Useful Readings on Progressivism and Contemporary Politics
There has been some spirited discussion on Ricochet about the relationship between the early Progressive movement and contemporary politics. For those who have found that discussion interesting, I recommend reading this Heritage Foundation New Common Sense that maintains there is a fundamental continuity between the Progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt and the policies of Barack Obama. Obama, and his immediate predecessor, both explicitly claim to be connected to the earlier Progressivism; it is useful for us to study this relationship for immediate practical reasons as well as the unalloyed pleasure of learning.
TR's New Nationalism speech and Thomas G. West's overview of Progressivism are linked in the Heritage article. I highly recommend both to anyone interested in understanding the Progressive movement. West's essay is the best short piece known to me on the basic character of Progressivism. TR's speech The Right of the People to Rule and the Progressive Party Platform of 1912 are very useful for anyone wishing to understand the domestic policies advocated by early Progressives.
Anyone interested in a representative sample of Progressive thought situated within the larger American political tradition will profit from The US Constitution: A Reader, edited by the Hillsdale College Politics Faculty. The Reader also has selections from later Progressives such as FDR and LBJ, as well as a large number of documents elucidating the constitutionalism of the founding and the battle of ideas that led to the Civil War. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the editors.)
American Progressivism: A Reader by R.J. Pestritto and William Atto offers a comprehensive collection of readings from leading early Progressives with a helpful introductory essay and useful prefatory notes to the individual selections. Pestritto also has a fine one-volume collection of Woodrow Wilson's political writings as well as the definitive treatment of Wilson's political thought in Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism. Wilson's "What Is Progress?", "Leaders of Men," and "The Study of Administration" provide the reader with a summary view of his thought. (All of these pieces may be found in American Progressivism).
Will Morrisey offers an immensely erudite and comprehensive examination of how Wilson, TR, and Taft transformed the American understanding of the meaning of self-government in The Dilemma of Progressivism.
Tiffany Miller's discussions of how John Dewey refounded American philosophy and Progressive racism at home and abroad provide essential insights into the character of Progressive theory and practice.
Study of the early Progressives shows the reader that the policies advocated today by what Angelo Codevilla aptly describes as the ruling class most often fall within the Progressive horizon. The distinctions between ruling class Republicans and ruling class Democrats are largely based on the differences between the various strands of early Progressive thought. Our political elite is united in rejecting the natural rights principles of the founding and the constitutionalism that flows from those principles.
The differences between today's liberalism and the earlier Progressivism are limited but important. Contemporary liberalism is an apparently incoherent blend of the earlier moralistic and assertive Progressivism coupled with the liberation from moral constraint and the embrace of death that came to prominence in our universities and public policy in the 1960's. I will say some more about what I take to be the key features of contemporary liberalism in a future post.