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In his book entitled An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society, the once avid progressive Walter Lippmann wrote: “Although the partisans who are now fighting for the mastery of the modern world wear shirts of different colors, their weapons are drawn from the same armory, their doctrines are variations of the same theme, and they go forth to battle singing the same tune with slightly different words. Their weapons are the coercive direction of the life and labor of mankind. Their doctrine is that disorder and misery can be overcome only by more and more compulsory organization. Their promise is that through the power of the state men can be made happy.”
Lippmann continued: “Throughout the world, in the name of progress, men who call themselves communists, socialists, fascists, nationalists, progressives, and even liberals, are unanimous in holding that government with its instruments of coercion must by commanding the people how they shall live, direct the course of civilization and fix the shape of things to come.” Lippmann, a one time staunch liberal who voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal in 1932, had come to the staunch realization by 1937 that the progressive ideas espoused by those like FDR were antithetical to America’s future. In a damning indictment of the direction he saw his party headed, Lippmann stated that “the mark of a progressive is that he relies at last upon the increased power of officials to improve the condition of men… the only instrument of progress in which they have faith is the coercive agency of government.”
Though this statement in itself is an extraordinary indictment on the direction in which liberalism would inevitably lead us, Lippmann’s next statement is what truly brings home the notion of what we today would consider the modern idea behind progressivism. Noting how progressives seem to imagine no alternative but to rely on the coercive agency of government, Lippmann writes that they can’t even “remember how much of what they cherish as progressive has come by emancipation from political dominion, by the limitation of power, by the release of personal energy from authority and collective coercion. For virtually all that now passes for progressivism in the United States calls for increasing ascendancy of the state: always the cry is for more officials with more power over more and more of the activities of men.”
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It is in that last statement that we can begin our inquiry into the shape of American despotism. While the Progressive era in American politics formally lasted from the 1890’s until the 1920’s, its legacy permeated the philosophy and policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) under his so-called New Deal, in which a series of economic programs passed during his first term in office greatly expanded the size, scope, and power of the federal government. James Piereson, in his new book Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order, explains that the New Deal “accepted the reality of modern industrial organization and sought to respond to it, not by restoring the influence of the individual farmer, worker, and businessman, but by building a parallel capacity in the national government to regulate and direct industry.” Moreover, the New Deal “institutionalized itself in government and in the [Democratic] party system” as it “was more administrative and experimental than moralistic; it sought to establish new levers of power in the American system more than to reinvigorate old ones.”
“The New Deal,” writes Jonah Goldberg in Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, “was conceived at the climax of a worldwide fascist moment, a moment when socialists in many countries were increasingly becoming nationalists and nationalists could embrace nothing other than socialism.” Many of Roosevelt’s ideas and policies were entirely indistinguishable from the fascism of Mussolini. In fact, writes Goldberg, there were “many common features among New Deal liberalism, Italian Fascism, and German National Socialism, all of which shared many of the same historical and intellectual forebears.” Like American progressives, many Italian Fascist and German Nazi intellectuals championed a “middle” or “Third Way” between capitalism and socialism.
Goldberg explains that this middle way sounds moderate, as its appeal is that it sounds non-ideological and freethinking, “but philosophically the Third Way is not mere difference splitting; it is utopian and authoritarian. Its utopian aspect becomes manifest in its antagonism to the idea that politics is about trade-offs. The Third Wayer says that there are no false choices—’I refuse to accept that X should come at the expense of Y.’ The Third Way holds that we can have capitalism and socialism, individual liberty and absolute unity.” The German and American New Deals — i.e., fascism and progressivism — also shared the bedrock belief that the state should be permitted to do whatever it wished, so long as it was for the “common good.” Chief among those reasons was the idea that government’s purpose was to protect the interests of “the forgotten man,” on whose behalf both FDR and Hitler were proficient at projecting deep concern.
