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 toldthe 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 formedby 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.