The Future Consequences of Past Decisions

libertyFrom its inception, progressivism has posed a threat to constitutional government, seeking to replace limited and decentralized governance with dynamic, centralized authority in order to force some arrangement of equality on the nation.  Because the world has a way of upsetting abstract designs, progressivism depends on empowering administrators to impose its frameworks while disempowering citizens from resisting these coercions.

The Progressive’s vision of the role of the state conflicts with the system of government envisioned by our founders who wanted the government’s powers constrained, while allowing citizens to be free to pursue their affairs individually and in voluntary association.   In contrast, one of the founders of the modern progressive movement, Herbert Croly said that the nation’s “democracy should be focused on an equal sharing of wealth and responsibilities,” an enterprise that demanded a larger and more intrusive federal government to enforce.

In the early twentieth century progressives, enjoying support among the legions of poor who had little to lose from rearrangement of rights by government programs, introduced new entitlements against the backdrop of low federal spending and a much smaller federal government. At the beginning of the Progressive Era, government spending represented only about 4% of GDP; reaching 11% only after FDR introduced Social Security.

Today, the government spends more than five times as much as a percentage of GDP than it did at the beginning of last century and twice as much as when Social Security was introduced. That amount will continue to grow, driven by the rising cost of entitlements for an aging population. The future consequences of past decisions thus constrain the present capacity of government even as progressivism’s reach becomes more ambitious.   

Over the course of the twentieth century, free-market capitalism made the United States the wealthiest nation of any substantial size. The average income grew by more than 4 times in the last century leaving citizens with more to lose from progressive interventions into the free market.

Faced with these constraints, today’s progressives must resort to even more misleading coercive measures to introduce their socialist agenda, rallying support from cultural and social identifications in a bid to maintain support. They also must limit the voters voice at election time and magnify the influence of the press and academia, which tilt decidedly left.

Progressivism has long valued executive discretion over legislative. The Democratic Senate’s decision to do away with the filibuster on judicial nominations, for instance, was primarily designed to eliminate any roadblock to confirmation of Obama’s nominees to the District of Columbia Circuit Court which oversees the exercise of administrative discretion in many important government programs, including ObamaCare. But today’s progressives need more than wide-ranging discretion to adapt its laws to new circumstances since its coalition no longer controls Congress.

Obama choice to exercise executive power to decline to enforce laws or even rewrite them comes perilously close to the “dispensing power” of the Stuart monarchs, who claimed the authority to disregard laws. The British rejected that power during the Glorious Revolution, and the Founders rejected it also by inserting language into our Constitution requiring that the president “take care that the law be faithfully executed.” Obama’s push for unilateral presidential authority to totally disregard existing law or rewrite existing law to his ends is but a logical extension of the progressive program.

Opposition to the progressive program requires nothing less than a rededicated to our Founding ideals; our nation must be governed by the rule of law, not the rule of an elected monarch or of a legally privileged aristocracy.

Conservatives and libertarians must focus on the structure of politics. Where progressives would burst the bounds of law, conservatives must strengthen the rule of law. To countering the progressive drive to reduce free speech of those outside the symbolic class, conservatives must emphasize the principle of equality before the law. First and foremost, Congress must commit itself to operate by evenhanded rules of appropriate generality and thus ban earmarks, targeted regulatory relief and other favors often used to reward political supporters.

Source: Why Progressives Mislead by John O. McGinnis, the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwest University School of Law.  You can read his article in full at this link.


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