"The Progressive Movement and the US Constitution"
Report by Betty Sakai
Growing up on a cattle ranch in Fresno County, California, professor of classics and humanities at California State University, research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and fellow of Shillman Journalism at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Dr. Thornton received his Bachelor of Arts in Latin from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1975. In 1983 he was awarded a PhD in Comparative Literature in Greek, Latin, and English. Today, he contributes by being a guest on talk shows, on websites, and in on line magazines such as City Journal and Advancing a Free Society. Dr. Thornton has written numerous essays and reviews on Greek culture and civilization and their influence on Western Civilization in scholarly journals and magazines such as National Review, Weekly Standard, and the New Criterion. He has lectured at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., at many colleges and universities, at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, at the Army War College, and at the Air Force Academy.
. He has authored nine (9) books: Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality (1996), Humanities Handbook (2000), Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization (2002), Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge (2002), Searching for Joaquin: Myth, Murietta and History in California (2003), Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide (2007), The Wages of Appeasement: Ancient Athens, Munich, and Obama’s America (2011), A Student’s Guide to Classics (2014), and Democracy’s Danger and Discontents: The Tyranny of the Majority From the Greeks to Obama (2014).
Looking out over his Conservative Forum audience, Dr. Thornton laughed and said he was surprised that anyone would want to attend an evening lecture. After he got everyone’s attention, he shocked some by stating that political science really doesn’t exist. Politics is a philosophy and policies follow the philosophy.
He then asked questions: What constitutes us? What are we as human beings? What motivates us over course and time? The founders of our country believed that human nature is fairly consistent over space and time because of their faith in God. To understand the construction of the Constitution, Dr. Thornton recommended reading the Federalist Papers. He said, Federalist #10 and #51 written by James Madison are absolutely necessary in understanding how the Constitution was created. James Madison describes humans as motivated by passions and interests. Those with similar passions and interests create factions. Madison recognized that factions are sewn into the nature of Man. In writing the Constitution, the founders had three interests: (1) to protect individual liberty, (2) to protect the liberty of the states, and (3) to protect the liberty of civil society. They were not interested in solving problems in the way government and campaigns are run today. In fact, political campaigns did not exist until the 20th Century. Up until 1840, Presidents were chosen on the basis of their wisdom, experience, and virtue.
Our founders knew it was important for the preservation of freedom to disperse and balance power, to cause ambition to combat ambition, to prevent one faction from taking freedom from others. If balanced, the result would be the protection of everyone’s freedom. On the federal level, the House would be elected directly by the people. Senators would be elected by their state legislatures to represent the interest of the state in dealing with the President, the Executive Branch. The President would be elected by the Electoral College and not by popular vote to assure that states with larger populations would not override states with lesser populations. Supreme Court Justices would be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Justices would enjoy life-time appointments, on good behavior.
A problem began developing in the early 1900s with federalism. Although many do not understand this, the fact is the states have never given up their sovereignty. Only a portion of states’ power has been ceded to the federal government. One interesting fact is that on the issue of the separation of church and state, forgotten is the fact that many states enjoyed an established state religion until 1840.
Concerning individual rights, it is important to understand what the framers intended. They recognized the fact that our rights are not provided by government. They understood that our rights are human rights provided by God. Because of our humanity, we have natural, unalienable rights and these rights are enshrined forever in the U.S. Constitution.
In the late 1800s, transformative changes occurred in America. New inventions emerged: indoor plumbing, the disposal of waste, electricity inside the home, and the telephone. By the early part of the 1900s, a faction had emerged that wanted to centralize decision-making in the federal government. President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) argued that the U.S. Constitution was old and outdated. People he said were ignorant and needed to be taken care of. He did not believe in the power of diversity, in the balancing of factions. He advocated for the unconstitutional centralization of power. Wilson believed people were ignorant and needed to be taken care of by expert technocrats working anonymously in government bureaus. He talked about creating a “perfect coordinated beehive” -- a perfectly coordinated technocracy, or collective – which of course is the textbook definition of communism. Later, Stalin would coin the phrase ‘technicians of souls’. In 1909, progressive theorist Herbert Croly in his book Promise of American Life stated “A better future would derive from the beneficent activities of expert social engineers who would bring to the service of social ideals all the technical resources which research could discover.”
