Who could disagree with these famous 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 …”?
Those sentiments expressed by our Founding Fathers were rejected by the founders of something else – the Progressive Movement.
There is a Creator? Rejected.
Men and women are created? Rejected.
People have natural rights? Rejected.
There are self-evident truths? Rejected.
Take the subject of natural rights. Charles Merriam, for example, was an influential progressive, a political science professor, and an adviser to several U.S. presidents in the first half of the 20th century. In a groundbreaking book written in 1903, he said:
“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.”
What if the state doesn’t recognize certain natural rights? And if the state does recognize certain rights, what does it mean to “enforce” them? Does that mean the state can also take them away if it chooses?
Yes – that’s exactly what Merriam believed.
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.
They believed that the government must be filled with bureaucrats who administered most of the business of the country. Yes, citizens would vote, but the 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. Therefore, progressives believed such a task required an unlimited government with unlimited power.
It is undoubtedly difficult for most Americans to believe that this idea, stated so tersely by Merriam, is what progressives believe today. Secular humanists not only believe there is no God but that we have no natural rights, either. There is only the state.
Although the years are receding into the dim past, one only has to remember, for example, that American children used to be allowed to pray in schools and see the Ten Commandments posted on the hallway 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.
No longer. What happened? Didn’t the founders state clearly that the government could not infringe religious expression? 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. The state simply decreed that it would be so.
Can we trust a powerful, centralized state? The American people, Merriam said, would just have to assume “that the state acts for the general welfare.”
Merriam immediately admitted, however, that there really is no line that 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.”
There was a problem for progressives, of course – the U.S. Constitution. It was an obstacle for these secular humanists, since the Founding Fathers intended it to act as a brake on government power. In fact, the entire Bill of Rights was added because there were states that would not ratify the Constitution without clear and substantial limitations to government power.
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, that was a slow and often laborious process, and this was problematic for progressives. So secular humanists invented a new concept – the “living” Constitution.
Many Americans might think that this idea is a recent one, but it is more than a century old. President Woodrow Wilson, one of the most famous of the 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. …
Find out more.
Editor’s Note: The short blog above – the third and final in a series – is a summary of one of the hard-hitting chapters in the exciting new booklet from AFA – The Progressive Threat to the American Republic. (You can read the first blog here and the second blog here.) This powerful tool pinpoints the core principles of secular humanism and traces the way in which progressivism has reshaped the United States. The booklet's six short chapters cover God’s revelation in nature, natural law, the progressive attempt to take over the institutions of America, the intent to replace God with a humanistic state, the demand of the Leviathan state to ultimately require unconditional obedience, and the humanistic tendency toward fascism. Also included are discussion questions for personal reflection, small groups, or Sunday school classes.
Much of the material is also available as an AFA Cultural Institute lecture by the booklet's author, Ed Vitagliano.
You can get multiple copies of both the booklet and the Cultural Institute lecture here. Share with family, friends, and fellow church members.