The excerpts from this article briefly summarize the origins of and philosophies of Progressivism, a malignant deviation from our American Constitution's rights, our heritage, and protections from growth of government control. By perverting Constitutional concepts of individual rights, Progressives have spun a new identity for Americans and their relationship to government. In doing so, Progressivism has made government, specially at the federal level, a culturally divisive force that seeks to control our behavior according to a new set of values.
While the ideas expressed in Progressivism are not new to the world, they are "new" to American mainstream politics, having crept in over the last century, gaining more social legitimacy as attested by the growing favorable view of Socialism, which is antithetical to the Constitution and our Founders' beliefs and intent. This article is but one of many that explains the rejection of our foundational rights and the cultural divide. If schools don't value our heritage and spread these new, perverted ideas, how will we be able to live as a free people unencumbered by government power and force?
From 2002: After fifteen years, the disintegration of fundamental Americanism is even more profound and dangerous.
Imprimis, Hillsdale College
Larry P. Arnn is the twelfth president of Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. from Arkansas State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in government from the Claremont Graduate School. From 1977 to 1980, he also studied at the London School of Economics and at Worcester College, Oxford University, where he served as director of research for Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill. From 1985 until his appointment as president of Hillsdale College in 2000, he was president of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy. He is the author of Liberty and Learning: The Evolution of American Education; The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution; and Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government.
First published in 1972, Imprimis is one of the most widely circulated opinion publications in the nation with over 3.6 million subscribers.
The Crisis in America TodayOne day every summer we celebrate the making of our country. As John Adams predicted, this day is the anniversary of a document that states the purposes of our nation. Abraham Lincoln once spoke of a “central idea” in America, from which all of our “minor thoughts radiate.” The Declaration of Independence called this idea a “self-evident truth.” It is the idea that each of us is equally a child of God, born the same kind of creature, and so equal with respect to our rights.
We have these key terms—rights, equality, liberty. And at certain times in our history we have a pivotal debate about what these terms mean. The political party commanding a majority has changed but a few times in our history, each time after such a debate. At Hillsdale College we like to say that “ideas have consequences.” These are the ideas that have the most profound consequences.
The New Idea of AmericaThese ideas, too, are not just theories, debated in the ivory tower. Hillary Clinton gave a commencement speech at the University of Texas in April of 1993. . The central point of this speech is the need to “redefine who we are as human beings in this post-modern age,” something that requires “remolding society” and “reinventing our institutions.” And of course the engine of all this change is government.
Compare this with the doctrine in the Declaration of Independence that human beings have a certain nature, that they may be governed only in a certain way, and that whatever the location or period of history, any government that does not govern people in that way is wrong.
In 1944, Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech about a “new bill of rights,” founded upon “new self-evident truths.” Notice the use of the language of the Declaration, but now put to a new purpose. One of these new rights is that a farmer should be guaranteed a price for his crops. This is the idea that has produced the mohair subsidy and the annual payments to farming corporations. Roosevelt presents this as an extension of the old rights protected in our Constitution, but in fact it is the abnegation of those rights. It inspires a battle in society over who gets what from the government, or rather, from the taxpayer. The easy path to wealth is to become a member of a protected class. The distortions this breeds in the economy are massive, and they grow steadily. Whereas the old idea of rights—that they can only include things that do not take from another—breeds harmony in society, so the new idea breeds conflict.