Wednesday, August 08, 2012
Descartes, Woodrow Wilson and America's Future
The Heritage Foundation did a recent retrospective on Woodrow Wilson claiming he was the first of the progressives/liberals. Wilson is an interesting figure. His scholarly work had two characteristics. First, beginning with Congressional Government (1885) - he was one of the first practicing political scientists. He did what political scientists do today - that is to collect research and analyze it. Second, throughout his work, he expresses skepticism about whether the Founder's notions were current (then or now). For example he argues "T Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." (Federalist #51) Wilson would reject those precautions.
Beyond its bureaucratic shortcomings, however, looms a deeper problem with liberalism's understanding of human nature and the purposes of government, which led it to presume to lead and administer a free society and concoct rights to health care, housing, and a job in the first place. Heightening the contradictions could soon produce a kind of revolution all right, but not the one Obama believes in and anticipates."
I am not sure I would go as far as Kessler but believe that if Obama loses, we might well see the redeployment of the Blue Dog democrats. The American polity is horrible divided at this point and yet there seems to be an emerging consensus that neither party has recognized. On the one hand most Americans are skeptical of the ability of government to solve all problems. They are concerned about bureaucratic and regulatory excess. On the other, most Americans would extend that principle to personal choices. On both sets of issues - economic and social - they believe in a limited form of government - much less expansive than their counterparts in Europe or for that matter much less than the line of thinkers that began with Wilson. Whichever group can put together a coherent vision of those combined notions will have a winning majority in elections for a long time.