JONATHAN CHAIT APRIL 13, 2010
When Michael Lind is good, he's really, really good. Here he is dissecting the intellectual roots of the current Republican hysteria about the evils of progressivism, embraced by Jonah Goldberg, Glenn Beck, and many others. Lind's whole essay is worthwhile, but here's the nub:
The problem arises when these scholars, and their popularizers like Beck and Goldberg, treat all American liberalism and leftism from World War I until the 21st century as the continuation of early 20th century progressivism, the better to denounce today's liberalism as "historicist" and "relativist" and lump it with the Confederate and Nazi ideology. This ignores the profound differences between the Progressive movement and subsequent movements on the American center-left.
New Deal liberalism broke with progressivism in many if not most respects. Progressives wanted technocratic economic planning. By the 1940s, New Dealers dropped planning for Keynesianism. Most progressives were nativists who supported immigration restriction on ethnic or cultural grounds. New Deal liberals celebrated the melting pot and liberalized American immigration laws in the 1960s.
Wilson resegegrated Washington. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security and Johnson created Medicare. Wilson opposed national health insurance.
It is even harder to find any traces of Wilsonian progressive DNA in the New Left of the 1960s and '70s or the neoliberalism of the 1970s and '80s. Wilsonian progressives idolized the impartial expert administrator. The New Left denounced bureaucracy and academic hierarchy. Wilsonian progressives wanted a state-directed economy. Neoliberals like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers celebrated deregulation and free markets.
For Straussian scholars and popularizers like Beck and Goldberg to denounce modern progressives because long-forgotten WASP political scientists in the early 1900s favored eugenics or economic planning is absurd. It is as though today's liberals denounced today's conservatives on the grounds that in the late 19th century the McKinley Republicans favored excessively high tariffs.