Well, believe it or not, there is definite history to the progressive movement. Let’s review some history and some facts.
Soon after the end of the Civil War, most Americans had similar beliefs regarding the purpose and structure of government and its most important policies. Slavery was abolished which meant that the national government had the authority to protect the basic civil rights of everyone.
The Progressive Era was a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States, from the 1890’s to the 1920’s. The main objectives of the Progressive movement during this period were to eliminate problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration and corruption in government.
The Founders of the United States believed that all men are created equal and have certain inalienable rights (The issue of slavery was one they grappled with but were unable to solve given the thinking of the times). They believed that all are obliged to obey natural law which means that we have not only rights but duties. As Jefferson stated we are obliged “to respect those rights in others which we value in ourselves.” The main rights were thought to be life and liberty, including the liberty to organize one’s own church, to associate at work or at home with whomever one pleases and to use one’s ability and talents to acquire and own property.
Progressives did not share these beliefs. John Dewey, a very strong Progressive, wrote that freedom is not “something that individuals have as a ready-made possession.” It is “something to be achieved.” If you follow this argument, freedom is not a gift of God or nature.
It is a product of human making, a gift of the state. Man is a product of his own history, through which he collectively creates himself. He is a social construct. Since human beings are not naturally free, there can be no natural rights or natural law. Dewey also wrote: “Natural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology.”
John Dewey and many Progressives held that nature gives man little or nothing and that everything of value to human life is made by man. Therefore, they concluded that there are no permanent standards of right. Dewey spoke of “historical relativity.” However, Progressives did believe that the historical process led human beings to freedom. That historical process can progress toward increasing freedom.
Progressives were avid modernizers, with a belief in science and technology as the grand solution to society’s weaknesses. They looked to education as the key. Characteristics of Progressivism included a favorable attitude toward urban-industrial society, belief in mankind’s ability to improve the environment and conditions of life, belief in an obligation to intervene in economic and social affairs and a belief in the ability of experts and in the efficiency of government intervention. Scientific management as promulgated by Frederick Winslow Taylor, became a watchword for industrial efficiency and elimination of waste with the stopwatch as its symbol.
There is an ongoing argument in America today between progressives and what can be called Constitutionalists. Mark Levin makes the following comparisons.
Americanism versus progressivism.
Constitutionalism versus centralism.
Individualism versus conformity.
Private property versus collectivism.
Prosperity versus redistribution
Separation of powers versus the administrative state.
Eternal universal truths versus ideological social engineering.
Stability versus constant transformation
Real science versus social science
The rights of man versus the power of government.
An eternal moral order versus situational ethics.
Liberty versus growing authoritarianism.
Education versus indoctrination.
The civil society versus the federal leviathan.
As you read this list think about your daily life and identify how these comparisons manifest themselves.
Information gathered from Wikipedia and Mark Levin.