Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Was Woodrow Wilson a Progressive?

I have many disagreements with Jonah Goldberg. But he is one of the foremost popular-level writers on Progressivism and he has earned that rank. He's done his homework and he knows his stuff, and is very able at showing that without showing off.

He demonstrates his skill once again with a thorough takedown of Scott Galupo at U.S. News who wants us to believe that Woodrow Wilson was not a Progressive.

This fellow would also have us believe that "progressivism — which is indeed guilty of much of the baggage that Goldberg lays at its doorstep — is on the same family tree as classical liberalism." Worse still, Galupo claims, "Lockean insistence on individual civil liberties [is] the possession of the Left."

Now, there is a guy who has not done his homework. Or, more accurately, if he had and were in one of my former physics courses, would fail the test. I fear, at minimum, that he has not been keeping up with events of the past 40 years, and has a serious misunderstanding of the history and philosophy of the past 100. Whatever respect old leftists had for 'civil liberties' faded with the rise of the New Left over the past generation.

The tip off comes at the end when Goldberg shows how Mr. Galupo belongs in the same "I hate Glen Beck" wing of faux conservatism as David Frum. 'Nuff said on that score. I've got plenty of beefs with conservatism myself, not least the fact that no one who claims to be one can seem to define it. (I've had my own recent difficulties defining what I mean by 'the Left', but never mind that now.)

The bottom line is: believing that support for individual rights a la Locke is a feature of the Left means you simply don't understand individual rights, Locke, or the Left. Three strikes and you're out.

Anyway, read Goldberg's superbly well-reasoned and empirically-based response and enjoy the short history lesson in real-world political philosophizing.


madmax said...


Are you familiar with Stephen Hicks Post Modernism book? Hicks traces the post-modern Left from Kant all the way up to Derida, Rorty, Fish, etc. He links post modernism with socialism and New Leftism and shows you what happened at the epistemological level. The Left was not the result of Locke. Although, Hicks does have an interesting discussion of what he calls "the failure of the Enlightenment" by which he means the failure of the Enlightenment to properly defend reason and leave it vulnerable to Kant. But that's a different thing than laying the Progressive movement on Locke's doorstep.

Jeff Perren said...

I've read parts of the book, and it's on my (very long) list to read the whole thing. (I hope to get to it this year.)

Thanks for giving me another reason to bump it up the list.

VH said...

Wow. I knew that U.S. News was a middling news source but this is a new low. As far as tracing back progressivism to its roots, I always blame Hegel. I'll never forget his concept of World Spirit which is essentially world socialism--frightening.