A couple of days ago I wrote about the first principle of progressive thought. That there are no unalienable rights given to us from our creator. In Mathew Spalding’s book, We Still Hold These Truths, he points out the second principle; one that is necessary for their first principle to make any sense. This principle is historicism. Historicism is the thought that all ideas “are relative to their moment in time.” This is an idea that was taken to heart by Woodrow Wilson, who said
“Some citizens of this country have never got beyond the Declaration of Independence …The Declaration of Independence did not mention the questions of our day. It is of no consequence to us”
I am sure I am not the only one who finds such a statement quite ignorant. The same word comes to mind when I think of historicism itself. To ignore history as something only relevant to those who lived in those times is a very dangerous way of thinking. It brings one of my favorite quotes to mind…Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening a mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid (G.K. Chesterton). That is exactly what the founders did. They opened their minds…took a hard look at governments throughout history, borrowed what worked and discarded those practices which endangered the liberties of the people. They then molded these ideas into the constitutional republic that we are now fighting hard to preserve. The progressive movement, with their historicism philosophy, ignored the dangers of powerful central governments that took away the liberties of their people throughout history. These facts were irrelevant because to them human nature had progressed since these ancient times. (The problem is that human nature does not change, that is also biblical…just like our unalienable rights.) Since historical dangers of large central governments are now irrelevant, the logical end state of this principle is that there should be no limit to the power and size of government. To limit government is to limit human progress. Take Woodrow Wilson again
“Government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose… There can be no successful government without the intimate, instinctive coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop. All that progressives ask or desire is permission-in an era when ‘development,’ ‘evolution,’ is the scientific word-to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.”
You can see in this excerpt that he does not agree with how the founders set up checks and balances to limit what the government can do (No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live). He also sees the constitution as a living document that we should interpret “according to the Darwinian principle”. Progress must be forced by the federal government, not by the states, and certainly not by the people…they cannot do it on their own. Like liberals today, Wilson understood that the constitution could be changed, but he also knew that the founders purposely made it difficult to do so. This was done so that the constitution would not be changed on a whim, or a temporary era of ignorance if I may. This is unacceptable to liberals today and was unacceptable to progressives back then. So they developed these enlightened principles of progress so they could rationalize their disregard of the constitution and of our founding principles. It is an arrogant way of thinking. That the government knows best. It is this thinking that led Wilson to say such things as
“A conservative is a man who sits and thinks, mostly sits.”
Sometimes wise men are wise because they know what they should fix and what they should not. Conservatives understand this. Conservatives understand that true progress does not come from a bureaucratic state of society’s elites (who obviously know best). True progress comes from the people and our free market system…that is something champions of the welfare state will probably never acknowledge or understand.