This is Progress

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By: The Common Constitutionalist

If you are a regular reader (even if you’re not), you may have seen me use the the word “Progressive” (in political terms) as a synonym for liberal, which it is.

In fact, during the early Twentieth century, as the term “Progressive” developed a negative connotation, they simply changed it to liberal. We now see, with a negative reaction to the term “Liberal”, they are reverting back to progressive. Neat trick. Interestingly, the founders considered themselves “Classical Liberals”.

After speaking to a few people, I realize I have never really explained “progressive” properly – what it means & why political progressives think the way they do.

To do this I thought it might be instructive to go back and look at one of the founders of the American progressive movement, president Woodrow Wilson, using excerpts from one of his more famous speeches, What is Progress?“.

In his speech Wilson said, “We think of the future, not the past, as the more glorious time in comparison with which the present is nothing. Progress, development-those are modern words. The modern idea is to leave the past and press onward to something new.”

So far, progress sounds great, or does it? Does progress really mean to leave the past, forget the past, and press on to something new and no doubt glorious?

One could argue, unsuccessfully, that this is not what he meant. In his speech, he will reveal, this is indeed what he meant.

Wilson continues, “What attitude shall progressives take toward the existing order, toward those institutions of conservatism, the Constitution, the laws, and the courts?… Are those thoughtful men who fear that we are now about to disturb the ancient foundations of our institutions justified in their fear?”

You’re darn right they were justified in their fear!

You will notice how Wilson is trying to separate himself and progressives from the founders by describing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as old dusty, ancient foundations, as if they were crafted on stone tablets thousands of years ago.

“The makers of our federal Constitution… Were scientists in their way-the best way of their age-those founders of the nation”, Wilson explained.

He continued, “Jefferson wrote of the ‘laws of Nature’, and by way of an afterthought, ‘and of Nature’s God’.”

Of course, anyone who has read The Declaration of Independence, will plainly see that “Nature’s God” is certainly not an afterthought as he references the creator several times.

Wilson attempts to pull off a very neat trick, done on purpose, to distance the progressives from God, the creator, thus allowing them to claim there are no unalienable rights bestowed upon us by God. If therefore, there are no unalienable rights, where might rights come from and who might bestow them upon us? Why government, of course.

Wilson explains, “They [the founders] constructed a government as they would have constructed and orrery (machine), to display the laws of nature. Politics in their thought was a variety of mechanics. The government was to exist and move by virtue of the efficacy of checks and balances.”

I guess checks and balances are a bad thing?

The following statement by Wilson is the foundation of the progressive movement. It is the “Light bulb Moment”.

Wilson exclaims, “The trouble with this theory is that government is not a machine but a living thing. It falls not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live. On the contrary, it’s life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, they’re ready response to commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose.… There can be no successful government without the Internet, instinctive coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory but fact.”

So you see, according to Wilson and the progressives, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were fine for their time but have surely overstayed their welcome, as it were. After all, the founders could have never anticipated the complexities of life in Wilson’s time nor today. That was the argument for scrapping the Declaration and the Constitution and replacing it with top-down, centralized control.

“All that progressives ask or desire is permission-in an era when development, evolution, is the scientific word-to interpret the Constitution according to Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine”, Wilson said.

That’s not much too ask, is it? Just let them interpret the Constitution so as to reflect something more up to date and reasonable. Sound familiar?

Did you notice what he did in the above statement? He replaced the Government with the nation as a living thing and not a machine, for of course, we are not machines.

He continues his separation from the founders and those old dusty documents by saying, “The Declaration of Independence did not mention the questions of our day. It is of no consequence to us unless we can translate its general terms into examples of the present day.… It is an eminently practical document, meant for the use of practical men; not a thesis for philosophers.… Not theory of government, but a program of action. Unless we can translate it into the questions of our own day, we are not worthy of it, we are not the sons of the sires who acted in response to a challenge.”

What Wilson has done is carved up the Declaration of Independence. He has effectively thrown away the first and last parts of the document. He is saying, pay no attention to the beginning and the end of the Declaration and concentrate only on the practical list of grievances in the body of the document that couldn’t possibly apply to life today.

He clearly and purposefully ignores the very beginning of the declaration which states, “When in the course of human events…”. The course of human events obviously means at any time, not just at the founding. Wilson was, of course, a noted scholar and no doubt knew this inconvenient truth. The Declaration is, as Wilson was well aware, not just a list of timely grievances but in fact a “thesis for philosophers”, as he put it.

His attempt at false deference is also humorous with his statement that we are not worthy of that document.

So the president has disposed of The Declaration and the Constitution as some sort of how-to manual for an ancient machine. That’s the price of progress I guess.

Now we need something new and modern to replace them. But who will be in charge of said replacement?

Wilson explains, “Well, we are architects in our time, and are architects are also engineers… What we have to undertake is to systematize the foundations of the house, then to read all the old parts of the structure with the steel which will be laced together in modern fashion, accommodated to all the modern knowledge of structural strength and elasticity, and then slowly changing the partitions, relay the walls, let in the light through new apertures, improve the ventilation; 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.”

So there you have it. Out with the old and in with the new and modern. Out with the individual and in with the collective. A great beehive adorned with lovely words such as family, noble architecture, cooperation and perfection, with the scholarly, Ivy League educated elites there to grant us rights and make the rules. What a grand vision. What a crock!

And there you have your modern day progressive, as well. Same collectivist views, same authoritarian outlook and same disdain for our founding documents, but at least now we have a better understanding of their foundation.