Regular readers of FEE know that one of our beats has been the early history of the administrative State as built by Progressives at the turn of the 20th century. It was a different kind of State than the one that came before, a modern state knew no limits to its power to intervene in the relationships between individuals. It set in motion a century of government growth and regulatory control over every aspect of life, and all these controls have lasted to this day.
Why did they do it? The textbooks say that they loved the common man. They passed laws to protect the worker. They wanted to make capitalism fair and safe for everyone. They longed for justice, fairness, and universal rights.
That’s all fantasy.
Over the last 20 years, an outpouring of research has shown a much darker truth. The Progressives were not about progress. They in fact longed to roll back the astonishing gains made by the marketplace of the late 19th century. They longed to put the world back together into what it once was, a place of hierarchy in which everyone knew his or her place. They used the science of their times to build a giant State apparatus to bring about results they determined to be the right ones.
And the “right results” often had racial criteria. The Progressives were obsessed with eugenics, the politics of treating human beings like farm animals to be bred and cultivated with intentionality, deliberation, and coercion. Once you understand how prominent this position was – and it was almost universally-held by the academic and policy elite – much of their work begins to make sense. This is the reason for erecting high barriers to entry into the workforce: they desired exclusion. It was the reason for marriage licenses, welfare provision, immigration restrictions, maximum working hour laws, zoning controls, business regulation, and so on.
If you keep your eye on the topic of eugenics, you can understand much of the motivation of this class of intellectuals. Not to put too fine a point on it, they divided the human family into the fit and unfit and used government as a tool to stop the propagation of the latter in favor of the former.
It’s a chilling story, but once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
People say, “Oh sure, they believed some terrible things, but Progressives have changed. They no longer want to exterminate people. They want to help them.”
It’ll connect to smoking bans, of course. Smokers know all about what “help” means. Smoking bans are one of the things that happen when “a modern state” that knows “no limits to its power to intervene in the relationships between individuals,” exerts “regulatory control over every aspect of life,” and “treats human beings like farm animals.”
And of course the modern, progressive state wants to exterminate smokers.
The accompanying embedded Soundcloud talk was illuminating. I didn’t know that Woodrow Wilson had re-segregated the bureaucracy in Washington (where blacks could order whites around), throwing many blacks out of work.
I was interested enough that I ordered the book: Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era by Thomas C. Leonard. It might provide some good reading over Christmas.
Which reminds me that I read somewhere that Donald Trump said/tweeted a few days ago that you’d soon be able to say “Merry Christmas” again. Can you imagine it?
“Trump said he will not be politically correct. I think he said some outrageous and painful things, but I think people are tired of the same old politically correct rhetoric. I think some people believe he was speaking from his heart and willing to take on everybody.”
I suspect that a lot of people are adjusting their views these days.
Trump’s political incorrectness was his main attraction, for me at least. He was a wrecking ball for “progressive” political correctness. And that progressivism tightly connects to the progressivism described in the book – all of it most likely based on half-baked science like everything seems to be these days.
I also ordered The Underdog Anthology, Volume 1. Maybe that will arrive before Christmas too.