially in light of both major Parties threatening brokered conventions? It states:
Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people.
From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.
To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
While much of Roosevelt’s Progressive Platform expressed Americanism, its main pitfall was that it sought to solve the problems of the day through government intervention. This shortsightedness solved the short-term problems but laid the foundation for an over-reaching government that would become “the problem” a century later. In short, Roosevelt didn’t count the cost.
Woodrow Wilson was a different kind of Progressive, who was wise in his own eyes. In his 1912 campaign speech “What is Progress?” Wilson’s elitism and belief that the Constitution is a living document rings through loud and clear. Greatly influenced by Darwinian Evolution, he believed that our founding documents had outlived their relevancy and should evolve as humans evolved. He stated:
Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop. All the progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when “development,” “evolution,” is the scientific word— to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle….
The Heritage Foundation defines Wilson’s political philosophy this way:
Wilson laments that “Some citizens of this country have never got beyond the Declaration of Independence”; they are not fighting today’s tyrants. The Declaration of Independence was an “eminently practical document…not a thesis for philosophers, but a whip for tyrants; not a theory of government, but a program of action.” …Whatever the ills of the early 20th century, one might ask Wilson whether replacing the Declaration and the Constitution would not lead to even worse evils.
Wilson’s philosophies unleashed the form of Progressivism that has proven to be a blight upon our liberty-loving nation of limited government as designed by our Founders. Our Founders believed that our rights were endowed upon us by our Creator. In Wilson’s world view, there is no Creator. Hence our rights are bestowed upon us by government that becomes the sovereign – not the people. He further creates the premises that we are no longer under a system of established laws, but are now living under the enlightened age of Darwinism, where evolution is key. He stated it this way:
The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine (meaning a machine as created by our Founders with the Constitution), but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life.
Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics (established Rules of Law and operation); it must develop.
All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when “development,” “evolution,” is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.
Wilson believed our foundations had to be challenged – both within the structures of family (which established moral ground) and government. Although he tried to disguise his world view of education with platitudes of reason, his actual words are revelatory. He further stated in this speech:
… It was for that reason that I used to say, when I had to do with the administration of an educational institution, that I should like to make the young gentlemen of the rising generation as unlike their fathers as possible. Not because their fathers lacked character or intelligence or knowledge or patriotism, but because their fathers, by reason of their advancing years and their established position in society, had lost touch with the processes of life; they had forgotten what it was to begin; they had forgotten what it was to rise; they had forgotten what it was to be dominated by the circumstances of their life on their way …
The wedge Wilson created in the world of academia between parent and child has become a monumental stumbling block in today’s family unit. It can be traced back to his Darwinian world view and is in full display in urban districts where parents have abdicated their responsibilities to government.
The legacy of Progressivism, whether well-intentioned or misguided, has bestowed upon us a nation that has lost its way, trusting in a soulless government to define the (A)morality we are condemned to live under. This philosophy has guided us to a road that is leading straight to a hell – morally, spiritually, and civically. The good news is that the road signs to point us back on the right course have been unveiled. The prophet Jeremiah admonished ancient Israel before its fall:
Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls… (Jer. 6:16)
Israel didn’t listen and they suffered the consequences. May America heed the words of the prophet before we suffer the consequences of our folly.