Saturday, November 26, 2011

Progressivism: War is Opportunity

It may seem odd that self-styled 'progressives' are eager to see their nation engaged in war. Isn't that opposed to the very sense of humaneness which progressivism allegedly espouses? Yet progressivists reliably seek war for their nations, and barring war, seek 'the moral equivalent of war' - as in 'war on poverty' or 'war on drugs' or 'war on disease,' etc. To explain this paradox, it must be remembered that the goal of progressivism is social engineering - to take control over the individual's life, and over the community's life, and allow an aristocracy of experts to shape society, utterly apart from the will of the individual, or the expression of the majority of voters. Thus we see President Woodrow Wilson, and his Democrat party, eager to push America into World War One. The question isn't whether or not it was the right thing to do; the question is why did they do it. War gives the government the excuse to exert more control over society than would normally be tolerated: roused by a national cause, people submit to rationing drafts, curfews and limits on the freedom of speech. The progressives
supported the war enthusiastically, even fanatically (the same goes for a great many American Socialists). And even those who were ambivalent about the war in Europe were giddy about what John Dewey called the "social possibilities of war."
The war was valuable to progressives, not because they had any interest finding justice for Europe, nor because they even cared which side of the war America would back, but rather because it would allow them to manipulate American society here at home, in the name of a war in a distant land. Progressives
ridiculed self-described pacifists who couldn't recognize the "immense impetus to reorganization afforded by this war."
Wilson explained that, although he was "an advocate of peace," he saw that "there are some splendid things that come to a nation through the discipline of war." Dewey recognized that the war would give an opportunity for the progressivists to force Americans
"to give up much of our economic freedom ... we shall have to lay by our good-natured individualism and march in step." If the war went well, it would constrain "the individualistic tradition" and convince Americans of "the supremacy of public need over private possessions."
America's entry into World War One, in 1917, was motivated by opportunism: the progressivists in the Democrat party saw that, in the process of placing the nation onto a wartime footing, they would have chances to engage in social engineering on a grand scale. They didn't care much about what was happening in Europe, or why; they knew that a war was a crisis, and a crisis is an opportunity for those who will exploit it.

Progressivism's European Roots

Progressivist policy makers, like President Woodrow Wilson, carefully studied their European predecessors. Not all aspects of progressivist theory came from Europe. Some aspects were American: Wilson's racism, which he expressed in deterring African-Americans from applying to universities, and which caused him to segregate the previously integrated departments of the federal government, arose from the Democrat party in the United States, which had worked to enact "Jim Crow" laws, poll taxes, and literacy tests to keep Blacks from voting. But other aspects of progressivism came from the other side of the Atlantic. As historian Jonah Goldberg writes,
No European statesman looked larger in the minds and hearts of American progressives than Otto von Bismarck.
Bismarck had learned the basic dynamic of progressivism, which is that the people must feel that the state is the bestower of paternal benefits, so that they will tolerate the government's intrusion into their private, social, and family lives.
"Give the working-man the right to work as long as he is healthy; assure him care when he is sick; assure him maintenance when he is old," he famously told
the civic leaders of his time; when 'the working-man' thus sees himself in the womb of the state, he will allow the state to regulate and tax, and will even serve the state to his own destruction. But that was Bismarck in Europe; in America, these same principles were at the base of the progressivist movement, but took on a slightly different appearance.
Woodrow Wilson wrote that Bismarck's welfare state was an "admirable system .. the most studied and most nearly perfected" in the world.
Wilson studied, and copied, Bismarck, and made no secret about it.
Wilson's faith that society could be bent to the will of social planners was formed
by his study of Bismarck, but his target was not Bismarck's Europe; Wilson wanted to shape American society, and in order to do so, he would have to ignore the will of the voters. There is no room in progressivism for John Locke's concept of 'majority rule,' but rather there is only a vision of an elite, an aristocracy, populated by experts, whose status allows them to ignore millions of ballots cast in free elections. This is Woodrow Wilson's progressivism.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The President and the Teacher

