For more than 100 years, the secular progressive movement has been quietly overturning the foundational principles of the Founding Fathers and replacing them with a view of mankind rooted in evolutionary materialism.
The birth of progressivism in America (1880-1920) occurred in an era when rapid changes were overtaking the nation, resulting from the Industrial Revolution and a burgeoning economy rooted in capitalism.
As a result, progressives – also known as secular humanists – believed science was the only discipline capable of protecting and directing human society, and government must be filled with bureaucrats who use science to run the nation. In their view, changes within modern societies would be so great and the challenges so immense, only a country run by an expert class could manage to direct progress.
Government – limited or limitless?
Therefore, progressives believed such an undertaking required an unlimited government with unlimited power. Naturally, such a government should demonstrate a valid need for expanding its power, into the deeper recesses of society, but rapid changes of modern life often made such explanations difficult.
“The exigencies of modern industrial and urban life have forced the state to intervene at so many points where an immediate individual interest is difficult to show,” said political science professor and influential progressive Charles Merriam.
An adviser to several U.S. presidents, Merriam asserted this as he explained the views of his fellow progressives in his 1903 work, A History of American Political Theories. The American people, he said, would just have to assume “that the state acts for the general welfare.”
Merriam immediately admitted, however, that there really is no line the state should not cross. “It is not admitted that there are no limits to the action of the state,” he said, “but on the other hand, it is fully conceded that there are no ‘natural rights’ which bar the way.”
However, the Constitution was an obstacle for these secular humanists, since it was intended to act as a brake on government power. In fact, the entire Bill of Rights was added because some states would not ratify the Constitution without clear and substantial limitations to government power.
The ‘living’ Constitution
Of course, the founders understood that the Constitution would have to be changed from time to time, and so they included a process by which the document could be amended.
However, it was a slow and often laborious process – a problem for progressives. Thomas G. West, professor of politics at Hillsdale College, said in The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science, “A written constitution that is hard to change becomes an impediment when the government seeks to assert a new vision of social justice, one that requires increased control over what was once regarded as the private sphere.”
So secular humanists devised a new concept – the “living” Constitution. Matthew Spalding, associate vice president of both Hillsdale College and the Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, said, “Since the progressives could not get rid of the ‘old’ Constitution, … they invented the idea of a ‘living’ Constitution that would be flexible and pliable, capable of ‘growth’ and adaptation in changing times.”
Many Americans might think this idea is a recent one, but it is more than a century old. President Woodrow Wilson, one of the most noteworthy among early progressives, said in a campaign speech in 1912:
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. …Some citizens of this country have never got beyond the Declaration of Independence. …
The state as monster
The Bible speaks of the “leviathan” as a literal animal, alternately like a crocodile, serpent, or some sort of monstrous sea creature. But Leviathan was also considered to be a dragon, however, the biblical writers might have conceived of such a beast. Many commentators believe that the image of the dragon Leviathan came to symbolize great political powers organized against God or His people.
Thomas Hobbes, one of the most famous political philosophers of the 1600s, used Leviathan as a symbol for the all-powerful state, raised up by men to protect them from the chaos and danger of nature.
In analyzing the idea of the all-powerful state in 1938 – as the rise of a Nazified Germany cast its shadow across Europe – German political theorist Carl Schmitt examined the symbol of Leviathan and approved of it:
Hobbes’ Leviathan … is the mortal god who brings to man peace and security. Because of this … his Leviathan demands unconditional obedience. There exists no right of resistance to him, neither by invoking a higher nor a different right, nor by invoking religious reasons and arguments. He alone punishes and rewards. Based on his sovereign power, he alone determines by law, in questions of justice, what is right and proper and, in matters pertaining to religious beliefs, what is truth and error.
This was a trade-off that progressives were willing to make – safety and progress under the tutelage of the Leviathan state. Of course, the secular humanists would be at the controls of that all-powerful state.
Rights granted by state decree
This represented a tectonic shift beneath the edifice that was the American republic. The founders believed the words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. …” Progressives dismissed these founding ideals. Leviathan would determine how everyone would live and what rights they would be allowed to exercise.
“In speaking of natural rights, therefore, it is essential to remember that these alleged rights have no political force whatsoever, unless recognized and enforced by the state,” Merriam said.
Likely, most Americans find it hard to believe that progressives believe what Merriam so tersely stated. Secularists not only believe there is no God, but that we have no natural rights. Only the state exists.
One only has to remember, for example, that American children were once allowed to pray routinely in schools and see the Ten Commandments posted on the walls. Nativity scenes were common on public grounds during the Christmas season. High school football games and city council meetings began with an opening prayer.
Such things are rare today. And when progressives discover their practice, they are often shut down by legal action. What happened? Didn’t the founders state clearly that religious expression could not be infringed by the government? Yes, but because progressive ideas had so permeated the nation’s law schools in the first half of the 20th century, the U.S. Supreme Court had no problem dispensing with these “natural rights.” Without a single precedent, the high court created new standards by which it could begin the process of scrubbing away the free exercise of religion. Leviathan simply decreed that it would be so.
Still, we are not yet under Schmitt’s dictatorial state. Not yet. There is only one course of action for people who do not wish to grant to Leviathan such all-encompassing power: Do something.
Let every school board demand that children be taught the views of the Founding Fathers. Let all parents teach their children the principles of liberty. Let Christians in every church preach the gospel to every creature. Let every family become a church where God is worshiped. Let every Christian pray for the reversal of our fortunes, that “the desolations of many generations” might be repaired (Isaiah 61:4).
Let Leviathan once more be placed in chains.
Editor’s Note: The above originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of AFA Journal.