Progressivism, Conservatism, and Moral Equivalence

Herb Croly, a founder of the Progressive movement, had this to say about the advantages of Progressivism:

To be sure, any increase in centralized power and responsibility, expedient or inexpedient, is injurious to certain aspects of traditional American democracy.  But the fault in that case lies with the democratic tradition; and the erroneous and misleading tradition must yield before the march of a constructive national democracy.  …the average American individual is morally and intellectually inadequate to a serious and consistent conception of his responsibilities as a democrat.

Theodore Roosevelt, another founder of the movement, spent much of his New Nationalism speech touting the virtues of the Federal government in nationalizing American businesses and of government guidance for individual prosperity.  There’re these, for example:

It has become entirely clear that we must have government supervision of the capitalization, not only of public-service corporations, including, particularly, railways, but of all corporations doing an interstate business.

It is my personal belief that the same kind and degree of control and supervision which should be exercised over public-service corporations should be extended also to combinations which control necessaries of life, such as meat, oil, or coal, or which deal in them on an important scale.  I have no doubt that the ordinary man who has control of them is much like ourselves.  I have no doubt he would like to do well, but I want to have enough supervision to help him realize that desire to do well.


We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used.  It is not even enough that it should have been 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.  This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

FDR imposed wage and (farm) price controls because he didn’t believe businesses or Americans who ran them or worked for them were smart enough or honest enough to make their own decisions.

President Barack Obama is working to nationalize one-sixth of our nation’s economy, and he is on record as saying

I think at a certain point, you’ve made enough money.


I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.

On the other hand, our Declaration of Independence has this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

Thomas Jefferson had this on wealth redistribution and personal responsibility, in particular:

To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.

Jim DeMint, late of the US Senate and current President of The Heritage Foundation:

Well, one of the most important things for Americans to be reminded of is that a lot of the exceptional nature of our country is founded in Judeo-Christian values that promotes individualism, personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, and a commitment to family, charity.

Mitt Romney had this during the 2012 Presidential election campaign:

We [conservative Republicans] believe in individual initiative, personal responsibility, opportunity, freedom, small government, the Constitution.  These principles, these American principles, are key to getting our economy back to being successful and leading the world.

It’s clear that Progressives subscribe to the view that Big Government is a better arbiter of what an individual should do with his prosperity or his business than is that individual, and that Big Government is the proper repository of moral obligation toward men and not men themselves.  The inevitable outcome of Progressivism, though, is failure.

It is a dependency on government (which can only benefit the men in government and not at all those dependents).  It is all men being equally poor, rather than all able to increase their individual and family prosperity, albeit some will be more successful than others.  It is all men being equally amoral, having surrendered their moral obligations (if not the duties themselves, as these are as inalienable as the rights that flow from them) to government to handle in their place.

Conservatives, on the other hand, subscribe to the view that government is legitimate only when it works for the people—the people consent to its behavior and governance.  To that end, government is best when it’s kept small and controllable.  Moreover, Conservatives hold to the primacy of the man over the state.  They also believe that not only are individuals better suited than government to determine the disposition of their own efforts and assets, they are obligated to make those decisions for themselves.  And to help those less fortunate, whether that poorer fortune comes through poorer decision-making, lesser ability, or just bad luck.

The inevitable outcome of Conservatism is quite different than that of Progressivism.

It is the opportunity—and the ability—of every man to show the best that there is in him.  It is the ability of every man and his family to climb the economic ladder, to leave poverty behind.  It is the ability for every man to satisfy his own moral obligations: his obligation to be the first to take care of his family, his obligation to do his best to not be a burden on others’ charity (and to stop being a burden as soon as may be should circumstances force him onto that charity), his obligation to help those less fortunate than himself, no matter his own present circumstance.  It is a recognition that government does, indeed, have a role to play in charity when more local resources are exhausted or otherwise unequal to the task—but as a last resort, not a first.

It is moral and economic prosperity and innovation for each of us, for all of us together, and through that, for our nation—and so for our safety.

There is no moral equivalence between these two ideologies; one world view plainly is superior to the other.  (In truth, the present dichotomy isn’t unique concerning the premise of moral equivalence; that’s just a tool with which Progressives attempt to legitimize their Big Government Knows Better meme.)

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