Friday, May 24, 2013

American Progressivism: Part 1 of 5

To understand what is going on in our nation today, we must understand the history and purpose of Progressivism. 

Every Friday for the next five weeks I'll be posting an informative crash-course on American Progressivism by R.J. Pestritto, Shipley Professor of the American Constitution at Hillsdale College. 

Be always learning - and enjoy!


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Part 1

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. 







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