Saturday, March 15, 2008

Why Democrats and Republicans Are Mostly the Same: the Roosevelts

The two Roosevelts were founders of post-modern progessivism. Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican who believed in a statist corporate system. He became the most radically left-wing of all American presidents, including his cousin Franklin. Roosevelt believed that corporations should be licensed to engage in interstate commerce and that the federal government should tell firms what prices to charge and how to function. Although his ideas were too extreme, and ultimately were rejected by his appointed successor, William H. Taft, the model of a state-regulated economy was the product of the Progressive Republicans and of Roosevelt's presidency. Today, Democrats are calling themselve Progressive, but the fact is that Progressivism was a Republican more than a Democratic movement. Wilson was a Progressive because he had to be. His Mugwump background was consistent with a belief in freedom and private enterprise, and although many Mugwumps, including Theodore Roosevelt, had turned to statism in the Progressive era, Wilson did so in response to political pressure.

The Republican Party, then, was not a small government party in the twentieth century until Barry Goldwater ran on those views in the 1964 presidential election. The Republican Party included a minority of small business advocates (who were NOT libertarian in philosophy-- this was the group that had fought for the Sherman Ant-trust Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission in the 1880s). It included a minority of laissez faire advocates in the late 19th century, the Mugwumps, but but their laissez faire orientation had diminished by 1900, and they were too few in number to be of any importance until Goldwater, who lost by a landslide in the federal election.

The laissez-faire Republican Mugwumps of the late 19th century were not loyal to the Republican Party because the Republicans were indifferent to laissez faire and in their minds good government (civil service) principles. The laissez-faire Democrats in the late 19th century were known as the Bourbon Democrats, and included President Grover Cleveland. But these groups were small even in the 19th century (certainly less than 5 percent of the electorate). Laissez faire was not the philosophy of late nineteenth century Americans, many of whom were immigrants who benefitted from political machines in the cities and had no understanding of the economics of Smith or the opinions of EL Godkin. Thus, it is impossible that laissez-faire conservatives reflected even a small fraction of the Republican Party by the 1930s, when Roosevelt was elected.

Those conservatives who saw themselves adversely affected by the Franklin Roosevelt policies (at least in the public relations sphere) reaped what they had sown. They had not funded opposition to Progressivism in the early twentieth century, and there was no intellectual foundation to fight the New Deal in the 1930s.

Thus, while the founder of the modern Republicans was the Progressive Theodore Roosevelt and his protege (and more conservative but still rather statist) William H. Taft, the founder of the modern Democrats was the social Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who adopted many of the ideas of Herbert Croly with respect to legislation.

Thus, the debate of the twentieth century has been largely among progressive Republicans, who follow the Taft position, and the progressive Democrats, who follow the Roosevelt position. Both are descendents of Theodore Roosevelt, who may be viewed as the founder of twentieth century ideological debate.

John Lukacs has argued that the dominant ideology of the twentieth century was national socialism. Stalin advocated "socialism in one country" as did Mao, while Hitler coined the term Nazi-Sozi. Progressivism is the American strain of the national socialist movement, and most Americans believe in it. The twenty or thirty percent of Americans who do not must clarify a few points among themselves.

1. The difference between national socialist Americans and those who believe in "none of the above" is that "none-of-the-above" Americans believe in a limited state. That should be the glue that binds them. Other issues distract from the need to restrain state power, which is the chief threat to freedom, progress and economic gain. These are difficult to withstand, because nationalism is a highly emotional cause.

2. Many of the supposed arguments between conservatives and the left are spurious. They are instituted by statists on both left and right. Both the statist left, in its radical as well as liberal forms, and the right, in its converstive talk-show form, are progressive, national socialist movements, even though the right claims to be for small government (but of course belies those claims when elected). Those who would change in the direction of less government have to change habits of thought. That means asking what others who believe in reductions in state power are least likely to believe and avoiding emphasis on those issues for political purposes.

3. Advocates of "none of the above" ought to think of ways to include each other, not to exclude each other because of shibboleths, code words, racial divides, or side issues that serve only to distract.

4. It is a mistake for libertarians to believe that big business Republicans and neo-conservatives are on their side. There is no alliance between those who do not believe in left or right wing national socialism and libertarians, small scale liberals and those who oppose the extension of state power and favor economic development. The conservative right is and always has been as statist as the radical left. The libertarian right has been bamboozled much as the libertarian left has been bamboozled by Stalin and Mao.

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