Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Origins of Progressive Liberalism

The modern progressive-liberal movement may be said to have its earliest origins in the presidential campaign of 1884 when the Independent Republicans or Mugwumps (named after the word for young Algonquin Indian chieftain) bolted the Republican Party to fight the candidacy of James G. Blaine (R-ME), whom they associated with corruption and feared would scotch the Pendleton Act that had recently established the federal civil service. Instead of Blaine, whom they hated, they supported Grover Cleveland (D-NY). Theodore Roosevelt was linked to the Independent Republicans as was Harvard University's president, Charles Eliot, the New York Times, the Nation, the New York Evening Post, and Harper's Weekly. John M. Dobson* writes of the Mugwumps, the progressive-liberals' precursors:

"In their energetic promotion of Cleveland and their unstinting criticism of Blaine, the Mugwump journalists sometimes exceeded the bounds of objectivity. If they avoided telling outright lies, they were guilty at least of telling only part of the truth. Seldom content with straightforward statements of fact, the Mugwumps interpreted and twisted their stories to suit themselves. Editorializing about Blaine in late September, for example, the New York Times stated, 'There is no speculation which he can resist, but, rich as he is, he has never earned money by any business or profession...' Blaine did initiate a libel suit against and Indianapolis Democratic newspaper...But many Americans considered it somewhat unsportsmanlike to go that far..."

Mugwumpery may be viewed as the roots of liberalism not because the Mugwumps' ideas were like the twentieth century's progressive-liberals' (they were more like today's conservatives') but rather because their approach to ad hoc adoption of a singular idea, intense social pressure to conform to politically correct doctrine and the use of the media to create social conformity to their ideology is very much the technique that the progressive-liberals adopted in the early twentieth century and continue to use today.

*John M. Dobson, Politics in the Gilded Age: A New Perspective On Reform. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972. p. 141.

1 comment:

Edward Nelson said...

It cracks me up how Progressives seem today more than ever preoccupied with the concept of “fairness.” My observation is that they always seem to think they know what is best for everyone else. They are, in my opinion, usually self-righteous busy-bodies whose views are often well-intentioned but misguided and almost always devoid of any critical analysis, such as consideration of unintended consequences.

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