Whitewashing Progressivism

David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy takes a look at a recent monograph on the Progressive  movement in America as presented by the Center for American Progress. The problem is, Bernstein points out, that CAP has whitewashed the nastier policies of progressivism out of its history, and even tried to blame some of them on conservatives.

The monograph begins with a laundry list of the Progressives’ legislation accomplishment. But among the Progressive reforms nowhere mentioned in this monograph are: alcohol prohibition; coercive eugenics (upheld in an appallingly insensitive opinion by Progressive hero O.W. Holmes); residential segregation by race (invalidated by the “conservative” Supreme Court); bans on private schools (invalidated by the “conservative” Supreme Court); judicial recall elections; and restrictions on women’s participation in the labor market (invalidated in part by the “conservative” Supreme Court, and then reaffirmed by a “Progressive” Supreme Court).

The monograph does mention immigration restrictions, but places the blame on “conservative” nativism, without noting the Progressives’ (including Theodore Roosevelt’s) longstanding creepy obsession with American “race suicide” because of immigration to the U.S. by the “lower races,” and without noting organized labor’s strong support for such restrictions.

Read the whole thing here.

Damon Root at Reason Magazine has also picked up on this, and offers his own analysis.

This paper argues that today’s progressives are the direct inheritors of an unbroken progressive tradition, one that brought glorious benefits to all Americans by doing away with the evils of limited government. Here’s a sample paragraph:

Progressives sought above all to give real meaning to the promise of the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution—“We the people” working together to build a more perfect union, promote the general welfare, and expand prosperity to all citizens. Drawing on the American nationalist tradition of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln, progressives posited that stronger government action was necessary to advance the common good, regulate business interests, promote national economic growth, protect workers and families displaced by modern capitalism, and promote true economic and social opportunity for all people.

As far as history lessons go, this is laughably biased and incomplete. For starters, the original progressives most certainly did not “promote true economic and social opportunity for all people.” In the Jim Crow South, as historian David Southern has documented, disfranchisement, segregation, race baiting, and lynching all “went hand-in-hand with the most advanced forms of southern progressivism.” Economist John R. Commons, a leading progressive academic and close adviser to high-profile progressive politicians—including “Fighting” Bob Lafollette, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson—authored a 1907 book entitled Races and Immigrants in America, where he called African Americans “indolent and fickle” and endorsed protectionist labor laws since “competition has no respect for the superior races.”


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