What a great irony. Those who originally identified themselves as Progressives and later called themselves Liberals like to think of themselves as having higher ethical standards than everyone else in society. In fact, that’s exactly why they selected the term Progressive to describe their ideology. Just prior to the turn of the 20th century, men like Richard T. Ely and his student and future President, Woodrow Wilson, decided that certain individuals and certain elements of society had progressed to a higher ethical plane. These men (and women) were enlightened. They had taken a step never before taken in the history of the world, becoming men and women with higher ethical standards. The founders of the Progressive movement (today called the Liberal movement) concluded that they had, in the long march of mankind, finally shaken off the curse of the fallen state of man and were no longer subject to corruption of human nature as understood by the Founders.
It wasn’t that the Progressives thought the Founders were bad people. In fact, for their time, they conceded that the Founders were quite an amazing group of men. They might even say that they too had taken a great leap in ethics to form the first successful republic in the history of the world. But, given the general state of the world in the 1700s, the Founders simply had not yet reached the level of ethics that had been achieved by themselves (Progressives) in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Professor Tiffany Jones Miller (from whom I have borrowed liberally) has written in National Review…
“The vital core of the turn-of-the 20th century Progressive Movement was a group of social scientists, many of whom had studied in German universities in the post-Civil War era. Among their most energetic reformers were a group of economists who had studied with members of the German Historical School of Economics, a school whose approach was, as historian Daniel M. Fox observes, ‘deeply influenced by Hegelian concepts of the historical process.’ Richard T. Ely was arguably the most influential member of this group. Ely played a leading role in the founding of the reform-minded American Economic Association…”
In fact, Ely is still honored today by the American Economic Association. Each year an economist is selected to be a Richard T. Ely Lecturer. The Encyclopedia of World Biography writes, “Richard Ely (1854-1943) is considered the dean of American economics…” As you will see, this is a rather surprising designation for someone who was such a blatant racist as was Ely.
Ely frankly explained his view that he and others had attained a higher ethical perspective and standard that had others in the past. He wrote the…
“…ethical ideal which animates the new political economy is the most perfect development of all human faculties in each individual, which can be attained…”
He further explained that this includes…
“…all the higher faculties—faculties of love, of knowledge, of aesthetic perception, and the like…”
And, keep in mind who this quote from Ely sounds like…
“When we speak of freedom as something to be highly prized, we do not mean merely freedom from restraint or compulsion.”
“True liberty” according to Ely does not consist in “negative” freedom as the Founders’ envisioned, but it is “positive” in nature and “…means the expression of positive powers of the individual [to] make the most and best of [himself]…”
As Professor Jones Miller writes…
“The Progressives believed in ‘progress,’ in short, because they believed that history, as a process of moral growth, has an upward trajectory.”
Professor Jones Miller has correctly identified the point of divergence between progressives (liberals) and the Founders. It is the progressive/liberal belief that man can progress morally and ethically; indeed that some men and women have in fact progressed to a higher moral and ethical level. Such a view is a radical departure from the understanding of the Founders and from traditionally held views of the nature of man.
Recently, liberal icons like Hillary Clinton have gone back to referring to themselves as Progressives, but Hillary might want to re-consider the wisdom of such a move in light of the frankly sordid history of the early Progressives. There is a very good reason that the name Progressive was abandoned in favor of the word Liberal.
The Progressive movement didn’t just deal exclusively with politics. It insinuated itself into every aspect of society—education (John Dewey), religion (Harry Emerson Fosdick), economics (Richard T. Ely), social policy (Margaret Sanger), arts and entertainment. And, one of the things that took place was the evaluation by these elitists of every segment of society, not as individuals, but as groups.
The overriding goal of the Progressive movement was power. They wanted power in every area, in education, in religion, in economics, in social policy, in politics, and in arts and entertainment. With this focus, they were able to change positions almost instantly, if it advanced their overall goal of achieving power. And, this is something they have done repeatedly. Because most liberals of today reject traditional moral values, it is not difficult to follow a practice of the ends justify the means.
In the Progressives’ view, the purpose of gaining power over the lives of other citizens was entirely benign. After all, because they had achieved a higher ethical plane, they knew, better than the citizens themselves, what was good for them. They could easily rationalize that what they had on their agenda was best for everyone.
But, accomplishing the Progressives’ goal wasn’t necessarily an easy task. They wanted to seek unprecedented power in a free society. They had to deal with the cumbersome democratic process in order to gain power and then curtail the democratic process. But, they felt that they were up to the task. And, they were.