The progressivist movement which attempted to take over America in the early 1900's had a number of leaders and heros. They shared a vision of a country which turned over power to a strong central government, taking rights and choices away from individual citizens, with the rationalization that the experts employed by the regime knew much more, and much better, than ordinary people - about everything from nutrition to foreign policy, from economics to road traffic. The best thing for the people to do was accept the wisdom of rulers, and not get in the way of the plans which the government wanted to implement. Historian Jonah Golberg explains:
The totalitarian flavor of such a worldview should be obvious. Unlike classical liberalism, which saw the government as a necessary evil, or simply a benign but voluntary social contract for free men to enter into willingly, the belief that the entire society was one organic whole left no room for those who did not want to behave, let alone "evolve." Your home, your private thoughts, everything was part of the organic body politic, which the state was charged with redeeming.
Among the leading progressivists we find a President, Woodrow Wilson, and a teacher, John Dewey. Not accidentally, the president was a former teacher who had been active in academic policy-making, and the teacher was involved in using federal policy to control childhood development in a comprehensive way. The progressivists saw childhood as golden opportunity to shape social and political attitudes before individuals reached an age at which they might begin to express a right to self-determination.
Hence a phalanx of progressive reformers saw the home as the front line in the war to transform men into compliant social organs. Often the answer was to get children out of the home as quickly as possible. An archipelago of agencies, commissions, and bureaus sprang up overnight to take the place of the anti-organic, contra-evolutionary influences of the family. The home could no longer be seen as an island, separate and sovereign from the rest of society. John Dewey helped create kindergartens in America for precisely this purpose - to shape the apples before they fell from the trees - while at the other end of the educational process stood reformers like Wilson, who summarized the progressive attitude perfectly when, as president of Princeton, he told an audience, "Our problem is not merely to help the students to adjust themselves to world life ... [but] to make them as unlike their fathers as we can."
The progressivist movement, then, started the educational process earlier, by adding kindergarten, and changed the purpose of universities from education to indoctrination. The goal in all of this was to ensure that citizens didn't not develop their own views, but rather accepted whatever the regime imposed.

Progressivist Government Controls Citizens

In his quest for power, Woodrow Wilson explained progressivism: as President, Wilson wanted to control both society and individuals. Progressivism was the political theory which justified this attempt to take away freedom on a massive scale. Wilson was a 'social Darwinist' and saw the government as the ultimate expression of development. Instead of human societies striving to create ever more liberty for citizens, Wilson believed that true progress was power being taken away from individuals and being consolidated in the hands of the government. Historian Jonah Goldberg explains:
From this perspective, the ever-expanding power of the state was entirely natural. Wilson, along with the vast majority of progressive intellectuals, believed that the increase in state power was akin to an inevitable evolutionary process. Government "experimentation," the watchword of pragmatic liberals from Dewey and Wilson to FDR, was the social analogue to evolutionary adaptation. Constitutional democracy, as the founders understood it, was a momentary phase in this progression. Now it was time for the state to ascend to the next plateau. "Government," Wilson wrote approvingly in The State, "does now whatever experience permits or the times demand." Wilson was the first president to speak disparagingly of the Constitution.
For the progressivist movement, then, the goal was not freedom; the goal was a single, central government amassing ever more power to itself and controls the details of both civic and personal life. They refused to place any limit on the authority of the regime. If government power was the goal, for Wilson and the progressivists, then 'rights' were the enemies:
Wilson reinforced such attitudes by attacking the very idea of natural and individual rights. If the original, authentic state was a dictatorial family, Wilson argued in the spirit of Darwin, what historical basis was there to believe in individual rights? "No doubt," he wrote, taking dead aim at the Declaration of Independence, "a lot of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere vague sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as a fundamental principle." If a law couldn't be executed, it wasn't a real law, according to Wilson, and "abstract rights" were vexingly difficult to execute.
Wilson, taking office in 1913, was willing to discard both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence - and with them, the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens to make choices in their own lives. Why? The idea of the Democrat Party and the progressivists was that the government had the specialized knowledge of experts, and so the government should make important decisions, not the people.

