Archive for the ‘Progressivism’ Category

It is ironic that the Progressives appealed to Lincoln, as if their own political views were of a similar brand as his.  But in fact, Lincoln held to the natural rights philosophy of the founding fathers, the same natural rights philosophy despised by the Progressives.

Contrary to Progressive paternalism Lincoln would have offered the philosophy contained in the contemporary song, “Root Hog, or Die”—that is, take the risk of being free, overcome a paralyzing fear of the future, work hard to obtain one’s daily bread.

As against this view, Ronald Pestritto points out in his book Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, 2005, the American Progressives thought they were “presenting a rationale for moving beyond the political thought of the American founding.”

In the twentieth century, Fascism and Nazism were extreme versions of European Progressivism.  It would be wrong to say that all Progressives were in effect Fascists or Nazis, but all Fascists or Nazis were Progressives.  The essential thing that Progressivism has in common with Fascism or Nazism is statism.

The origins of statism go back at least to Aristotle, who defined man as a political animal, but the modern origins of statism can be found in the German philosopher Georg Hegel, who argued that the state has a “supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the State” (Philosophy of Right).

The Progressives echoed this.  Mary Parker Follett redefined the traditional American concepts of natural rights, liberty, and equality in terms of statism:  “If my true self is the group-self,” she claimed, “then my only rights are those which membership in a group give me.  The old idea of natural rights postulated the particularist individual; we know now that no such person exists.”  (The New State, 1918.)

She further claimed that the state and the citizen are one, and that the “state is not the servant of the people.”  Moreover, the will of each individual should combine with wills of all others to produce what she called an “all-will.”

Follet justified her statism by saying it was a middle way between extremes: “Our old political dualism is now disappearing.  The state does not exist for the individual or the individual for the state.”

The Italian Fascist Benito Mussolini echoed these ideas:  “The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.  Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.”  (Doctrine of Fascism, 1932.)

Similarly, Nazi party member Carl Schmitt said: “The recognition of the plurality of autonomous life would, however, immediately lead back to a disastrous pluralism tearing the German people apart into discrete classes and religious, ethnic, social, and interest groups if it were not for a strong state which guarantees a totality of political unity transcending all diversity.  Every political unity needs a coherent inner logic underlying its institutions and norms.  It needs a unified concept which gives shape to every sphere of public life.  In this sense there is no normal State which is not a total State.”  (The Legal Basis of the Total State, 1935.)

Progressivism billed itself as a “third way” between the extremes of socialism and anarchy.  Later, Fascism and Nazism would also bill themselves as the middle way between Marxism and liberal democracy.

Lincoln would have recognized the real extremes as statism on the one hand and anarchism on the other.  The golden middle is individualism, the traditional American view of liberal democracy enunciated by Jefferson and Madison.

This is why Lincoln opposed both abolitionism and secessionism.  The abolitionists were disappointed with Lincoln for not using the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves in southern States that remained in the Union.  (In our day, Lincoln-bashers despise him for the same reason.)

However, Lincoln believed Federal dictation to the States without Constitutional authorization was a form of absolutism.  He thus would have rejected the modern “Leader” principle, the idea of rule by a strongman or charismatic dictator.

On the other hand, the secessionists believed that a minority could depart from the Union simply because they lost an election to the majority.  Lincoln, however, believed that majority rule, held in check by Constitutional limitations, was the only way to avoid anarchy and despotism.

In Lincoln’s view then, liberal democracy was the true middle way.  Far from being a proto-Progressive, Lincoln would have rejected its statist philosophy as forcefully as he rejected abolitionism and secessionism.