Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Having Pestritto's Beck

Glenn Beck referred to Woodrow Wilson as "the most evil man we've had in office."  Wilson scholar RJ Pestritto may not put it that way, but he argues "Whatever I or anyone else thinks about Mr. Beck's programming or political views, on one central historical issue he is correct: The progressive movement did indeed repudiate the principles of individual liberty and limited government that were the basis of the American republic."  One shocking example is Wilson's belief in the compatibility of democracy and socialism.  Such monstrosity is possible when one rejects the natural rights basis of American democratic republicanism.

Yet the conversation can be pushed even further toward founding principles.  Progressivism and Calhounism have a common root in the belief in history over natural rights.  In this respect, in their belief in rights and the Constitution, the Tea Partiers comes closer to the founding than the neo-Confederate argument that often plagues conservatism.

Categories > Progressivism

Discussions - 8 Comments

One shocking example is Wilson's belief in the compatibility of democracy and socialism. Such monstrosity is possible when one rejects the natural rights basis of American democratic republicanism.


I do not think there is an example of a command economy co-existing with a set of elected and deliberative institutions (the purveyors of command economy generally preceding its erection by eliminating democratic institutions), but social democratic and syndicalist measures certainly have a long history side-by-side with a constitution of liberty in the civic and political realm.

I tend to think Democracy and socialism are compatible.

After reading the cultural contradictions of capitalism, I noticed that Daniel Bell was a labor editor for Fortune magazine, so I went back and took a look at some of his articles and they strike me as well put together.

Democracy I would think is just as compatible with Socialism as it is with Capitalism.

In so far as education is vital to the maintenance of democracy, to that same extent socialism is vital. To the extent that we recognize a property interest in a basic education(but not a fundamental right), we have essentially agreed that there is a floor. Capitalism can opperate to drive up property values in areas with better government services without sparking a violation of equal protection. We accept that the rich can buy a better education, and that the poor may have to deal with cramped and dirty classrooms with subpar teachers, and faulty textbooks. But we provide socialist measures such as head start to remmedy inequalities bellow a certain level. While public defenders are probably not the best lawyers, they are the best that money can buy when you have none. Miranda Rights thus read socialism into the 6th ammendment. Another way of saying this is that in our democracy we have some property interests independent of means. In a democracy folks can certainly lobby congressional leaders to increase the floor, or make a push for greater equality and redistribution, in some cases the courts will imply such rights.

If you are broke there is always socialism built into democracy, for everything else there is master card.

Positive rights exist all over the place, and you would be disingenuous to try to read them out of statutes. I tend to think that Wilson today might be a republican, it is hard to say, but I am not sure anything is really gained by stressing that the progressive movement repudiated the principles of individual liberty. To take such a one sided view would only serve to reinforce a more socialist reading of legistlation passed in that time period.

Glenn Beck lacks immagination if he thinks Wilson is "the most evil man we have had in office", either this of he suffers from an excess of immagination, or else he is borrowing his ethics from the Fountainhead and conflating Wilson with the character of Elsworth Toohey.

I don't know why the analogy concerning the teaparty might not be to the abolitionist who considered the constitution a pact with the devil. With similar rigor in parsing out socialist or collectivist positive rights, you could a la Ayn Rand conclude that the proggressives enshrined collectivism in the law at the detriment of a true understanding of individual rights. Before Jonah Goldberg ever wrote liberal fascism, Leonard Peikoff in 1982 wrote Ominous Parallels, were among other things he detailed exactly how compatible german democracy was with facism.

"The Nazis did not gain power against the country’s wishes…The Nazi party was elected to office by the freely cast ballots of millions of German voters, including men on every social, economic, and educational level. In the national election of July 1932, the Nazis obtained 37 percent of the vote and a plurality of seats in the Reichstag. On January 30, 1933, in full accordance with the country’s legal and constitutional principles, Hitler was appointed Chancellor."

“The concept of personal liberties of the individual as opposed to the authority of the state had to disappear; it is not to be reconciled with the principle of the nationalistic Reich,” said Huber to a country which listened, and nodded. “There are no personal liberties of the individual which fall outside of the realm of the state and which must be respected by the state…The constitution of the nationalistic Reich is therefore not based upon a system of inborn and inalienable rights of the individual."

But try as you might to push the idea that there was some proggressive movement that fundamentally changed the character and basis of the american republic, it just isn't the case that individualism has been subordinated to the principle of some nationalistic Reich. In fact a good deal of the positive rights that could be considered socialist spring from personal liberties of the individual that must be respected by the state, i.e. the Miranda Rights of the 6th ammendment and due process rights.

