Progressivism and omnipotent government

In line with the “Obama as Messiah” post, here is another example of secularism turning into paganism.  Godless people, trying to fill the void, can also invest the state with divine power and authority.  Drawing on Charles R. Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, George Will shows that progressive politics, from the beginning, has an intrinsic connection to the belief in unlimited government power that can then solve all problems:

Progress, as progressives understand it, means advancing away from, up from, something. But from what?

From the Constitution’s constricting anachronisms. In 1912, Wilson said, “The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power.” But as Kesler notes, Wilson never said the future of liberty consisted of such limitation.

Instead, he said, “every means . . . by which society may be perfected through the instrumentality of government” should be used so that “individual rights can be fitly adjusted and harmonized with public duties.” Rights “adjusted and harmonized” by government necessarily are defined and apportioned by it. Wilson, the first transformative progressive, called this the “New Freedom.” The old kind was the Founders’ kind — government existing to “secure” natural rights (see the Declaration) that preexist government. Wilson thought this had become an impediment to progress. The pedigree of Obama’s thought runs straight to Wilson.

And through the second transformative progressive, Franklin Roosevelt, who counseled against the Founders’ sober practicality and fear of government power: “We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal” and are making government “an instrument of unimagined power” for social improvement. The only thing we have to fear is fear of a government of unimagined power:

“Government is a relation of give and take.” The “rulers” — FDR’s word — take power from the people, who in turn are given “certain rights.”

This, says Kesler, is “the First Law of Big Government: the more power we give the government, the more rights it will give us.” It also is the ultimate American radicalism, striking at the roots of the American regime, the doctrine of natural rights. . . .

As Kesler says, the logic of progressivism is: “Since our rights are dependent on government, why shouldn’t we be?” This is the real meaning of Obama’s most characteristic rhetorical trope, his incessant warning that Americans should be terrified of being “on your own.”

Obama, the fourth transformative progressive, had a chief of staff who said “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” More than a century before that, a man who would become the first such progressive said that a crisis is a terrible thing not to create. Crises, said Wilson, are periods of “unusual opportunity” for gaining “a controlling and guiding influence.” So, he said, leaders should maintain a crisis atmosphere “at all times.”

Campaigning in 1964, Lyndon Johnson, the third consequential progressive, exclaimed through a bull horn: “I just want to tell you this — we’re in favor of a lot of things and we’re against mighty few.” He learned this progressive vernacular from his patron, FDR, who envisioned “an unlimited civilization capable of infinite progress.” Poet Archibald Mac­Leish, FDR’s choice for librarian of Congress, exemplified progressives’ autointoxication: America has “the abundant means” to create “whatever world we have the courage to desire” and the ability to “take this country down” and “build it again as we please,” to “take our cities apart and put them together,” to lead our “rivers where we please to lead them,” etc.

via George Will: Obama’s desire to transform the United States – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fjsteve

    It’s kind of like spitting in the wind. Very few people in America, and almost nobody in real power, believes in the limited scope of government and the two-party system makes it all too easy to ensure those in power stay in power.

  • fjsteve

    It’s kind of like spitting in the wind. Very few people in America, and almost nobody in real power, believes in the limited scope of government and the two-party system makes it all too easy to ensure those in power stay in power.

  • DonS

    I don’t think a divine government would owe its debtors $16 trillion it has no possible means or will to pay.

  • DonS

    I don’t think a divine government would owe its debtors $16 trillion it has no possible means or will to pay.


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