Prof. Ronald J. Pestritto contends here that the progressives should give us some pause:
Woodrow Wilson did oppose the actual socialist movement of his day, and he didn’t believe that the government at the time was capable of accomplishing everything socialists then had in mind. Nevertheless, in his 1887 essay, “Socialism and Democracy,” Wilson considered the socialist principle—”that all idea of limitation of public authority by individual rights be put out of view”—to be entirely consistent with democratic principles: “In fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. . . . Limits of wisdom and convenience to the public control there may be: limits of principle there are, upon strict analysis, none.”
Theodore Roosevelt also recoiled from the socialist movement. But in his famous “New Nationalism” speech of 1910, he said it was necessary that there be “a far more active governmental interference” with the economy. “It is not enough,” he said, that a fortune was “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.”
To achieve their ends, progressives understood that the original constitutional limits on the scope of the federal government had to be breached. This is why Roosevelt railed against court decisions, like the famous Supreme Court case of Lochner v. New York (1905), that upheld individual property rights against progressive legislation (in this case a law limiting the number of hours a baker could work). It is also why Wilson consistently advocated the adoption of a more English-style government, where there is no written fundamental law to serve as a check on the authority of the national legislature.
All this makes puzzling recent calls from some conservative quarters to lay off the original progressives. Matthew Continetti in the Weekly Standard, for instance, claims that “progressivism is a distinctly American tradition.”
In fact, it was anything but. Wilson sought, in his 1886 essay on “The Study of Administration,” to model America’s national administration on Bismarck’s Prussia. He wrote that this model of centralized government “is not of our making; it is a foreign science, speaking very little of the language of English or American principle. It . . . utters none but what are to our minds alien ideas. . . . It has been developed by French and German professors.”