Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Dangers of Progressivism

This post is the last in a three-part series tracing the roots of the progressive movement. In Part 1, The Damaging Effects of Philosophical Pragmatism, I discussed the philosophical underpinnings of progressivism. In Part 2, Progressivism, Obama, and You, I fleshed out progressivism as a system of thought and its progression during various presidencies leading up to Obama. This final post will discuss the dangers of progressivism, based on Glenn Beck’s new book titled Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. From the outset, Beck notes that though many people hear the word “progressive” they immediately think of liberals or Democrats, but the truth is they’re not synonymous. Progressivism has less to do with parties and more to do with individuals who “seek to redefine, reshape, and rebuild America into a country where individual liberties and personal property mean nothing if they conflict with the plans and goals of the State.” Beck calls progressivism a cancer because it is not limited to political systems, but has infiltrated both political parties and the entire political class, which includes bureaucrats, lobbyists, trade unions, and corporations that “all look to government as their own personal ATM machine.”

Progressivism is why, according to Beck, Americans feel as though the candidates they get to choose from are pretty much the same. In other words, do you elect progressive candidate A, or really progressive candidate B? We need look no further than the last presidential election between John McCain, who would be candidate A, and Barack Obama, who has clearly demonstrated that he is candidate B. One of the hallmarks of progressive thought is the concept of redistribution: the idea that your money and property are only yours if the State doesn’t determine there is a higher or better use for it. Teddy Roosevelt made this view clear in his speech on the “New Nationalism” in 1910, and I believe most of us recall Obama echoing this modern-day Robin Hood sentiment in his exchange with Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher during the last presidential campaign. Roosevelt said that personal property is “subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.” Roosevelt’s thoughts on accumulated wealth were equally illuminating. In the same speech he said, “We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.” Theodore Roosevelt was also the first president to call for national health insurance. See a pattern here?

Beck goes on to note how Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was the next president to further the progressive agenda. Like Roosevelt, he didn’t believe there were any restrictions on government power. These two presidents serve as the idols and philosophical foundations for their respective parties, which perhaps explains why both parties seem to continually produce the same results. Like today, the early twentieth-century progressives loved to rely on “experts,” and used them as an excuse to expand their power. George W. Bush presided over a massive redistribution of wealth with his Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Plan. Even “conservative” presidential candidate John McCain cited Theodore Roosevelt as one of his favorite presidents. Beck argues that the presidential election of 2008 was truly a repeat of the presidential election of 1912, in which America was really only offered a progressive Republican and a progressive Democrat as candidates. Over the last century, progressives have successfully moved our country toward more government control and less personal freedom—and they’re still pushing the envelope according to Beck. He doesn’t believe progressives have a master plan to take down America, as he thinks they genuinely believe their view is the best way forward. However, the problem is that fewer and fewer people are able to stand in their way because we don’t teach real American history any more, let alone the real history and vision of the progressive movement. The principles of freedom and liberty and the beliefs of the founding fathers have basically been whitewashed from the curriculum.

As I discussed in previous posts, progressives view the Constitution as a living organism that evolves with time and changes depending on the circumstances. As Beck notes, both the progressives and the founding fathers view the Constitution as a set of handcuffs—but the difference is the founders believed it was the power of the State that was to be cuffed, while progressives believed it was individuals who were cuffed to the greater good of the group. One of these two positions will win out and that will dictate how future generations live their lives. The battle is taking place now between these two philosophies right now in all aspects of our lives, with a few key issues outlined by Beck that the progressives are using to drive their agenda forward: the environment, gun control, education, and religion. I would add to this list healthcare, while as I write this Democrats are ramming through massively expensive, sweeping legislation to nationalize the healthcare system with little thought as to its true costs and its effects on an already weak economy. How could Congress completely redo the healthcare system representing 16% of our economy in just a matter of weeks, without considering that the present system simply needs to be improved? This alone demonstrates that progressives do not represent the people, but represent their own private agendas under the guise of the will of the people, as they gradually remake America in their own image.


Beck, Glenn, Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine, New York: Mercury Radio Arts, 2009.

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