Woodrow Wilson's Views on Progressivism
G. Stolyarov II
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2006 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007, where it subsequently received over 20,000 views. To preserve a record of my writings following the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices in 2014, I have given this article a permanent presence on this page. This article should be read as a factual exposition, not an endorsement, of Woodrow Wilson's views.
Woodrow Wilson, in his 1912 "New Freedom" speeches, defined progressivism as the belief that the laws need to keep up with changes in economic circumstances; the progressive wants to adjust laws to "the facts of the case," because the law is ultimately an expression of the facts in legal relationships. The progressive believes in changing legal and political structures, but not merely for the sake of variety; he only supports changes that he considers "improvements"; he views the future, not the past, as the more glorious time toward which the present ought to aspire. Wilson applauds the "modern idea" of leaving the past and pressing on to something new - albeit very carefully so as to avoid the dangers which often accompany reform.
Wilson's progressivism challenged the very construction of the Constitution itself. Wilson considered the Constitution to be based on the old Newtonian scientific paradigm - whereby the Framers are alleged to have seen the government as "mechanical" and subjecting it to pre-planned checks and balances. But Wilson wished to base government on the principles of Darwin rather than those of Newton; he saw government as a "living thing" and believed that "no living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks and live." He wanted to replace the system of checks and balances with a system of cooperation among the branches of government.
Furthermore, Wilson challenged the relevance of the Declaration of Independence to the questions of his day; he claimed that the Declaration "is of no consequence to us unless we can translate its general terms into examples of the present day"; that is, for Wilson, the Declaration has no meaning unless it can be reinterpreted in a way that evolves with the concrete circumstances of the times. This reinterpretation led Wilson to redefine even the word "tyranny" to mean "control of the law, of legislation and adjudication, by organizations which do not represent the people, by means which are private and selfish." Instead of opposing the tyranny of intrusive government, Wilson wishes to redirect the Declaration against the "tyranny" of corporations.
In "Socialism and Democracy" (1887), Woodrow Wilson claims that there is no essential difference in principle between socialism and democracy. Both rest ultimately on the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members; both assert that "men as communities are supreme over men as individuals. Wilson is in favor of this idea and attacks the Framers' understanding of individual rights, which Wilson sees as having arisen from a politically philosophy that was "radically individualistic but not necessarily democratic." According to Wilson, true democracy is now by its own nature bound to deny itself the exercise of any power. In this sense, Wilson rejects the Framers' insistence on the need to have in government a check against the people's own temporary errors, passions, and delusions which endanger the stability of government and the protection of individual rights (Fed. 63).
Additionally, Wilson claimed that changes in economic and social conditions justified changes in the role of government. Wilson observed that many affairs of life which were once easily handled by individuals have now become so complex that only powerful combinations of wealth and influence can now engage in them. Wilson saw a danger in the growth of corporations, whose power he alleged to have grown enough to compete with government. He saw a role for government in restricting the power of these corporations. In his "New Freedom" speeches, Wilson claimed that most men no longer worked for themselves, but rather as employees of great corporations and had no access to determining the policies of those corporations. Individual employees seldom know the heads of their corporations and have little means to make their grievances and interests known; furthermore, large combinations and monopolies can easily shut out aspiring new entrants into a given line of business. Wilson thinks it has become harder for an individual with little starting capital to get into any field and compete with the large corporations already there. Wilson recommended that new rules be devised to define employees' and employers' obligations and rights under the new social and economic conditions; for instance, he wanted to institute rules compensating those injured on the job and providing for the support of the disabled. Furthermore, he wanted laws to distinguish between a man's act as a corporation director and his act as an individual so as to create more accountability for the former; these laws should allow employees to get redress for negligence on the part of the employer. Wilson wanted the law to adopt the general principle of "preventing the strong from crushing the weak" and "looking after the men who are on the make rather than the men who are already made." The practical consequences of these laws would be increased government oversight of economic activities and people's everyday lives; Wilson advised redefining both the hallways of tenements and the tunnels of large mines as "public spaces," open to government access and regulation; furthermore, he wanted public corporations to be made open to inspection by the public - i.e., the government.
Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress.
In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage Right, Rebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas,
Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently
the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until
Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout
Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its
Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s
selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.
Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).
Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology, a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at email@example.com.Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.