Thursday, November 24, 2011

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.