The View From 1776
Sunday, March 07, 2010
Today’s Revolutionary Aristocracy
Liberal-progressives are a self-annointed aristocracy that presumes the right to impose its will upon our nation.
Since the last decades of the 19th century, the United States has suffered slowly escalating conflict between its founding ethos and the ideology of secular socialism, the latter represented by the liberal-progressive elite.
The aim of the conflict initiated by liberal-progressives has been nothing short of revolutionary overthrow, however gradually executed, of the original constitutional structure of the nation and its replacement by an all-powerful, collectivized national government. Such a government reduces the citizenry of the United States to servility under liberal-progressive bureaucrats in Washington, DC. Think, for example, of the Environmental Protection Agency’s unilateral move to usurp regulation of CO2 in the face of majority opposition in Congress, an action that will bureaucratically doom much of the nation’s manufacturing and mining industries.
Writers of the Constitution assumed the existence of a natural aristocracy of citizens, each of whom had, in his home district, earned the respect of his fellow citizens for his capabilities and judgment. The structure of our Federal republic rested upon the expectation that such men would on the whole people local, state, and Federal legislatures and occupy executive positions in the various governments. As that ideal could never be fully realized in a world of human beings, our Federal republic was structured to pit interest against interest in order to forestall aggregation of too much power in too few hands.
Recently united in common purpose to assert political independence from Great Britain, the citizens of the United States and their leaders in 1787 shared a common ethos. That ethos was the product of centuries of English government, sharpened by the events leading up to England’s 1688 Glorious Revolution, which unseated autocratic James II.
The Glorious Revolution produced the English Bill of Rights and John Locke’s Treatises of Civil Government, which stated the case for inherent, inalienable, individual rights to life, liberty, and private property. Locke wrote of a government founded in a social compact of mutual advantage for protection of those individual, natural-law rights against arbitrary exertion of power by the sovereign and against foreign enemies.
In that conception, government did not grant political liberty to its citizens; government was to be restrained from infringing upon its citizens’ natural-law rights. Today, in contrast, the liberal-progressive elite of the Democrat/Socialist party assert an aristocratic authority to cram down the people’s throats, purportedly for their own good, unpopular measures that abrogate our historical political liberties. Such is President Obama’s intention to crush private health insurance companies and to nationalize healthcare, by whatever autocratic means he can employ.
The natural aristocracy of the United States, in its first century and a half of national existence, was composed of men of practical experience as independent farmers, merchants, and manufacturers.
Today’s putative liberal-progressive aristocracy is an anti-business, academic class basing its claims upon academic, utopian theory. It is an aristocracy without benefit of practical experience in the world of trade and manufacturing. Today’s liberal-progressive elite, like the French in 1789, are confident that an ideal government can be conceived abstractly in the minds of academic intellectuals, who are ignorant of economics and devoid of practical business experience.
That intellectual presumption gave France the bloody Reign of Terror and a century and a half of unstable government, oscillating from socialism to restoration of the monarchy, under more than a dozen different constitutions. Our liberal-progressive aristocracy has shoved the nation down the path toward servile dependence upon government and towards international bankruptcy, domestic inflation, and eventual domination by foreign powers.
How did the liberal-progressive aristocracy come to be?
Excesses of wealth in the post-Civil War Gilded Age gave impetus to the new class of intellectuals, who looked for their model of government, not to England and America’s past, but to the Continental European statism of France and the newly emergent German Empire. There the prevailing ideology was the collectivism of the socialist political state. In opposition to the English and American conception of natural-law, inherent, individual political liberties, the Continental powers envisioned the political state as creating and granting, when it deigned to do so, selected privileges to its citizens.
Liberal-progressive paternalism was evident in President Clinton’s response to proposed tax cuts. He thought it a bad idea, he said, because American citizens would spend the money on the wrong things. This presumption is evident in the current Democrat/Socialist government’s assertion that it will force socialized medicine upon the nation, because the people don’t know what is best for them. It is evident in Democrat/Socialist regulatory desires to compel banks to make unwise loans and to pressure manufacturers to change production from profitable products desired by consumers to “green” products.
This new aristocracy, imposed by revolutionary means under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, was prominently delineated by Herbert Croly in his 1909 The Promise of American Life and in the 1913 A Preface to Politics by his colleague Walter Lippmann, who had been president of Harvard’s socialist club during his student days.
Croly and Lippmann were founding editors of The New Republic, the flagship journal of liberal-progressivism for most of the 20th century. Both admired the German Empire’s focus upon professional administration of political functions and abhorred the messiness of legislation and administration in our Federal republic. As had Auguste Comte in the 1820s of French socialism, Croly and Lippmann urged the subordination of legislative bodies to professional administrators. Both favored a strong executive, who, like Bismarck in Germany, would seize the controls of political power and impose an educated, trained bureaucratic administration upon our nation, which, in their view, was mired in the outmoded beliefs of Jeffersonian individualism. America was to achieve greatness to the extent that it emulated the statist governments of Continental Europe.
President Obama assertion that Americans will learn to like socialized healthcare after he has imposed it upon them is a quintessential example of the arbitrariness of beliefs and presumptions that define today’s liberal-progressive aristocracy.