Skip to comments.The Progressive Legacy: Part III (Thomas Sowell)
Posted on 02/13/2012 1:22:42 PM PST by jazusamo
The same presumptions of superior wisdom and virtue behind the interventionism of Progressive Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in the domestic economy also led them to be interventionists in other countries.
Theodore Roosevelt was so determined that the United States should intervene against Spain's suppression of an uprising in Cuba that he quit his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to organize his own private military force called "Rough Riders" to fight in what became the Spanish-American war.
The spark that set off this war was an explosion that destroyed an American battleship anchored in Havana harbor. There was no proof that Spain had anything to do with it, and a study decades later suggested that the explosion originated inside the ship itself.
But Roosevelt and others were hot for intervention before the explosion, which simply gave them the excuse they needed to go to war against Spain, seizing Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
Although it was a Republican administration that did this, Democrat Woodrow Wilson justified it. Progressive principles of imposing superior wisdom and virtue on others were invoked.
Wilson saw the indigenous peoples brought under American control as beneficiaries of progress. He said, "they are children and we are men in these deep matters of government and justice."
If that sounds racist, it is perfectly consistent with President Wilson's policies at home. The Wilson administration introduced racial segregation in Washington government agencies where it did not exist when Wilson took office.
Woodrow Wilson also invited various dignitaries to the White House to watch a showing of the film "The Birth of a Nation," which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and which Wilson praised.
All of this was consistent with the Progressive era in general, when supposedly "scientific" theories of racial superiority and inferiority were at their zenith. Theodore Roosevelt was the exception, rather than the rule, among Progressives when he did not agree with these theories.
Consistent with President Wilson's belief in racial superiority as a basis for intervening in other countries, he launched military interventions in various Latin American countries, before his intervention in the First World War.
Woodrow Wilson was also a precursor of later Progressives in assuming that the overthrow of an autocratic and despotic government means an advance toward democracy. In 1917, President Wilson spoke of "heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia."
What was "heartening" to Wilson was the overthrow of the czars. What it led to in fact was the rise of a totalitarian tyranny that killed more political prisoners in a year than the czars had killed in more than 90 years.
Although Wilson proclaimed that the First World War was being fought because "The world must be made safe for democracy," in reality the overthrow of autocratic rule in Germany and Italy also led to totalitarian regimes that were far worse. Those today who assume that the overthrow of authoritarian governments in Egypt and Libya is a movement toward democracy are following in Wilson's footsteps.
The ultimate hubris of Woodrow Wilson was in promoting the carving up of whole empires after the First World War, in the name of "the self-determination of peoples." But, in reality, it was not the peoples who did the carving but Wilson, French Premier Georges Clemenceau and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Walter Lippmann saw what a reckless undertaking this was. He said, "We are feeding on maps, talking of populations as if they were abstract lumps." He was struck by the ignorance of those who were reshaping whole nations and the lives of millions of people.
He said of this nation-building effort: "When you consider what a mystery the East Side of New York is to the West Side, the business of arranging the world to the satisfaction of the people in it may be seen in something like its true proportions."
But Progressives, especially intellectuals, are the least likely to suspect that they are in fact ignorant of the things they are intervening in, whether back in the Progressive era or today.
Both Roosevelt Presidents were Progressives.. both the democrat and the republican one.. both malefactors..
If you think the republican party has NO PROGRESSIVES you’re delusional..
Would be smart for anybody to figure OUT what a progressive “IS”..
Most all have no idea of what that word means..
ALL progressives are actually regressive, words mean things..
To be fair, he spoke of the overthrow of the czars and their replacement by a democratic government, which itself was of course shortly overthrown by the commies.
Wilson was violently anti-Bolshevik, sending tens of thousands of American troops to fight them.
The point is relevant only insofar as it points out that overthrow of a bad regime does not always eventuate in its replacement by a better one. Sometimes the end result is even worse, as in Russia.
Check Part I & II links in the ping or at post #5 if you haven’t already read them. Part one covers Teddy R very well.
Good choice of a quote for repetition as it displays what may be a defining determinant of a “progressive”, whatever the political stripe. As another forum commenter points out elsewhere that there are certainly some in the Republican camp today, especially using the quote as a measure.
Teddy was the one that allowed the federal government to boguard a States property...
To actually OWN LAND in the various States.. and not lease it..
The federal government OWNING LAND in any of the States is OBSCENE.. and predatory..
Teddy Rooseveldt brought to life a virtual VAMPIRE.. as the federal government..
Ever since the feds have been bleeding the life from the States like a parasitical monster-beast..
We are citizens of STATES not the federal government..
There are ONLY State citizens that live in the United States..
As I have noted in comments on the other parts of this column, I find Dr. Sowell to be a treasure and a treat to read. I would have some small quibbles with some of his perspectives. The first would be to question just how much “Birth of a Nation” glorifies the KKK. I took it more as holding them out for ridicule but it may simply be a matter of perspective.
As to Clemenceau, George, and Wilson carving up the post-Great War world, we should remember that one Winston Churchill was party to that effort, especially as regards what we know as Iraq and Turkey today. I wonder if Dr. Sowell would apply the Progressive label to Winnie. I’m not sure mere labels bring the light of understanding to the goals of the leaders in that time.
I couldn’t agree more and the feds are pathetically entrenched land owners in the western half of the country.
>> Both Roosevelt Presidents were Progressives <<
Yep, but still, Roosevelt eventually grew to detest Wilson. Go figure.
Thanks for the pings to parts II, and III of the Progressive Legacy by Dr. Sowell jaz. Good read as usual.
But Progressives, especially intellectuals, are the least likely to suspect that they are in fact ignorant of the things they are intervening in, whether back in the Progressive era or today.. . . and "objective journalists," in like manner, even actually suppose that they really are objective. Little dreaming how that belief marks them as hopelessly subjective.