- Post 17 September 2012
- By Copy Editor
The president represents the fourth—and final—phase of the Progressive experiment begun at the turn of the 20th century.
(FRED SIEGEL | The Wall Street Journal) --It is a cliché of modern American politics that the word "liberal" is still slightly toxic and that "progressive" is a better, more upbeat, way of describing left-of-center politicians and their causes. In "I Am the Change,"
Charles Kesler, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, says that "progressive," in fact, neatly captures President Barack Obama and his political outlook, although Mr. Kesler intends a more precise definition of the term than is usually employed. Drawing on his wide reading in philosophy and American political thought, Mr. Kesler argues that Mr. Obama has been shaped by the political tradition of Progressivism and that his 2008 triumph has helped, in turn, to reshape it.
Until the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, Mr. Kesler notes, American politicians referred in reverential terms to the Constitution and to the natural rights cited in the Declaration of Independence. But the Progressives, influenced by the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and by German idealist philosophy, viewed the traditions of the Founders as hopelessly outdated. They insisted on a new set of governing principles adapted to the modern age, principles requiring a "living Constitution" and, for the betterment of society, an ever greater role for government.
Mr. Kesler traces Progressive thought to its first flowering, with Woodrow Wilson as its emblematic proponent, and then forward to its second and third "waves," in FDR's New Deal of the 1930s and LBJ's Great Society of the 1960s. Mr. Obama, in this outline of history, is the leader of Progressivism's "fourth wave."
Mr. Kesler reminds us that Wilson was a professor at Princeton (and its president) before he entered politics, an intellectual with an evolved political philosophy. He wanted a new outpouring of "political genius" to supplant the dusty precepts of the Founders. For Wilson and other Progressives influenced by Hegel's idealism (including John Dewey and Richard Ely), natural rights were to be replaced by the judgments of history; and history itself was to be guided by Hegelian processes, with reason and wisdom unfolding into a bright future. As a candidate for the presidency, Wilson explained that Progressives "think of the future, not the past, as the more glorious time, in comparison with which the present is nothing." continues...