Wilson's Progressivism Emerges

Woodrow Wilson took a carefully calculated path to power. He knew that he could create a powerful network of acquaintances in academia; he sought and took a series of positions as professor and as administrator at the university level. When he reckoned that between colleagues and former students, he had a large enough web of influential supporters, he began to target political offices. He began by writing more popular essays and articles, instead of the academic monographs he had been producing. Historian Jonah Goldberg recounts that
high among his regular themes was the advocacy of progressive imperialism in order to subjugate, and thereby elevate, lesser races. He applauded the annexation of Puerto Rico and the Philippines - "they are children and we are men in these deep matters of government and justice" - and regularly denounced what he called "the anti-imperialist weepings and wailings that came out of Boston." It's a sign of how carefully he cultivated his political profile that four years before he "reluctantly" accepted the "unsolicited" gubernatorial nomination in New Jersey, Harper's Weekly had begun running the slogan "For President - Woodrow Wilson" on the cover of every issue.
Fortunately for the Philippines, the majority of Americans embraced the notion that we should set a course toward independence for that nation. Wilson's progressivism incorporated the Anglo-Saxonism, ultimately a sort of racism, which believed that America was obliged, by its superiority, to bestow the benefits of paternalism upon lesser nations. It was against this arrogant progressivism that Warren Harding would advocate a return to 'normalcy' - a return to calmer vision of international diplomacy being based upon human equality. But Woodrow Wilson was not interested in equality, whether among foreign nations, or in the United States: he wrote
that giving blacks the right to vote was "the foundation of every evil in this country."
But Wilson and his progressivist movement not only opposed the rights of African-Americans to vote (it was they who enacted literacy tests and poll taxes to discourage the Black electorate), but they also opposed the federalist division of powers. The horizontal division of powers (executive, legislative, judicial), and vertical division of power (city, county, state, federal) was designed to prevent too much power from falling into the hands of one group - or the hands of one man. Wilson's political theory was
a sweeping indictment of the fragmentation and diffuseness of power in the American political system.
The very division of power which was designed to prevent the government from having too much control over the life of the individual citizen was the division of power which Wilson opposed because it would prevent his progressive movement from managing the details and institutions of society.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Indentured Servants - Getting to Freedom Can Be Tough

Many Europeans wanted to come to America to enjoy liberty. Yet the trip was expensive, and some could not afford the cost of the ticket. One way to make the trip was to become an indentured servant: to borrow the money to buy the ticket, and then work to repay the price after arriving in America. Thomas Sowell recounts how a number of people from central Europe went through this process:
Usually, a boat trip of several weeks on the Rhine to Holland preceded their transatlantic voyage. Then began their ocean travel, on wind-driven ships, averageing between eight and ten weeks on the water. Indentured servants were packed into small, ill-ventilated quarters on small ships perpetually pitching on the Atlantic waves - producing widespread seasickness among the passengers. The weakness and dehydration produced by seasickness made the ill-fed passengers particularly vulnerable to disease. Contemporary observers described the scenes below decks, "some sleeping, some spewing," some "devoured with live," some "beset with boils, scurvy, dysentery, many cursing themselves and others." At night, there were "fearful crys" and the groaning of "sick and distracted persons," some of whom were "tumbling over the rest, and distracting the whole company. . . ." These were the more or less normal conditions. In extreme cases of ships delayed at sea by weather, the suffering and the casualties could be worse. In 1749, two thousand Germans died at sea on voyages to Philadelphia alone.
It is shocking to realize the dangers and difficulties of the journey, and reveals how strong was the desire on the part of some people to come to America - and how desirable American liberty was at that time.
After a vessel docked in an American port, potential buyers of the passengers' indenture contracts came aboard. The indentured servants were brought out of their quarters, walked up and down to let the buyers see them, and sometimes feel their muscles and talk to them to form some opinion of their intelligence and submissiveness. Sometimes a middleman called a "soul driver" would buy a group of servants and then walk them through the countryside, selling their contracts here and there as opportunity allowed. The society of the time attached no moral stigma to this trade in human beings, and it was openly engaged in by individuals of the highest rank and renown. George Washington purchased the contracts of indentured servants to work at Mt. Vernon, just as he owned slaves. As late as 1792, the new American government devised a plan to import indentured German labor to help construct the city of Washington.
It is important to remember that, once the debt had been paid, an indentured servant was released into full civil liberty - he became an equal to the other colonists. Many of them rose to positions of economic prominence, merchants owning their own businesses.
Deaths on the ocean voyage were so widespread among the Germans that many children were orphaned by the time the ships finally reached America. These orphans were either adopted by relatives in America or apprenticed out to someone to learn a trade. One of these German orphans, John Peter Zenger, was apprenticed to a printer and in later years went on to establish his own newspaper. In 1734, his editorial criticisms of the governor of New York led to his being arrested and tried for libel. His acquittal was one of the landmarks in the development of the doctrine of freedom of the press.
This early German involvement with freedom of the press is no accident: since the time of Martin Luther, Germans had understood the value of expression. Limits on expression, or inabilities to express, directly affect civil liberties:
Like helpless people everywhere, the indentured servants were preyed upon by the dishonest. Some ship captains provided inadequate food or sold them into longer periods of bondage than actually required to work off the cost of their transportation. Germans who could not understand English were especially vulnerable.
Some individuals planned to become indentured servants, as an economic plan to arrive in the land of liberty; others would up as indentured servants by accident:
Many Germans left their homes with no plans to become indentured servants, but found that the mounting costs of travel to Holland and then across the Atlantic were more than they had bargained for. Others had family or friends in America whom they expected (or hoped) would pay their fare, and when this failed to happen, they were sold into indentureship. The term "redemptioner" was used to describe the kind of person who came looking to have his fare redeemed in one way or another, although there was no distinction made between such people and other indentured servants after both found themselves in that status.
The attraction of America was strong: certain regions of Europe suffered from bad rulers, from bad weather, or from struggling economies.
And yet, they kept coming - and generally in ever larger numbers. The Germans arriving in the port of Philadelphia alone in the 1740s and 1750s added up to more than 60.000 people, conservatively estimated. An estimated one-half to two-thirds of these were indentured servants. Although indentured servants were subject to many of the restrictions and punishments that applied to slaves - including corporal punishment - they did have a few legal rights during their years of indentureship, and those years did come to a conclusion. Often indentured servants received a modest payment in cash or in kind upon reaching the time for freedom, and many were given land. This was not always the best or the safest land. In the Mohawk Valley or in western Pennsylvania, for example, it was land in frontier areas, near Indians unhappy at seeing their ancestral lands invaded. Many whites who settled in such areas were killed or carried off into bondage by the Indians.
The pain and danger endured by these early settlers shows the strength of their resolve to creative religious and political freedom, and to seek economic opportunity; had they not settled here, America would have been a barely tolerable place - their cultural contributions cannot be overestimated.

