Who has driven America to this precipice? Certainly part of the blame belongs to the politicians, primarily Democrats, who created and enlarged these entitlements without imposing taxes anywhere near sufficient to sustain them, and otherwise seriously mismanaged the programs’ finances. On a deeper level, however, the blame belongs to the late-19th- and early-20th-century Progressive movement. Despite recent claims that the Progressives had little impact upon the development of liberalism in the New Deal and beyond, including in the realm of social insurance, the Progressives were in fact the founding fathers of social insurance in America. Far from making a break with Progressivism, accordingly, the enactment of these programs during the New Deal and Great Society represents the clear policy fruit of the philosophical revolution as to the end of government, and the fundamental conception of morality underlying it, that the Progressives fought so vigorously to effect.H/T VoxDay
Of course, persuading many Americans that Progressivism initiated a struggle over the soul of America is a hard sell. For decades, liberal scholars and politicians have attributed the 20th-century growth of government to changes in the mere material circumstances of American life. The Progressive era’s progressive reforms, we have been told, were the necessary and inevitable response to problems created by the closing of the frontier, the rise of huge corporations and a transition to large-scale factory production, population shifts out of the countryside and into the city, large waves of immigration, etc. The New Deal, in turn, was simply a response to the economic hardships caused by the Great Depression. By attributing these periods’ reforms to America’s changing material circumstances, the orthodox view implies that there was no change of philosophical or moral import likewise under way. More to the point, it implies that the Progressives’ reforms were guided by the principles of the American Founding.
And yet this is demonstrably false.
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