On television, on radio, in books, and in a widely viewed speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year, Glenn Beck has pronounced “progressivism” as the “disease” that afflicts America. His progressive opponents, meanwhile, seem obsessed with attacking him for this obsession—the Center for American Progress has even launched a series of papers to “set the record straight.”
This battle reveals a deeper dispute about American history. Mr. Beck and others—such as Jonah Goldberg in his 2008 book, “Liberal Fascism”—tie today’s progressives (the new word for liberals) to the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century. They contend that the original progressives—including leaders such as Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt—rejected America’s founding principles. Mr. Beck also claims that today’s leftist policies are the culmination of a journey begun by progressives over a century ago.
I think it’s fair to say that I’m one of those indirectly responsible for the fuss. Messrs. Beck and Goldberg have drawn from my academic work on Woodrow Wilson, and I’ve been interviewed about this work by Mr. Beck as an occasional guest on his program.
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Whatever I or anyone else thinks about Mr. Beck’s programming or political views, on one central historical issue he is correct: The progressive movement did indeed repudiate the principles of individual liberty and limited government that were the basis of the American republic. America’s original progressives were convinced that the country faced a set of social and economic problems demanding a sharp increase in federal power. They also said that there was too much emphasis placed on protecting the liberty of individuals at the expense of broader social justice. So did this make them socialists—a charge frequently leveled by Mr. Beck?
Read More: By RONALD J. PESTRITTO, WSJ