While the protected property interest in an education means that a parent of a child with disabilities can force the school district to hire a specialist so that the child is afforded a basic education, such a socialist right, i.e. one independent from means to pay, stands out in contrast to the alternative solution provided by Buck v. Bell, where Justice Holmes famously said that "Three generations of imbeciles are enough".

"We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind."

"socialism" then in the proggressive or american sense is just a buffer, safety net or minimum floor that exists not in spite of principles of individual liberty, but in large part because of them, a positive right/property interest in an education or the right to council in a criminal case.

Democracy really simply ballances socialism or equality and equal protection concerns with economic liberty, judicial efficiency and budgetary contraints. Because socialism provides a free lunch that does not exist, those with income must pay for it, these can conceptually be Sumner's forgotten man or Rand's John Galt, but factually will always be non-fictional people. You can look at it as a penalty on competence and a subsidy for four or more generations of imbeciles, or you can look at it as part of your burden for the luck of being born well off.

While there is something to be said about Sumner and Rand, it is just a fact that those without means can't be taxed. If democracy was incompatible with Socialism, it would be called plutocracy,and in fact the progressives did manage to decouple voting rights from having a job and being outside of bankrupcy, such that in 1945 those on welfare and those who had filled for bankrupcy could vote. In other words the right to vote was socialist in so far as it joined other protected property interests that were decoupled from merit or the ability to pay. This doesn't really mean that democracy is incompatible with Capitalism or with plutocracy, as wealth itself above and beyond religion, the bully pulpit or the bench is the final judge becauses all ends require means.

I would guess that 99% of our politics stem from the foreseability of various contradictions inherent in unpaid/socialist/equal protection floor property interests combined with high unemployment and a wide gap between the wealthy and the poor, the able and the 5th generation of imbeciles.

Just wait as the economy grows and productivity increases and unemployment rises in a way not fully understood by the old school progressives.

What happens to the bottom quartile when the cost burden of these protected property interests falls in part upon those who would hire them otherwise?

They don't hire...It isn't so much that democracy isn't compatible with socialism, it is that socialism is dependent on democracy that is dependent upon plutocracy/capitalism/ability and wealth creation.

No, gents, not in America. That's one reason we have never had an explicitly socialist party.

Ken, you do not get to choose your own facts.

There are significant differences between the United States and the mode of affluent countries, but there was a qualitative change in the political economy after 1933 and in how the matter of common provision was handled. The difference between the United States and France is one of degree, not one of kind. Democratic institutions in this country are corrupted in various ways, better in some respects and worse in some respects than they were in 1928. We have not, nor has France, degenerated into some sort of tyrannical regime.

Tocqueville viewed the difference differently, and he's still right, even post-New Deal. He warned of soft despotism, and we have plenty of that, along with some of the harsher variety. Family, faith, future--divergences exist in how Europe and America view and act. We are living off a greater capital. Whether we can develop it is still a question.

No, we do not have any of the harsher variety.

'Soft despotism' is an inapt term as well. There is no despot. Our problem is social and cultural, a continuous cession of authority and usurpation of authority. 'Cession' by ordinary people, usurpation by an overclass. Institutions of long pedigree in which people have sweat equity have been enfeebled and contained by apparat of paid professional substitutes who regard the mass of the people not as self-governing adults but as clientele of their betters. Read Tocqueville if it pleases you, but a better handle on this might be had from reading Thomas Sowell and Christopher Lasch.

Isn't what makes our "soft despotism" soft is that it is a democratic despotism, a tyranny of the majority type of despotism? Those "paid professional substitutes" are the children of the type of people they seek to manage.

Americans vote for people who say they want to solve problems. Then they appoint people to solve the problems, who hire people to solve the problems, and all justify their existence by pumping out solutions to problems that cause other problems. This gets expensive.

I used to go to Democratic Socialist Party meetings (my husband was a dedicated member) where this sort of government (the kind we have) was looked on as a positive thing. I don't think they exist as a party any more, but I think they won.

I think 'tyranny of the majority' might be a term appropriate for Venezuela as we speak, or for Argentina between 1946 and 1955. 'Tyranny of the plurality' might describe Allende's Chile or the Spanish Republic. What we actually have is the manipulation and condescension of the 'anointed' or 'regime class'. It is a qualitatively different thing. I think it is true that democratic institutions are incompatible with the ethic and attitudes of this class and we will face either a crisis or a secular decay in the quality of public life. I would bet on the latter, wherein democratic institutions degenerate into a state analagous to beefeaters - an ironic and ornamental remnant.

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