After all, they were Progressives and that meant that anyone who did not agree with them was a regressive. And, in their view, what those who opposed them had in mind was simply not good for a modern society. They were, after all, inventing something new in the history of the world.
The Progressives’ plan, through the agency of government, was to provide security for every American. They would provide true justice, they would usher in an era of permanent world peace, and they would cure economic inequities, while still providing a good living for all. Under the control of the Progressives the arts would flourish, education would expand, society would improve, and the very nature of man would evolve to a higher state. Such was the vision of the founders of the American Progressive movement.
But, of course, it didn’t work like that. Human nature had not changed at all. And, that became abundantly clear with the advent of the worst wars, highest crime rates, worst education, and worst depression in the history of the United States. Each and every one of these were aided and abetted by the American Progressive movement. And, the problems created by the American Progressive/Liberal movement continue even today. There is no learning curve for the misguided leaders of the movement because they still today do not recognize or acknowledge the fact that they have not progressed ethically beyond any other segment of society. They, too, are subject to the fallen state of man. God is not dead, his precepts and standards still hold true. Yet, those in the Progressive/Liberal movement still cling to the idea that they are somehow better people than the other members of the human race. And, as long as they have power and cling to this falsehood, they will continue to wreak havoc on our society.
If the foundational premise of your movement is wrong, no policy or program you advocate can possibly work. And, before the current liberals come to the conclusion that the name liberal is so sullied as to be unusable (they do believe this), I suggest to them that they consider the sordid history of the Progressives of an earlier era.
Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia in 1856. As a young boy living in Atlanta, Georgia, he ardently cheered for the victory of the South. This is not, of course, unexpected in a young man whose family roots were in the deep South. But, Wilson never outgrew the racism of his childhood. Throughout his entire life, he considered African Americans to be inferior to white Americans. It was not uncommon for Wilson to use harsh racist terms as President of the United States, even in public. It was reported that Wilson’s favorite movie was D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” This racist movie depicted the KKK as the noble defenders of noble white Americans, and it is said that Wilson used it to justify his reinstitution of racial segregation as official US domestic policy.
Clearly, Wilson was no friend of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and leader of the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War. And, although they were not contemporaries, their lives did overlap, with Douglass dying in 1895 and Wilson in 1924. Douglass was prescient in his fear of what would happen if men like Wilson gained power. He feared that blacks would lose the rights they gained under the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution that were passed by Republicans. He wrote about the importance of the black man having the right to own property and compete with the white man in the marketplace, and he also wrote that if the black man lost the right to vote he would once again become…
“…the slave of society… holds his liberty as a privilege, not as a right.”
Beginning in 1890, a wave of disenfranchisement of black voters swept through the South, with the encouragement of men like Richard Ely and Woodrow Wilson. Historian C. Vann Woodward documented that while there were 130,334 blacks registered to vote in Louisiana in 1896, this number had declined dramatically to only 1,342 by 1904. The same pattern happened throughout the Old South. Woodward states…
“In the South, the typical progressive reformer rode to power…on a disenfranchising or white-supremacy movement.”
The racism of the Progressives was not confined to the South. In 1931, the Democrats pushed through the Davis-Bacon Act. Here is the story of the Davis-Bacon Act as described by David Bernstein, in his paper, The Davis-Bacon Act: Let's Bring Jim Crow to an End…
“The story of Davis-Bacon begins, one might say, in 1927 when a contractor from Alabama won a bid to build a Veterans' Bureau hospital in Long Island, New York. He brought a crew of black construction workers from Alabama to work on the project. Appalled that blacks from the South were working on a federal project in his district, Representative Robert Bacon of Long Island submitted H.R. 17069, "A Bill to Require Contractors and Subcontractors Engaged on Public Works of the United States to Comply with State Laws Relating to Hours of Labor and Wages of Employees on State Public Works," the antecedent of the Davis- Bacon Act.”
“Over the next four years Bacon introduced thirteen more bills to establish regulation of labor on federal public works projects. Finally, a bill submitted by Bacon and Senator James J. Davis, with the support of the American Federation of Labor, passed in 1931. The law provided that all federal construction contractors with contracts in excess of $5,000 or more must pay their workers the "prevailing wage," which in practice meant the wages of unionized labor.”
“The measure passed because Congressmen saw the bill as protection for local, unionized white workers' salaries in the fierce labor market of the Depression. In particular, white union workers were angry that black workers who were barred from unions were migrating to the North in search of jobs in the building trades and undercutting "white" wages.”
