Progressivism’s Fundamental Flaw

Francis Galton (Bing)Progressivism is the dominant political and social philosophy of our time. Even people who know little about it tend to regard it favorably. They believe that since progress suggests moving forward, developing, and improving, Progressivism must be positive and good. But Progressivism doesn’t deserve this favorable image because it is rooted in a profound falsehood—that the vast majority of human beings are mentally deficient and nothing can be done to alter their condition.

This falsehood had many champions among anthropologists and psychologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of them, H.H. Goddard, wrote:

There are great groups of men, laborers, who are but little above the child, who must be told what to do and shown how to do it; and who, if we would avoid disaster, must not be put into positions where they will have to act upon their own initiative or their own judgment. [Emphasis added.]

Another, Robert Yerkes, calculated the average mental age of adults as: white Americans, 13; Russians, 11.34; Italians, 11.01; Poles, 10.74; and “Negroes,” 10.41. Considering that the then-scientific term “moron” was applied to any adult with a mental age of 12 or under, the vast majority of people were viewed as seriously impaired.

The notion that most people lack the mental capacity to conduct their own affairs spawned the Eugenics Movement that carried out the “mercy killing” of supposedly defective children and the forced confinement and/or sterilization of tens of thousands of people. Supporters of this movement included Winston Churchill, Alexander Graham Bell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and members of the Carnegie, Harriman, and Rockefeller families.

Progressivism grew out of same pessimism about human intelligence that produced the Eugenics Movement, although it did not commit the latter movement’s grievous offenses against human rights and dignity. In fact, it did considerable good, notably curtailing child labor, improving working conditions, initiating workmen’s compensation, and passing the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Yet neither these positive accomplishments nor the good intentions that prompted them changed the fact that Progressivism rested on the false belief that people are incapable of helping themselves. This belief was central to the New Deal and Great Society programs, and it is central to the Obama administration’s efforts to “transform America” by “redistributing wealth.”

It is a serious mistake to think of Democrats as the only champions of Progressivism. Many Republican leaders share those ideas. That is why they offer no meaningful opposition to the expansion of entitlement programs, confiscatory taxation, and raising the debt ceiling. It is also why they denounce those within their party who advocate fiscal restraint and smaller government.

Evidence of progressives’ contempt toward the masses continues to expand. Here are a few examples:

Banning large soft drinks and trans fat and regulating salt content in restaurant food

Banning lemonade stands and bake sales

Dictating school menus

Banning toys in fast-food meals

Restricting the purchase of health insurance across state lines

Spying on citizens’ communication without authorization

Requiring banks to make ill-advised mortgage loans

The most glaring example of progressive politicians’ contempt for the masses is the Affordable Health Care regulation hidden under President Obama’s false promise, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Period.” That regulation forbids people to keep plans that have changed since the law passed. The officials who inserted that stipulation had to have known that such changes are made annually in most health care plans and would nullify the President’s promise.

All these examples of contempt for the masses reflect the reasoning of Progressivism:

The masses are mentally deficient and cannot be trusted to run their own lives. Therefore, their intellectual betters—in particular, government officials—must run their lives for them. If they refuse to accept the wisdom of their betters, then it must be forced on them for their own good.

That reasoning is even more pernicious now than when it was articulated a century ago. Contemporary progressives, having enjoyed unbridled power over others, are not likely to give it up voluntarily. And more and more Americans have become so accustomed to dependence on paternalistic government that they do not recognize its profound insult to their intelligence and the danger it poses to their liberty.

Copyright © 2013 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved