Authors: Sean Hannity
But despite their high view of man, they didn't believe the solution lay in empowering individuals with greater liberty or authority. They dismissed the notion of rugged individualism and laissez-faire capitalism, which were central to our founding and our subsequent history, and placed their faith in government.
Big business was the problem; big government was the answer. “This is the universal human purpose of the state,” said John Burgess, a progressive political scientist. “We may call it the perfection of humanity; the civilization of the world; the perfect development of the human reason, and its attainment to universal command over individualism; the apotheosis of manâ¦. The national state is the most perfect organ which has yet been attained in the civilization of the world for the interpretation of the human consciousness of right. It furnishes the best vantage ground as yet reached for the contemplation of the purpose of the sojourn of mankind upon earth.”
Progressives dismissed the founders' view that man was born free. Our rights were not God-given or inalienable. They were bestowed on us by government and could be denied when expedient or in the state's interests.
Progressive intellectuals dismissed the founders'
conception of republican government as a social compact among free peopleâgovernment by consent of the governed. “The present tendency, then, in American political theory is to disregard the once dominant ideas of natural rights and the social contract, although it must be admitted that the political scientists are more agreed upon this point than is the general public,” wrote University of Chicago political scientist Charles Merriam, a leading progressive thinker. “The origin of the state is regarded, not as the result of a deliberate agreement among men, but as the result of historical development, instinctive rather than conscious; and rights are considered to have their source not in nature, but in law.”
He further explained, “The notion that political society and government are based upon a contract between independent individuals and that such a contract is the sole source of political obligation is regarded as no longer tenable.”
Philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey was one of the Progressive movement's leading players. “The state is a moral organism, of which government is one organ,” wrote Dewey. “Only by participating in the common purpose as it works for the common good can individual human beings realize their true individualities and become truly free.”
He insisted that freedom is not “something that individuals have as a ready-made possession.” Rather, “it is something to be achieved.” Even more cynically, he wrote, “Natural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology.”
As businessmen were successfully relying on scientific advancements, Progressives believed that government could do so as well, which also led to their increasing reliance on and expansion of the federal government.
As such, they saw the concept of natural rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution as obstacles constituting formidable, institutional restrictions on the power of government to address societal problems. They didn't conceal their desire to move beyond the Constitution's system of limited government toward a more energetic, centralized government to tackle social and economic conditions that, in their view, the founders didn't
anticipate and provided no mechanism for handling in the Constitution.
“Progressivismâ¦ amounts to an argument in favor of progressing, or moving beyond, the political principles of the American founding,” writes Hillsdale College professor Ronald Pestritto. “Progressives sought to enlarge vastly the scope of the national government for the purpose of responding to a set of economic and social conditions, that, it was contended, could not have been envisioned during the founding era, and for which the Founders' limited, constitutional government was inadequate.”
Progressives believed that government in the able hands of a self-appointed elite could advance mankind toward societal perfection.
They looked toward an administrative state, delegating government powers to federal bureaucracies and empowering them to more closely manage and control business and the affairs of men. The administrative bureaucracy was to consist of nonpartisan “experts” who would direct the restructuring of the social world and implement the larger goals of governing powers.
Why couldn't society's vast and varied problems be managed by these experts? These enlightened managers presumed that their expertise, backed by state power, could finally eradicate poverty and war.
“Progressivism was an outlook that cared deeply about the common people and knew, far better than they did, what was best for them,” writes Wilfred McClay. “Thus there was always in Progressivism a certain implicit paternalism, a condescension that was all the more unattractive for being unacknowledged.”
Progressives nominally advocated a purer form of democracy in contrast to the founders' notion of republican government. For example, Progressives advocated the direct election of senators, while the Constitution originally mandated they be selected by state legislatures. However, Progressives actually diminished the people's power by delegating such extensive power to the administrative agencies.
They disfavored private property, and some were openly socialist. The federal government, they believed, should have greater powers to protect people against corporate abuses.
The reformers favored an expansion of the public sector and a corresponding shrinking of the private sector. The state had to expand its size, reach, and control in the name of protecting the individual.
Enlightened bureaucrats saw themselves as better equipped to spend people's money than the people themselves.
They also believed it was the government's duty to redistribute resources and control prices and methods of manufacture.
Accordingly, the government needed greater revenues, which gave rise to the federal income tax as codified in the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1913.
The Progressive movement thus chipped away at the founders' ideal of equal opportunity under the law in favor of equal outcomes.
Statist politicians continued to expand the federal government and undermine the Constitution throughout the twentieth century, particularly Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, a violent, extremist left-wing movement emerged. At that time, the radical left fought for outright revolution through such militant groups as the Weather Underground, the May 19 Communist Organization, and the Black Liberation Army. When their revolutionary dreams failed, leftists adopted a long-term strategy of the “long march through the institutions,” implanting themselves in the education system, the media, much of the legal profession, and the entertainment industry, aiming to subvert these institutions from within and transform them into tools of the revolution.
Their patience has paid them huge dividends. Now firmly in control of these institutions as well as the formidable social media companies, the left subjects us to daily barrages of left-wing propaganda.
Along with many other conservative media personalities, I do my best to fight back against this torrent of disinformation and leftist dogma. However, although their arguments are often transparently false, the left's uniform
control over these key institutions gives them a crucial advantage in spreading their message and limiting the circulation of opposing views. What we need is our own long march through the institutions, with courageous young conservatives wading back into what is now hostile territory and reclaiming a space for our dissenting views.
During the 1960s, profound changes occurred in societal attitudes and mores, characterized by a pronounced focus on self-discovery, including through recreational drug use and self-gratification. People abandoned traditional values for moral relativism. Instead of conforming to external societal norms, people embraced self-liberation and self-exploration, looking inside themselves for moral guidance.
This was a radical departure from the past, which had recognized that the inner self of flawed human beings was not a reliable moral compass.
When a society rejects moral absolutes, it has no basis to protect individual rights against the tyranny of the majorityâbecause without such standards, any action, no matter how good or evil, and any deprivation of our liberties, can be rationalized. As scholar M. Stanton Evans declared, “Moral relativism, however derived, must undermine the very possibility of freedom. No system of political liberty has ever been created from such notions, nor is it theoretically conceivable that one could.”
All forms of despotism throughout history, Evans observed, have sprung from moral relativism. For freedom to exist there must be basic assumptions about the intrinsic dignity of human beings. It is this Judeo-Christian assumption that underlies the belief that our rights are God-given and must be protected not just against individual dictators and despots but against the tyranny of the majority.
It's no coincidence that today's leftists regard themselves as “progressives,” as their ideas clearly trace back to the Progressive Era. But in fairness, it should be noted that while yesterday's Progressives seemed
to share some of the utopian ends of their modern counterparts, they were less radical, seeking to achieve their goals gradually.
Since the 1960s we've witnessed the steady advance of progressivism and statism and the corresponding erosion of our liberties. Progressives have continued to become more extreme yet have successfully tarred conservatives as the extremists just for striving to restore and preserve what is noble and good in society. The only antidote for this madness is to fight fire with fireâto match their energy and commitment with our own and to dedicate ourselves to reviving the freedom tradition of our founders.
Heritage Foundation scholar William Schambra attributes modern conservatism's success to its grounding in the founders' constitutionalism. There is no question about that. That is one reason I proudly identify as a constitutional conservative and why I strongly endorse the message of my friend Mark Levin, in his many books on constitutional principles. The left's assault on our ideals goes back to our country's first principles. They don't just reject conservative policy prescriptions; they reject freedom itself as it was understood by the framers.
For younger generations of Americans, the notion of liberty has become an abstraction. They don't regard big government as an enemy of their individual liberties because they have been raised during an era of big government, and neither their parents nor their schools have instilled in them a proper appreciation for liberty and the sacrifices required to sustain it. They see no downside in governmentârather than individuals, churches, and other charitable entitiesâproviding for the needs of others. They don't instinctively recoil at the idea of government regulating and even micromanaging the minutiae of our lives. They have become accustomed to the paternalistic attitude that they must be shielded from all adversity and disappointmentâa world where everyone gets a trophy and where university campuses train students to be victims rather than self-reliant, constantly on the lookout for “trigger words” and “microaggressions” that could damage their psychic serenity.
We do truly have a generation of snowflakes now.
While yesterday's Progressives rejected the framers' structure of limited government, their modern leftist offspring have taken it to a new level, undermining our Constitution every day with legislative, executive, judicial, and administrative overreaches. They also wage war against the civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rightsâfreedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, and the protections of citizens concerning unreasonable searches and due process.
Our fight for control of the courts has become a crucial battlefield in our struggle against the left. The left rejects the Constitution itself, which is why their activist judges routinely overwrite its provisions by judicial fiat. If they control the courts they can undo any progress we make at limiting government and protecting our liberties. President Trump has appointed more originalist judges to federal courts than any of his predecessors. This, as much as any other presidential act, has given us hope that we can restore constitutional principles and our tradition of limited government and liberty.
History shows that great nations don't last forever. We must heed Ronald Reagan's warnings to never grow complacent about our liberties and remain ever vigilant against foreign and internal threats against them. The left, through the Democratic Party, is promoting an agenda so radical that if substantially implemented it would divorce America from its founding ideas.
Someone shouted an ominous question to Benjamin Franklin when he was leaving Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention: “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin presciently replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Franklin was laying down the gauntlet to his fellow and future Americans. Would we realize the profundity of the gift we have been givenâa governmental structure ingeniously designed to preserve our God-given
liberties? Would we guard it with
lives, fortunes, and sacred honor? Throughout our history, great leaders have taken Franklin's baton, blessed and reaffirmed it, and passed it forward to future generations. It is now in our hands and we will determine whether our precious liberties will survive. Will we take them for granted or will we safeguard them with the sacred care they require?