“The comments of various congressmen reveal the racial animus that motivated the sponsors and supporters of the bill. In 1930, Representative John J. Cochran of Missouri stated that he had ‘received numerous complaints in recent months about southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South.’”
The Davis-Bacon Act is clearly a racist law designed to discriminate against African Americans in the marketplace. Moreover, the Davis-Bacon Act is still supported by liberal Democrats, North and South. Jim Crow lives on in the marketplace because today’s Democratic Party is more loyal to their Union allies than they are to the principles of equal treatment under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Why, because the Progressive/Liberal movement is first and foremost driven by the acquisition of power, not the interests of the citizens of our Republic.
The disdain for minorities by Progressives was not limited to African Americans. They held a similar disdain for all minorities, as proven by the policies of the great liberal hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt. During World War II, Roosevelt was extremely xenophobic. While the number of German Americans far outnumbered the number of Japanese Americans, it was those of Japanese descent who became a target of President Roosevelt and fellow Progressive Republican Governor Earl Warren of California.
Together, Roosevelt and Warren devised and executed a plan that resulted in the internment of Japanese Americans. There was no greater reason to distrust the loyalty of Japanese American any more than German Americans, but Roosevelt did so only because they were Asians. Today’s Liberal authors of school text books spend a great deal of time talking about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II to show how bad America is. However, they do not properly credit this injustice to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Worse yet, they do not credit United States Senator Robert Taft (known as Mr. Conservative) as the most outspoken and prominent opponent of this misguided policy. Of course, to do so would be inconsistent with their message that all Conservatives are racists, and all Liberals are broad minded, compassionate individuals.
And, speaking of compassion, a study by Professor Arthur C. Brooks showed a distinct lack of compassion by Liberals when it comes to donating their time and money to charitable causes. They love to be identified as a “bleeding heart liberal,” but the facts show something entirely different. Liberals claim to be compassionate because they advocate spending someone else’s money to help others, but taking money forcibly from someone in the form of taxes is hardly compassion. Compassion can only be measured by the unforced, un-coerced generosity of an individual. And, on that score, liberals come up wanting. Today, 65% of all charitable gifts in the United States come from Christian conservatives. Donors to all major charities are dominated by conservatives. Moreover, the giving that comes from the liberals is mostly for nonprofit liberal Foundations that qualify as charities, but deal primarily in promoting liberal causes; so much for the idea of a “bleeding heart Liberal.”
The Progressive Movement has had a dalliance with utopian concepts like egalitarianism, and with those who promote them. When the Russian Revolution of 1917, led by Vladimir Lenin, toppled the corrupt régime of the Tsar, it received high praise from American Liberals (by that time they had abandoned the name Progressive due to its association with racism, Jim Crow, and eugenics).
Indeed, Walter Duranty, who served as Moscow correspondent for the New York Times during Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror, intentionally sent home glowing, but false, reports on Stalin. Duranty knew of the bloodthirsty activities of Stalin, but chose to avoid reporting them because he was enamored of the new Soviet State. Duranty actually received a Pulitzer Prize (yet unreturned by the Times) for his reporting. But, in fairness to Duranty, he was not alone in his glowing reports on the new Soviet Society. In fact, many liberals in the media (not all) continued to write positively of the Soviet Union up until the day it was brought down by Ronald Reagan. And, virtually all liberals decided early on that there was a moral equivalence between the United States of America and the Soviet Union! There was no fear among liberals of the Soviet Union. In fact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once bragged that…
“Some of my best friends are Communists.”
It was this naiveté that allowed the Soviet conspiracy to deeply and dangerously penetrate the Roosevelt Administration. Several high ranking members of Roosevelt’s administration had pro-Soviet views, including his Vice President, Henry Wallace. Others, like Harry Dexter White (first chairman of the International Monetary Fund) and Alger Hiss, (Assistant Secretary of State and the first Secretary General of the United Nations), were active Soviet spies as verified by the Verona Papers (released after the fall of the Soviet Union).
The late Walter Lippmann, who is perhaps the most highly praised journalist by liberals, also had an infatuation with the policies of Adolph Hitler when he first came on the world stage. On at least one occasion he wrote glowingly of the new society that was being created by Hitler. Later, to Lippmann’s credit, he became an active and vocal critic of Hitler and later of Stalin. But, the point remains that when you believe that man can evolve his nature positively, you are an easy dupe of those who promise a new utopian order.