Bringing Culture to America

More than bringing people and skills, the early settlers in North America brought culture - music, food, and other traditions. Whether America is a tapestry or a melting pot, neither would be thinkable without the influx of rich heritages. Thomas Sowell writes:

In 1683, thirteen Mennonite families established Germantown in Pennsylvania, now part of Philadelphia. Many other German religious denominations and sects followed, including Calvinists, the Amish, and others virtually unknown to the larger society. In 1742, Heinrich Muhlenberg arrived, and became the organizer of the Lutheran church in America and also founder of a prominent family whose achievements included creation of Muhlenberg College, an outstanding institution in Pennsylvania.

A diverse spectrum of religious heritages can be traced to German-speaking immigrants from places like Switzerland and Austria: Lutherans, Catholics, Calvinists, Amish, Mennonites, Reformed, and antecedents of today's Baptists: the Anabaptists. Beyond religious trends, they brought with them the arts - the music of Bach was popular in colonial era - and mathematics - it was the German philosopher Leibniz who had co-discovered calculus and other forms of advanced mathematics (along with Englishman Isaac Newton).

Thus began the "Pennsylvania Dutch" - Dutch being in this case an American mispronunciation of the word Deutsch for German. By 1745, there were an estimated 45.000 Germans in Pennsylvania. Most settled out on the frontier as it existed at that time, in order to acquire cheap land within their meager means. This made them vulnerable to Indian attacks, especially because of the reluctance of the colonial government to provide defense. Control of the government was largely in the hands of pacifist Quakers living safely in Philadelphia.

Creativity and ingenuity allowed these early settlers to survive, when the colony's government refused any military protection from the attacks. They were not military people, nor were they well-armed, yet they were annihilated or terrorized into retreat by the attacks on their farmsteads and villages.

