Progressivism seeks to replace the U.S.’s founding principles with a new set of doctrines.
Undergirding the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution is a set of philosophical principles that are under assault by Progressives. These founding principles, derived mostly from the Federalist Papers, provide the lens through which we read and understand the Constitution. Without this lens, the meaning of the Constitution and American law becomes putty in the hands of every special interest group.
Progressivism seeks to replace the founding principles with a new set of doctrines based on the tenets of social justice — a system which elevate the rights of “protected classes” (non-whites, LGBTQ, women, etc.) by subordinating the rest of society. This so-called “just society” is not the kinder, gentler America that Progressives promise, but a dystopia where the rights of the many are trampled, dissenters are punished, and government has nearly unlimited power and scope. The examples that follow are selected from my recent eBook, The War on America’s Founding Principles: How Progressives Are Dismantling America One Plank at a Time.
Inalienable Rights. The assault on America’s Founding Principles begins by dismantling the inalienable rights upon which our nation is built. An attack on these rights, which are endowed by God rather than the state, is an attack on our entire constitutional system. The first inalienable right, according to the Declaration of Independence, is the right to life — the right to exist. Legalized abortion on demand, which Progressives promote with fanatical zeal, is a complete rejection of this inalienable right. Progressives have further embraced this rejection by elevating abortion access to a fundamental human right and insisting that the government fund abortions. Ironically, this renders government, which is charged with protecting inalienable rights, complicit in violating the inalienable rights of the most powerless members of our society.
Abortion is the first logical step in demolishing the American system of rights in order to construct a Progressive society with new rights, focused almost exclusively on protected classes. A philosophy draconian enough to seize the most fundamental right from the innocent without due process will not hesitate to curtail or confiscate other rights, even if they are guaranteed under the Constitution.
Liberty. American liberties include freedom of religion; freedom of speech (and, yes, that includes hate speech); freedom of the press; and the right to bear arms. The principle of liberty restrains government power, preventing it from unduly interfering with or denying our divinely endowed freedoms. Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, government does not have the authority to limit these freedoms (Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments). Accordingly, every action of government should strive to protect liberty and should be weighed by this principle.
But we find an opposing inertia at work on the left. Progressivism commences with an authoritarian, regulatory-minded impulse that restrains the freedom of citizens. Government power is used reflexively to limit personal freedoms by regulating businesses, markets, consumption, education, speech, religious conscience, etc. All of this is necessary, according to Progressives, to create a “just society.”
Examples of this authoritarian impulse include the House-approved Equality Act (which severely limits religious freedoms in order to accommodate LGBTQ “rights”); the Affordable Care Act (which attempted to force religious ministries and schools to cover the insurance cost of abortion-inducing birth control drugs); federal zoning laws (which are intended to destroy the suburbs by merging them with large cities); onerous gun control legislation; and the relentless attempts on social media, in corporations, and on college campuses to limit or deny the free speech of conservative speakers.
In all of these examples, forced conformity to achieve a “just society” is valued by Progressivism above free thinking, individual liberty, conscience, and self-determination. This stands in stark opposition to the goal of the Founders, which was to minimize government interference in our daily lives — the right to be left alone — allowing us to pursue our own happiness.
Private Property. “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort,” said James Madison, including conscience, “the most sacred of all property.” The founding principle of private property is not limited to real estate. It encompasses the natural rights of all individuals to create, obtain, and control their possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, as well as the fruits of their labor (Fourth and Fifth Amendments).
Progressivism subordinates the protection of private property to the goals of social and economic equality and environmental justice. Equal outcomes, or “equity,” as it is often called, can be achieved only by reallocating wealth through centralized planning and control, government coercion, confiscation of private property, and limiting individual economic freedom.
One of the primary vehicles for achieving these goals is excessive taxation, which is used to redistribute wealth through massive federal programs.* Though Progressives are not seeking to abolish private property outright, they believe that their vision of a just society warrants government confiscation of private wealth and property to whatever degree is necessary to implement “economic justice.” Effectively, the purpose of government is to appropriate private property rather than to protect it.
Not only do these policies violate the natural right of private property, but, as history has shown, attempts to heavily regulate and control businesses and markets, and to redistribute wealth through taxation, end in widespread poverty, shortages, and even starvation (e.g., the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, Venezuela, etc.).
Limited Government. The principle of limited government maintains that citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers that protect their life, liberty, and property. History is littered with innumerable examples of “absolute Despotism,” to use the words of the Declaration of Independence. The lesson is clear: tyranny grows in proportion to power, threatening individual liberty. The Founders had a realistic understanding of the human condition and its tendency toward corruption and control. “It will not be denied,” warned James Madison, “that power is of an encroaching nature and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it” (Federalist 48).
Progressivism, on the other hand, originates from an entirely different set of assumptions regarding government power. Progressives, as evidenced by their compulsive dependency on government, maintain that government should be as large and as powerful as necessary to implement social, economic, and environmental justice. The government, especially at the federal level, is viewed as the first resort in resolving social and economic problems such as health care, education, unemployment, housing, poverty, and the environment.
The Green New Deal, which will cost trillions of dollars, is the largest, most expensive proposed government expansion in history. It would use federal control to restructure utilities, transportation, infrastructure, agriculture, society, and the economy. Similar proposals include taxpayer-funded health care, taxpayer-funded childcare, taxpayer-funded college education (at state colleges), a minimum guaranteed income, slavery reparations, and even taxpayer-funded internet service. These programs promote an uncontrollable dependency on government that is diametrically opposed to the Founders’ vision of America.
The fatal flaw in the Progressive project is not just the expansion of government with its 430-plus federal agencies, but the failure to connect this growing government power with increasing tyranny. Progressivism has no limiting principle to restrain the growth of government because government is regarded as a benign agent of the people. But this is a naive delusion. As we have already seen, a number of our constitutional rights are in jeopardy as government inches toward authoritarianism. Innumerable examples across the globe, especially from socialist and former socialist countries, also give proof to the Founders’ belief that tyranny and corruption always grow in proportion to power.
Though Progressives, like most Americans, believe they are defending and preserving our democracy, they are actually undermining and replacing American democracy with something radically and dangerously different. The threat extends far beyond the principles of limited government, private property, liberty, and inalienable rights. Progressivism, in its relentless attempt to delegitimize our historical foundations, also endangers the rule of law, due process, consent of the governed, and federalism, among other principles, as explained in my book. This sweeping demolition of our founding principles renders Progressivism the most dangerous existential threat America has faced since the Civil War.
William DiPuccio, Ph.D., is author of The War on America’s Founding Principles: How Progressives Are Dismantling America One Plank at a Time, a free eBook. His articles, books, and videos can be found on his blog, Science Et Cetera.
*Though citizens have a moral and civic duty to help those in need and improve society, it is not the prerogative of the federal government to coerce philanthropy. State governments, which are closer to the people and whose powers are more general, may, as the Founders believed, undertake such relief as a last resort (e.g., to help children, the disabled, the destitute, etc.). Thomas Jefferson, for example, co-authored the Virginia “Bill for Support of the Poor” in 1779.