Saturday, November 26, 2011

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.