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Essentially, the New Deal reshaped our government in a way that has been more than detrimental to not only the American people, but to the Constitution itself as it gave credence to the notion that the Constitution was outdated–and thus its provisions needed to be usurped in order to solve the crisis of the times through the expansion of an unrestrained and unlimited federal government. The fact that our Constitution was designed in order to disperse political power among the people and protect the freedom of the individual by putting chains on the excessive ambitions and frailties of human nature is a concept that has been lost on both political parties as it has become customary to seemingly ignore the Constitution. Today, well beyond the New Deal, the vast administrative state we call our government is socializing health care, micromanaging industry, dictating education standards, underwriting mortgages and student loans, federalizing local police departments, and borrowing trillions of dollars from itself to the detriment of future generations to come as the massive welfare and entitlement state expands and implodes.
The government we have today is no longer constrained to the limited powers granted to it by the Constitution, as the separation of powers both vertically (local, state, federal) and horizontally (legislative, executive, judicial), have been consolidated into one branch of government within the executive. This branch creates, enforces, and interprets laws and regulations without the consent of the governed, further aided by Congress’ abandonment of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. Rather than the branches of government being in conflict with one another, they work in conjunction to push special interests over the common interests of the American people from the top down.
While previous administrations, both democratic and republican, have contributed to the growth of the federal government, it is under our most progressive President Barack Obama in which the widespread and blatant seizure of unconstitutional authority has been truly unprecedented. Kenneth Levin of Front Page Mag notes that “foremost is the President’s own creating or rewriting of federal statutes in pursuit of his policy goals – whether, for example, in the context of implementing Obamacare, or recasting immigration law, or signing off on far-reaching international commitments without constitutionally prescribed Congressional authorization, and even violating the provisions in the watered down Congressional oversight of the Iran deal that had become law only two months earlier.”
Additional examples noted by Levin are the administration’s use of federal agencies such as, to name but a few, “the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board and the Securities and Exchange Commission, to assert and exercise powers beyond those allowed them by statute. Administration transgressions also include use of the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies for political ends – punishing critics of the President and rewarding supporters – in blatant violation of federal law. Other unlawful conduct by the Administration includes the ignoring of Congressional subpoenas by, for instance, the Departments of Justice and of State.” Levin further notes that “the motive driving the President and those around him has been comprehended by many as single-minded commitment to an ideological vision they regard as too grand and too important to be impeded by Constitutional niceties. A variation on the same theme articulated by others likewise perceives a determination by the Administration to impose a new system of governance.” And this is precisely what Obama has done while Congress has abdicated their constitutional responsibilities in refusing to check the President.
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The new system of governance in which we find ourselves living under is a government of itself, by itself, and for itself. It is what Michael Savage correctly labels in his latest book Government Zero. In short, Savage elaborates that “Government Zero is absolute, unchecked government power and zero representation of the people. It doesn’t exist to promote conservative or liberal principles. It is not pro-immigration or anti-immigration. It is not capitalist or socialist. It is not religious or atheist. Those are all just means to its end. Its end is its own preservation.” The government doesn’t serve the people; it serves itself by acting against the people, growing richer by making us poorer through endless taxes, debt, and regulations as it expands and consolidates its power by limiting and restricting our freedom. It ensures its own safety by threatening yours.
“This is where we are,” writes Savage. “We have three branches of government that are not only supposed to check each other with their separate powers, but limit themselves to the powers delegated to them in the Constitution. They do neither. Instead, they join together in looting our wealth, trampling our liberty, and destroying our culture at the behests of special interests and their lobbyists,” concludes Savage. The faith in the coercive action of government, no matter how big nor small, is not only destroying our country, but it’s establishing a wholly new system of governance to replace our own.
Samuel Adams warned of the days in which we are living as he wrote in his letter to James Warren in 1780: “If ever the Time should come, when vain and aspiring Men shall possess the highest Seats in Government, our Country will stand in Need of its experienced Patriots to prevent its Ruin.”
That time has come.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.