Setting Aside the Racism, Sexism, Eugenics, and Warmongering, the Progressives Had "An Amazing Run"


Writing in The New York Times, Timothy Egan celebrates Barack Obama's reelection as the dawn of a new progressive golden age. There's a lot to debate in the piece, but as George Mason University law professor David Bernstein observes, Egan's historical illiteracy is particularly egregious. To set the stage, first here's the offending passage from Egan:

The Progressives of the early 20th had an amazing run — direct elections of senators, regulation of monopolistic trusts, modernization of public schools, cleaning up the food supply — with only one major blooper: Prohibition.

Now here's Bernstein:

I'm not a big fan of either the Seventeenth Amendment or of antitrust law, but put those aside; what about, among other things, residential segregation laws in the South and border states (fortunately invalidated by the Supreme Court, much to the dismay of Progressive commentators), eugenics legislation, hostility to the Equal Rights Amendment/support for "protective" law for women only, support for American imperialism (at least via one of the Progressives' great champions, Theodore Roosevelt–and Woodrow Wilson didn't exactly distinguish himself with American intervention in World War I, which may be the single greatest "blooper" in American history), and support for state legislation monopolizing certain fields on behalf of incumbent businesses (see, e.g., New State Ice v. Liebmann)? Do these count as only minor bloopers, or has Progressive support for these policies slipped down the old memory hole?

It certainly would not be the first time a modern liberal ignored the misdeeds of the Progressives.

On a related note, two years ago Washington University law professor Brian Tamanaha criticized several libertarian writers, including me, for complaining about the ugly record of the Progressives while failing to acknowledge libertarianism's "own embarrassing grandparents." To make his case, Tamanaha pointed to the proto-libertarian social theorist Herbert Spencer, who, Tamanaha asserted, "opposed all government aid to the poor and infirm because it thwarted the biological law that the weakest should die." That description of Spencer's thought is totally incorrect, as I explained in my response to Tamanaha. Unfortunately for today's liberals, the Progressives remain guilty as charged.


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  1. How about the Progressive push to make prostitution illegal and its present-day continued support for such bans?

    1. How about the Progressive push to make everything illegal?

      1. In any progressive future, having your money redistributed at gunpoint will always be legal.

        1. You’re looking at it the wrong way. Having your own money remains illegal.

          1. Well, the only reason you have that money is because the police prevented it from being stolen, so really, the government owns “your” money anyway.

  2. To make his case, Tamanaha pointed to the proto-libertarian social theorist Herbert Spencer, who, Tamanaha asserted, “opposed all government aid to the poor and infirm because it thwarted the biological law that the weakest should die.”

    Fuck progressives.

    1. You’re shooting the messenger, A-path.

      Spencer’s thinking may have influenced many libertarians, but that doesn’t make him a libertarian. Spencer also influenced the progressive eugenics movement, so that cuts both ways.

      On balance, libertarians win since there has never been a libertarian government; progressives have held power and did some unsavory things.

      1. No, at least according to Root’s reply article Spencer said nothing of the sort. This is just more of the bullshit “if you want smaller government you want people to die in the streets.”

      2. Huh? One of Spencer’s last great essays was “The New Toryism,” decrying the transformation of liberalism from laissez-faire to rule from elites.

  3. Do stated good intentions count for nothing?

    1. They count for everything. Actions and results don’t mean shit.

  4. Well, but they meant well and surely that should cover all sins.

  5. Thomas Jefferson is a libertarian “grandparent” and he owned slaves.

    There. I could be objective about the misdeeds of libertarians.

    1. Ron Paul wrote racist newsletters.

      …You know, what’s up with libertarians and black people?

      1. Re: Caleb Turberville,

        Ron Paul wrote racist newsletters.

        He did? When was that?

    2. Sure thing. It’s reality, see, that sometimes good things are delivered by flawed people.

      And sometimes flawed people deliver a lot of bad things with the good–like the Progressive movement. A lot of my undos for this country came courtesy of them.

      1. The undo buffer is full. All future actions cannot be undone. Proceed?

      2. “good things are delivered by flawed people.”

        …But enough about Greg McElroy’s touchdown pass to save the Jets season.

        1. The Jets can only win now by committing fully and unreservedly to Tebow.

          1. Actually, they can win with Mark Sanchez, provided Phillip Rivers outsucks him in their week 16 match.

            1. Look, I’m telling you that their lack of faith in Tebow is what’s hurting them.

              1. Nothing can be worse than Sanchez, and at least Timmah has charisma.

            2. Seriously, they aren’t even in the hunt. GIVE TEBOW A CHANCE.

              1. Total, absolute commitment to Tebow-Ball and all that that entails.

          2. On this we agree. TIMMAH

            1. And this has nothing at all to do with my UF allegiances–I loved Tebow ball last year. It was one of the most interesting gimmicks in football in quite some time. And the rage he induced. . .yes, a very enjoyable time.