In 1709, Germans established Neuberg - now called Newburgh - on the Hudson River, and then spread north into the Mohawk Valley. As in Pennsylvania, this was frontier territory, subject to Indian raids. The Germans of the Mohawk Valley region came as indentured servants - people bound by contract to work for a certain number of years (usually three to seven) to pay off the cost of their transportation to America. At least half of the white population of colonial America came this way. It was a scheme first tried with German and Swiss immigrants and later spread to the Scotch, the Irish, and others. The Germans who settled in the Mohawk Valley came as indentured servants of the British government, which paid half their transportation and settlement costs. More so than other groups, Germans left their home in groups, ranging from whole families to whole communities.

Although the idea of indentured servants has been criticized as thinly disguised slavery, it was in fact they only way in which many people could afford to come to America's freedom, and can be seen as simply a type of loan: once repaid, the former servant was released into full civil liberty.

The fact that German-speaking immigrants tended to arrive in larger groups, rather than individuals or isolated families, enabled them to contribute to American cultural formation. Music, dance, cooking styles, and clothing traditions were more readily preserved and transmitted this way.

The early German immmigrants - both in New York and in Pennsylvania - came from the Palatinate, a small region in the southwestern part of Germany, along the Rhine. Sixteen families of Palatines also settled in New Bern, North Carolina, in 1710. Eighteenth-century South Carolina also carried on a brisk trade in German indentured servants from the Palatinate.

German-speaking villages were common up and down the Atlantic coast, but usually not directly on the coast; rather, further inland. Names of towns and rivers, from Pennsylvania to Georgia, and from New York to Texas, reflect the contributions made by Germans to the founding of American society.

New York - Its Best Years

What was it like to visit the city of New York during its glory days? Author Eric Metaxas relates how it may have seemed to a passenger from Europe on a ship, steaming "past the Statue of Liberty and toward the fabled island of Manhattan, the city overwhelmed" a perceptive observer: "Manhattan at the end of the Jazz Age was a dizzying place for any visitor, even one as cosmopolitan as" a professor from Berlin's university:
New York seemed to exhibit the crazy, boundless energy of a bright-eyed adolescent in full growth spurt: the whole island seemed to be bursting at the seems in every direction, grinning as it did so. The tallest building on the planet, the Bank of Manhattan Trust building, had just three months earlier been topped by the silver spire of the newest leader, the Chrysler Building. But the Empire State Building, which would in a few months surpass them all - and hold the lead for forty years - was that very minute growing at the unprecedented rate of four and a half stories per week. The nineteen-building Art Deco masterpiece that would become Rockefeller Center was under construction, too, and far uptown, also under construction, was the George Washington Bridge - soon to be the longest bridge in the world, almost doubling the previous record.
The city was at its prime, as yet untouched by the ravages of the Great Depression, the rationing of the war years, and the inner-city poverty which would characterize the second half of the twentieth century; it wasn't perfect - still wrestling with the wave of organized crime sparked by Prohibition - but it was perhaps as good as it ever got.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wilson Introduces Segregation

After the end of the Civil War in 1865, African-Americans emerged into fuller participation in government. They voted by the millions, and Blacks were elected as Representatives and Senators in Congress. Most social institutions were desegregated and integrated. But this era of freedom was soon to be brutally repressed.

President Woodrow Wilson, representing the Democrat Party of southern whites, didn't like the idea of African-Americans exercising full voting rights, or holding elected offices. Before becoming President of the United States, he had been president of Princeton University, where he created policies to discourage African-American students from even applying for admission. Cengage's history text reports that, as the leader of the Democrat Party, he had little sympathy for African-American desires to attend universities,

nor did Wilson, at this time, view with any greater sympathy the campaign for African American political equality. He supported efforts by white southerners in his cabinet, such as Postmaster General Albert Burleson and Treasury Secretary William McAdoo, to segregate their government departments, and he largely ignored pleas from the NAACP to involve the federal government in a campaign against lynching.

We see, then, a giant step backwards. Blacks were voting in fewer and fewer numbers after Wilson became president. His Democrat Party, for example, at this time imposed "poll taxes" and "literacy tests" for voting in those states (like Mississippi) where the Democrat party had a strong hold on political power.

Not until Republicans, like Eisenhower, were elected to the White House would there again be a chance for African Americans to resume that fuller participation in government which they initially had after the Civil War.