Progressives view Americans as children who will be compliant. Progressive do not view Americans are incredibly diverse, morally strong, and independent -- the people our founders provided for in the U.S. Constitution. To centralize power, progressives work at diminishing the power of alternative sources of power like religion, family, marriage, church, education, business, corporations, free speech, a free press, etc. Progressives seek to drive these alternative sources of power out of the public square by labeling them as life-style choices. Private enterprise is reduced in power by using anonymous bureaucrats to regulate and control the ability of the business to compete and function.
What has been happening is the textbook definition of tyranny. When an unaccountable, anonymous bureaucrat creates a regulation or law, regulates it, and then enforces it, this is tyranny. This is happening today. Progressives have been fighting to dominate our nation’s thinking, to take over the complete decision-making process. From the perspective of average folks living their lives day by day believing America’s Judiciary and political system are upholding the U. S. Constitution, it is deeply disturbing to learn the truth of what has been happening. Progressive Nancy Pelosi was not just stupid when she commented about Obama-Care, that Congress had to pass it before the people could find out what was in it. The progressive modus operandi is for bureaucrats to decide things behind the scenes anonymously. Progressives take the money from the productive, control it, and direct it toward the unproductive in return for votes. The fact is, people always yearn for things they desire, that are not rights -- like free health care, rent-control, cheaper housing, free education, guaranteed retirement, totally paid benefits, paid time off from work, and other free stuff.
In 1913 progressives were able to limit the power and representation of the states by ratifying the 17th amendment which made Senators popularly elected instead of elected within their state legislature. And as money is what every tyrant needs, progressives in 1913 ratified the 15th Amendment to collect income taxes that the federal government would not have to divide among the states. Today the federal government redistributes about two (2) trillion dollars from the top 40% to the bottom 50% in various programs they control. Although we want to believe redistribution is warranted, the fact is a total of twenty (20) trillion dollars has been spent on the “war on poverty” since 1965 and there have been no appreciable improvements. Horrendous problems continue to exist because individual incentive and personal responsibility are no longer expected or required.
Dr. Thornton continued discussing the progressive movement, talking about President FDR and the New Deal. In 1918 he noted that one progressive referred to the need for social rights [“social justice”]. The ancients, he noted, took property and redistributed it in a more direct way. Today we redistribute property using property taxes. In 1935 when Social Security was passed, we created an entitlement program to take money from the young to give it to the old. The huge federal debt today will redistribute money from the unborn to the living.
Our founders were most concerned about protecting our freedom. Progressivism has eroded our freedom. Two-thirds (2/3) of the federal budget now goes to mandatory payments of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest payments on the national debt. As interest on the debt continues to increase (30% in 2016), we will soon be paying the majority of the federal budget to interest on the debt, which will reduce and/or eliminate most federal agencies. We cannot raise taxes. Dr. Thornton quoted Margaret Thatcher: “Socialism works until you run out of other people’s money.”
In the Q&A session that followed, Forum Vice President of Programs Erika Ammirati asked a number of questions posed by the audience. Many were detailed and lengthy. One question was why Supreme Court Justices have not been impeached. Dr. Thornton answered that those justices who vote politically should be. Asked how college students react to him as a conservative professor, he answered that most students are there to earn a degree and many work hard to pay tuition. They don’t have time to demonstrate. Dr. Thornton said he works hard at being a good teacher and it helps that he can make them laugh because when they are laughing they are paying attention.
The Forum audience thanked Dr. Bruce Thornton with standing applause for his very detailed and informative presentation. For many, including this report writer, Dr. Thornton’s explanation of the progressive movement in light of the intent of the founders was outstanding.
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