              1. Once again, we agree. Timmah gets people worked up; both for and against. That’s fun. A hell of a lot more fun than watching the Jets get murdered by the Patriots.

                1. Exactly. And, for whatever reason, he does seem to squeeze something more out of teammates when he’s calling the shots.

                  God loves him, why don’t you? Tim Tebow for Quarterback, 2012.

                  1. Tebow can work, but he’s on the wrong team. The Jets don’t have the right amount of blocking or the vertical threats to make Tebow-ball work. I also detect a distinct lack of Von Miller on the team, which was the real key to Denver’s miracle run.

                    Anything is better than Sanchez, though. He was absolutely wrecked by the Wayne Hunter Experience last year. His first two years in the league he shrugged off pressure, stepped up in the pocket, and was willing to take a hit. Now he’s just rattled and panics at the slightest hint of pressure. It’s David Carr syndrome.

                    1. I agree with this assessment of the Jets and thought the same thing when they traded for him, but what do they have to lose?

                      Besides, to go to throwback ball means some unorthodox personnel, which might be available.

                    2. Might be available, and they do already have 1 WR that’s an ideal starter within such a system, but I don’t think you’re going to come up with a run-mauling RG and RT and a trade partner to flip Ferguson with overnight (esp since there’s a trade deadline and all).

                      It’s all moot anyway, Tebow’s “hurt” and I think they’ll just keep him out for the rest of the season. For 2013 though? I don’t see why not. The defense is going to be even older and slower so they’ll have to figure out a way to actually keep them off the field for more than 40% of the game. But thinking outside the box isn’t something that I trust Mike Tannenbaum to handle properly.

                    3. David Carr. Too soon.

              2. It worked well up until the Broncos faced the Patriot’s aerial assault.

                1. Denver shouldn’t have even been in that game. Neither, for that matter, should the Patriots (no fucking defense at all). Only the recent no-defense NFL allows such anomalies.

    3. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, so libertarians are morally responsible for slavery.

      That’s what you mean isn’t it?

    4. Yeah, but the democratic party also claims Jefferson as a predecessor.

      1. Well, the guy wrote the founding document of the country. Obviously, a LOT of people are going to claim him as a predecessor.

        1. Claiming Thomas Jefferson’s writing as inspirational for your ideology means you’re responsible for slavery!

      2. Wait a minute… I don’t get it.

        Didn’t Abraham Lincoln end slavery, and don’t the Republicans claim him as their first president?

        1. But, but, but, they’re different now!

  6. I remember reading Timothy Egan’s book about the Northwest (back when he was the NYT correspondent for the Seattle Times, or something like that. Anyway, dude was a decent writer but I remember him getting very, very melodramatic about the state of humanity and it just turned me off. Couldn’t finish the book.

  7. Note to self: stop reading NYT comments to keep sanity

    1. It’s too late. If you wanted to keep your sanity you should never have STARTED reading them.

  8. support for state legislation monopolizing certain fields on behalf of incumbent businesses

    What makes you think progressives don’t still support that (privately)?

    I think if pressed on that point you would find many progressives finding reasons to defend (for example) utility monopolies, cable monopolies, local taxi monopolies (Washington Flyer anyone?), and many other examples of state-sanctions monopolies.

    In fact, I would bet that you’d have a hard time getting them to object to state monopolization of just about anything, since most of them are actually closet socialists.

    They don’t objecto to monopolization because their preference is not a decentralized marketplace, but a state-owned monopoly. State-sanctioned monopolies are just a small nationalization step away from their preferred state of things.

  9. The Progressive Folly is right there in the name: progress. Progress toward something that they feel is beneficent, progress toward something that they feel is even inevitable, if their benighted opponents could just be illuminated.

    But they make a classic blunder of hubris in thinking that human society has within it an entelechy and that only they are privy to its shape and direction.

    Progressivism is little more than a fanciful religion and its adherents are as vicious as any poxy missionary, as any jihadist.

