Progressives saw no end to that which can be accomplished by a government filled with “experts.”
- AFA Exec. VP Ed Vitagliano
In the secular progressive state, government becomes all-powerful
The American republic began with its foundation firmly anchored in God, as evidenced by Thomas Jefferson’s reference in the Declaration of Independence to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
In the brave new world of the Darwinian progressives, however, our republic would be founded on a new “g-word” – government. After all, with God out of the picture, what remains but man?
Progressives like President Woodrow Wilson began the process of removing natural law as the foundation of our Republic at the beginning of the 20th century. They have diligently continued their work since then, for the most part outside the notice of the average citizen. (See AFA Journal, 10/16.)
Victims of human nature
At the core of secular progressivism is a deep faith in science as a pristine endeavor, capable of solving many or most of the problems faced by mankind. Progressives believe that science is human reason unleashed to peer into the natural world and unlock its secrets; therefore, it is not politically partisan and has no cultural biases. It cannot lie.
According to John Marini, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada and senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, and Ken Masugi, director of the Claremont Institute, the earliest progressives believed that nothing could – or should be allowed to – trump science.
“[T]he self-evident superiority of science would dispense with the necessity of metaphysics and religion,” said Marini and Masugi.
From a biblical perspective, however, progressives have erred in putting their full trust in man’s capacity for reason. According to Romans 1, humanity has a fallen nature, having plummeted into a condition of depravity by which even reason can be corrupted by a heart that suppresses the truth of God found in nature.
By dismissing the worldview of the Founding Fathers, progressives have opened themselves to the bitterest of ironies – that those who deny (fallen) human nature make themselves the victims of it.
The cooperative ‘beehive’
Out of this faith in science came the progressive idea of government as an overarching human institution shepherding its people. Government was to be filled with experts, wielding the tools fashioned by science, as the proper instrument for the perfecting of human society.
There is no doubt that the era of progressivism was a time of intense and disruptive change. However, progressive intellectuals believed the rapid changes occurring over the American landscape were so vast – and happening so swiftly – that the older constitutional regime was unequipped to cope with them.
Thomas G. West, professor of politics at Hillsdale College and author of Vindicating the Founders, said progressives believed that the “existing constitutional system was outdated and must be made into a dynamic, evolving instrument of social change, aided by scientific knowledge and the development of administrative bureaucracy.”
Because of their belief in the inerrancy of science, progressives saw an expanding government bureaucracy as the best way forward through the coming challenges. Moreover, this army of bureaucrats would many times, out of necessity, circumvent the voters as the true arbiters of public policy.
In 1887, when Woodrow Wilson was a professor, he wrote an article, “The Study of Administration,” for Political Science Quarterly. In it he complained that America’s future success was “made doubtful by that besetting error of ours, the error of trying to do too much by vote.”
Wilson praised the European style of democratic governance by administrators and noted with satisfaction that that continent’s citizens could “be expected to be very docile and acquiescent in learning what things it has not a right to think and speak about imperatively.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Americans, on the other hand, tended to be “meddlesome.” Wilson said, “The cook must be trusted with a large discretion as to the management of the fires and the ovens.”
In a 1912 presidential campaign speech, Wilson, then governor of New Jersey, described the process by which he expected America to be transformed. As noted by the Heritage Foundation’s First Principles Series, Wilson likened this activity to a homeowner making improvements to his house. The political architects and engineers work gradually and patiently on the alterations to the home, Wilson declared, “until finally, a generation or two from now, the scaffolding will be taken away, and there will be the family in a great building whose noble architecture will at last be disclosed, where men can live as a single community, cooperative as in a perfected, coordinated beehive….”
For constitutionalists in 2016, who have become somewhat jaded at the incessant calls by progressives for more and bigger government, Wilson’s blunt words are chilling. He was proposing a society that seems more in line with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World than the land of the free.
“Wilson would transform Jefferson’s ‘empire of liberty’ into a beehive,” argued First Principles. “Earlier, in his essay on Public Administration, Wilson justified rule by a class of experts. As drones in a beehive, men would submit to central authority.”
The America envisioned by Woodrow Wilson and other progressives was nothing like the republic established by the nation’s founders.
Matthew Spalding, associate vice president of Hillsdale College and the Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, said,
“Thus began the most revolutionary change of the last hundred years, the massive shift of power from institutions of constitutional government to a labyrinthine network of unelected, unaccountable experts who would rule in the name of the people.”
The all-powerful state
If government was to re-fashion human society, then that government must, of necessity, be unlimited.
Spalding said, “The progressives emphasized not a separation of powers [like the founders], which divided and checked the government, but rather a combination of powers, which would concentrate its authority and direct its actions.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Progressives saw no end to that which can be accomplished by a government filled with “experts.” As a result, their optimism sometimes approached that of a secular “new age” that echoed biblical promises of the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ.
One of the pioneers in the formative years of the progressive movement was John W. Burgess, a law professor at Columbia University and a founder of the discipline of political science in the U.S. He wrote in Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law (1890) that the purpose of the state was the “perfection of humanity, the civilization of the world; the perfect development of the human reason and its attainment to universal command over individualism; the apotheosis of man.”
This process of perfecting man would not occur over night, according to influential progressive Charles Merriam, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who became an adviser to several U.S. presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his 1903 work, A History of American Political Theories, Merriam admitted that this “apotheosis” awaited the coming of the universal state. “This end can be realized, however, only when a world-state is organized, and for this, mankind is not yet ready,” he said.
Christians who have even a superficial understanding of what the Bible says is coming in the last days should feel a shiver up the spine at those words.
Resisting the worldview that lies underneath the progressive movement is not merely a question of Republican versus Democrat, or conservative versus liberal. Good-willed people can disagree on, say, the size of government or the extent of the welfare state. But that simple political clash occurs above the waves.
Beneath the surface there is a surge of forces, a clashing of streams that will determine the fate of Western Civilization and, perhaps, humanity itself. The progressive movement represents the latest salvo from anti-Christ rebels who believe man can attain to perfection while denying God as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.
The Founding Fathers might not all have been born-again Christians, but they understood enough about nature – especially human nature – not to build our republic on shifting sand.
Progressives should have learned from their wisdom, not rejected it.