And, while Progressives (Liberals) were gaining political power, they were also gaining power over America’s educational establishment, from the elementary school to the graduate school. The result is that they have demolished the greatest educational system in the world. They have re-written history to be a distortion of reality that fits their distorted world view. Today, thanks to the screwy ideas of men like John Dewey, American education ranks at one of the lowest levels among industrialized nations in the entire world. Thanks to cockamamie ideas like social promotion, a relaxation of discipline, and the degradation of writing, reading, and arithmetic, our children are going uneducated and are unable to compete.
The social engineering of the liberal movement has decimated the black community. While early Progressives like Wilson held black Americans in low regard and promoted policies to separate them from the rest of society, liberals later decided that they could no longer maintain that position and gain power, so they reversed themselves after the Republicans had done the heavy lifting. Well into the 1960’s, however, it was Democrats, South and North, who repeatedly blocked the passage of Civil Rights legislation.
Professing concern and compassion, Liberals passed seemingly benevolent laws that resulted in a permanent black underclass in society. But, this worked to their political gain as they have been able to control their votes by promising more handouts. It is a sad situation, and both Republican and Democrat Progressives/Liberals are responsible for this patronizing approach. It allows them to think better of themselves, but it belies their real view of African Americans as inferior to themselves.
At its core, the current welfare state is a racist policy. It is not a hand up, it is a hand out designed to deny to African Americans an opportunity to participate in the American dream. Blacks in poor areas are forced to attend some of the worst public schools in our nation, even though laws could be passed to allow them to attend high quality schools funded by tax vouchers. Through licensing, certification, and minimum wage laws, poor people are denied their opportunity to achieve economic independence. And, by removing God from our schools, morality has declined and violence and abuse has increased. This is another gift from American Liberals.
One of the organizations most admired by today’s liberals like Hillary Clinton is Planned Parenthood, founded by the rancid racist, Margaret Sanger. I do not use the term rancid racist lightly. She wrote “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population…” She referred to poor people and immigrants as “human weeds” and “…human beings who never should have been born." She wanted to eliminate what she called the “feeble minded [mentally ill].”
Sanger wrote in the Birth Control Review, November 1921, that her goal in promoting birth control was "…to create a race of thoroughbreds…" She believed that for the purpose of “racial purification” the United States should pay blacks and other minorities to be sterilized. If these policies aren’t rancid racism, I don’t know what is. But, when you believe that you have progressed to a higher plane than others in society, you can justify almost any policy. And, Sanger was a hero in the Progressive movement of her time. So, Mrs. Clinton, you might want to reconsider identifying yourself as a Progressive. There is a sordid history to contend with.
Henry Emerson Fosdick led the charge of liberalism in the American Christian community. With the aid of John D. Rockefeller, he founded the interdenominational Riverside Church in New York City. According to Fosdick, the Bible was less than reliable and authentic, but with Rockefeller’s millions, his influence on Christianity in America was immense. He challenged the authority of Scripture, and he focused on a social gospel of helping the underclass, while ignoring the traditional Gospel of repentance at the foot of the cross. Although Detrick Bonhoeffer accepted a funded scholarship position at the Union Theological Seminary, a group closely affiliated with Fosdick, he said of the institution, “The Gospel is not preached there.” The followers of Fosdick promoted modernism that included relative morality. Their impact on Christianity in the United States was substantial and damaging. Today, the mainstream Christian churches, with very limited exceptions, no longer preach the law and the Gospel as taught by Jesus. Many doubt and even deny the divinity of Christ, and promote a works righteousness theology as opposed to a salvation by grace alone theology of the traditional Christian church. They also substitute their own moral code for that of the Bible. As a result, the Christian church as a whole is weakened as a standard of morality and virtue that is crucial to fostering a free society.
The American Progressive/iberal movement has been a scourge on the United States. It has promoted misguided racist policies. It has dismissed very real threats to our nation with words like “witch hunt” and “red scare.” It has denied opportunities to the poor, and sought to manipulate them for political gain. It has corrupted our morals, and bankrupted our nation. It is indeed a sordid history that keeps getting worse, not better. What I have written in this blog is not the entire, sad story of the American Progressive/Liberal movement, it is just a brief overview. I hope that someday, a true historian will write the ignoble tale of this movement that has worked successfully to destroy the American dream and to eradicate the values and principles of the American founding.
It is a story that needs to be told and understood if we are to reverse course and save our nation.