How Do Progressives Threaten Our Liberty?
In Week 9 of Constitution 101, we engage the modern political philosophy that seeks to overthrow the Constitution’s ability to maintain a government able to protect the moral principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence: Progressivism
Unlike the advocates of slavery who turned the words of the Constitution upside down to justify denying millions the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Progressive’s have embarked on a strategy to make the Declaration of Independence and Constitution irrelevant artifacts of a by-gone era, stripping them of their legitimacy and power to protect our liberty against the encroachment of an ever more powerful ruling elite wielding the force of the administrative state.
This week’s lecture is given by Ronald J. Pestritto, the Charles and Lucia Shipley Chair in the American Constitution, Associate Professor of Politics, and Dean of the Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. He is also a senior fellow with the College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship. If you believe it is important to understand your adversary, then this week’s lecture is a must view.
Overview: The Progressive Rejection of the Founding
Progressivism is the belief that America needs to move or “progress” beyond the principles of the American Founding. Organized politically more than a hundred years ago, Progressivism insists upon flexibility in political forms unbound by fixed and universal principles. Progressives hold that human nature is malleable and that society is perfectible. Affirming the inexorable, positive march of history, Progressives see the need for unelected experts who would supervise a vast administration of government.
Progressivism is rooted in the philosophy of European thinkers, most notably the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. Progressivism takes its name from a faith in “historical progress.” According to the leading lights of Progressivism, including Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Dewey, human nature has evolved beyond the limitations that the Founders identified. Far from fearing man’s capacity for evil, Progressives held that properly enlightened human beings could be entrusted with power and not abuse it.
The Progressive idea of historical progress is tied to the idea of historical contingency, which means that each period of history is guided by different and unique values that change over time. The “self-evident truths” that the Founders upheld in the Declaration of Independence, including natural rights, are no longer applicable. Circumstances, not eternal principles, ultimately dictate justice.
If human nature is improving, and fixed principles do not exist, government must be updated according to the new reality. The Constitution’s arrangement of government, based upon the separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism, only impeded effective government, according to Progressives. The limited government of the Founding is rejected in favor of a “living Constitution.”
Please view the lecture, engage in some of the readings, and come prepared to contribute to what should be a lively and important discussion. In order to access the video, you must first sign in or register for Constitution 101 at http://www.hillsdale.edu/constitution/weekly_course_schedule.aspx
1) Is it fair to characterize the Progresive movement as a counter-revolution to the American Revolution? Why or why not?
2) Why have the Progressives been so successful in gaining power over the past 100 years?
3) What is the fundamental promise Progressive’s make to persuade the American people to give them power?
5) What can they teach us about how to pursue our goal of increasing liberty in our community and, over time, in the nation as a whole?