    1. They’re worse, because they are under the delusion that they have reason and logic on their side.

      1. It’s the worst part. It’s like Sly Stallone wearing glasses to be known as an intellectual.

        1. Hey, Stallone actually *is* pretty smart, from what I hear.

          My brother attended a lecture he gave @ UVA in 1991. He later told me the guy was one of the smartest people he’d ever heard. Maybe that’s because he was *supposed* to be an idiot, but in any case… the rumor mill is that he’s genuinely ‘intellectual’ compared to …well, actors. Which I guess is still pretty fucking stupid.

          Haven’t watched this yet =


          maybe worth checking out.

    2. If it was inevitable, they wouldn’t have to work towards it would they?

      Progressivism is about forcing society into some OTHER shape than the one it is naturally inclined towards.

      And it is fundamentally about forcing progressive values upon everyone else.

      1. What’s odd is that classical liberals tend to be forward-looking and probably more open to change than any other political group. Yet lefties run around calling themselves “reality-based” and trying so very hard to make people believe they’re America’s intelligentsia.

        1. Once again, ProL, if you see the projection, everything becomes clear. Whatever leftists accuse their opponents of is guaranteed to be what the leftists themselves are doing. It’s like clockwork.

          1. Why is that? What is wrong with these people?

            I could deal with their strange desire to make us all submit to their will, but this refusal to take reality into account. . .that, I do not get.

            1. They don’t take reality into account because they see reality as something they can control.

              All appeals to objective truth are easily dismissed. Either by claiming that the facts are the product of an evil corporate conspiracy. Or by asserting the subjectivity of perception. Or, if you really want to enter la-la land territory, by claiming that reality itself is an artificial construct that humans can alter by sheer force of will.

              Really. I’m serious. Try to talk to a progressive about the law of supply and demand, or explain that resources are finite, and his eyes will glaze over as if you were an evangelival waving a biblical pamphlet. They honestly believe that all that economics hokum was invented by the moneyed establishment, to blind us to the truth that we can make anything happen if we just try and believe hard enough.

              Humans are a blank slate. Better behavior can be trained and educated. The economy is a product of human relations so we can control it by altering our relations. It’s all in our minds. Anything is possible.

              Blah blah.

  10. And in all fairness, pretty much everyone was racist until the mid-twentieth century.

    1. And just about everyone with money owned slaves during Jefferson’s time.

    2. And in all fairness, pretty much everyone was is still racist until the mid-twentieth century on one level or another.

    1. Her driven is absolutely unreadable. It’s like trying to eat a pound of dry pasta. Even if you were inclined to try, you aren’t getting very far.

      1. I don’t want to sound misogynistic, but I have noticed that there is a subset of female writers (many but not all with very political outlooks) who like to take easy targets, ratchet the rhetoric up to HISTRIONIC and declare victory over the dumbest creatures on Earth.

        Is that a kind of bullying, do you think?

        1. OTHERING

        2. Yes, this. There is a whole genre of this sickly forced “snark” (so tired of this word) on the lowest of low hanging fruit. It is only fun to watch if you imagine it like the cripple fight in South Park.

        3. Aside from the gender aspect, this critique encapsulates why I can’t take more than a minute or so of Bill O’Reilly.

          Oh, he really showed those “soft of crime” judges. What a heroic he-man he is.

    2. Ohhh, I saw that one and was so bummed the dude took his site down. He sounded like a very enjoyable flavour of crazy. And Lindy’s lame attempt at mockery really adds another layer of pathetic to the whole sordid mess. Delightful.

  11. Do these count as only minor bloopers, or has Progressive support for these policies slipped down the old memory hole?

    What progressive support for these policies?


  12. I wrote a term paper on Herbert Spencer decades ago called “The Low Road to Utopia” that H. Stuart Hughes seemd to like, but I’m not going to revisit what Spencer said or didn’t say or mean.

    We depart from natural selection – that got us our current bodies with the remarkable abilities to heal and repel invading organisms – to our own long-term detriment.

  13. Ther eis a dude that knows what he is talking about. Wow.


  14. “Setting Aside the Racism, Sexism, Eugenics, and Warmongering, the Progressives Had “An Amazing Run”

    Modern liberals still openly advocate and practice racism and sexism; they just give them a cute, positive sounding name, and hope nobody will notice. And warmongering. And prohibition. And “trustbusting”.

    Although the old “eugenics” had nothing to do with genetics, modern liberals studiously ignore human genetics, so that’s a bit different than 100 years ago.

  15. American intervention in World War I, which may be the single greatest “blooper” in American history

    Recognizing that Lenin’s success in Russia, Hitler’s success in Germany, and the permanent US warfare state (not morally equivalent to the other two, but pretty horrible anyway) were outcomes of American intervention in the Great War leads me to think that it was perhaps the greatest blooper in world history.


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