The View From 1776
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
We’ll Tell You What And How To Do
An underlying presumption of liberal-progressivism is that ordinary people neither understand what is best for them nor are capable of doing what is best for them without guidance from their socialistic administrators. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg is a prime example of this mentality, proposing to regulate what people eat, how much they may eat and drink, and how they are permitted to obtain what they eat and drink.
For Obama’s supremely active regulatory bureaus that attitude is deeply rooted. Unfortunately they don’t follow through to learn whether their policy aims, even if well intentioned, achieve more good than ill. As is said of the French, theory is everything; practical effect is of no interest.
Liz Peek’s article on the Fiscal Times website describes a typical example.
Where did this insufferable “better then thou” attitude, so antithetical to the God-given individual rights and inalienable personal liberties of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, come from?
It began seizing the Federal government under Democrat-Socialist Party President Woodrow Wilson before World War I.
Wilson was both a liberal-progressive academic scholar and an effective political administrator. Like liberal-progressive-socialism’s primary theoretician John Dewey, he was an early graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where he fell under the spell of German statist ideas, particularly as articulated by German philosopher Hegel, whose concepts were the source of Karl Marx’s confidence that capitalism was inevitably evolving into socialism.
Beginning in the late 1800s Wilson wrote and lectured extensively at universities expounding his theories that the American Constitution was outmoded. He carried those theories into the office of the presidency and to a considerable extent was able to impose them upon the nation.
Briefly, in keeping with Darwinian evolutionary doctrine and prevailing liberal-progressive ideas of the day, Wilson believed that Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, and members of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were altogether wrong in their emphasis upon individual rights (see Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, by Ronald J. Pestritto). The need was for greater concentration of power and increased administrative efficiency in the Federal government, which necessarily meant diminishing individual rights.
Since the founding era, Wilson asserted, Hegelian historical forces had created a new society. The United States had come together into a unified whole in which there were no longer the individualistic competing interests among political and economic factions. The founders’ Constitutional checks and balances, particularly states rights under the Bill of Rights’ Tenth Amendment, had in the 20th century become impediments to government’s administrative efficiency. Needed was a clear field for liberal-progressive administrative experts to implement new political and economic policies as they saw fit, without interference from Congress.
During his academic career, and before becoming governor of New Jersey and president of the United States, Wilson had advocated appointing all Federal cabinet ministers from among members of Congress, in the British parliamentary fashion. Such ministers, Wilson thought, would both be able to influence public sentiment, and able to hammer out policy measures during active participation in the legislative process. Congress, in British Parliamentary fashion, would become the dominant branch of government. Combining it with the presidency would enable government leaders to do almost anything they believed necessary to add to “efficiency” in controlling the populace. It should be noted that under the British constitution Parliament is supreme, with no limitations on its legislative powers beyond what the public will tolerate and tradition has developed.
This, of course, was in diametric opposition to the hard-won experience of the founders who wrote the Constitution. As Madison and Hamilton wrote extensively in the Federalist papers, individual rights of all varieties, especially property rights, would be too vulnerable to mob sentiment, to the tyranny of the majority, without multiple checks and balances to prevent concentration of too much political power in one person or group.
After gaining political office, Wilson changed his views somewhat. The drive toward augmented administrative efficiency remained, but Wilson began to realize that the most practical route toward that goal was bolstering the powers of the presidency. To that end, during his presidency, Wilson added many governmental regulatory agencies and bolstered their regulatory power to impose de facto law via issuance of regulations without Congressional review. Among the most consequential of these agencies was the Federal Reserve System, established in 1913. Today’s arbitrary regulations by the EPA, for example, are Wilson’s progeny.
A key element in Wilson’s view of the presidency was public opinion. On the one hand, Wilson theorized that the process of history, a “thing in itself” in Hegelian terms, had reshaped and unified American social and economic opinion. On the other hand, Wilson believed that only elite, liberal-progressive leaders were capable of understanding and interpreting that new opinion to the general public.
Wilson’s elitist attitude underlies our present-day, we-know-what’s-best-for-you nanny state, exemplified in President Obama’s and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s imposition in 2010 of socialized healthcare legislation (Obamacare ) over the strong objections of a majority of voters.