Saturday, March 22, 2008
From Progressivism to Conservatism
Having just read a few books on mugwumps, the evolution of political thinking from mugwumpery to progressivism, the legal reconstruction of American capitalism and the philosophy of progressivism, I have admittedly just begun to scratch the surface of the source of the generic failure of American politics to produce responsive and flexible solutions. Today, on the right, the promise of limited government has been betrayed and given the Republican Party's progressive history, which followed through Rockefeller Republicanism to President Bush's mangling of conservatism, the Republicans had traditionally had a big government impulse and so they are unreliable representatives of the small government view. However, the question needs to be traced through Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was a teenager when the Mugwumps bolted to vote for Grover Cleveland in 1884, so he was not a Mugwump, but he was very much in the Mugwump tradition. On first glance it seems there is more EL Godkin than Herbert Croly in Coolidge, but I need to learn how that played out in Coolidge's thinking--did he outright reject Progressivism and return to the late 19th century view (and if so why did he not repeal at least some of the Progressive legislation). In general there is a question as to why the Mugwump tradition in American politics has been able to reassert itself vocally but not practically. Reagan adopted free market rhetoric but behaved like a Progressive. Did Calvin Coolidge establish the pattern of twentieth century Mugwump timidity? Or is the timidity simply a reflection of the American public's commitment to the Progressive model? Perhaps special interest theories such as Mancur Olson's can explain the clash between Republican rhetoric and action as simply a reflection of economic self interest on politicians' part. They believe in free markets but know that if they betray special interests they will lose elections. The special interests believe in free markets for everyone else, but inevitably see themselves as an exception. Thus, American politics has become a tragedy of the town commons, where everyone believes in freedom but aims to repeal it for a special favor for themselves.