Quite possibly the most backwards historical claim you’ll read all day, from You Know Who:
The progressives believed in authoritarianism and out-of-control executive power precisely because they were progressives. And the story of American liberalism in the 20th century from Wilson to FDR and from FDR to LBJ and Richard Nixon (whom I consider basically an anti-Communist liberal) is the story of ever-expanding executive power. And, today’s compassionate conservatives flirt with similar temptations.
Perhaps I missed something about the last seven years, but it seems to me that when George W. Bush spoke in 2000 of “compassionate conservatism,” he wasn’t offering vague promises to eradicate habeas rights, create lawless surveillance programs that deliberately evade Congressional or judicial oversight, or to effectively nullify legislation through executive signing statements. If Goldberg wants to call this proto-fascist, it’s really his call, but there’s certainly nothing “progressive” or “liberal” about it. Somehow, though, I don’t think this is the problem with “compassionate conservatism” that Goldberg has in mind. Rather, he’s probably thinking of folks like Mike Huckabee, whose absurd economic proposals have been inexplicably criticized as somehow “progressive” or “populist.” For Goldberg, progressive tax structures — even when they aren’t actually progressive at all — are indebted to “progressivism,” which is of course “liberal,” which is of course “fascist” and authoritarian.
That’s the best I can figure.
As for his insistence that progressives like Wilson were authoritarians who sought ever-widening executive power, I don’t even know where to begin. To the extent hat we can actually define progressivism in a coherent way, it’s safe to say that American progressives, to the contrary, were primarily interested in making democratic institutions more — not less — responsive to the public interest. This accounts for the progressive interest in ballot referenda, recall votes for elected officials, direct election of US Senators, term limitations and civil service reforms, all of which were designed to bring more — not less — public influence to bear on the state. To the degree that progressives pursued “authoritarian” strategies and “executive” power, they did so primarily out of an interest in (a) curbing what they viewed as predatory corporate power that had made captives of legislative bodies; (b) mitigating the social conditions that might lead to the sorts of popular revolutions to which economically stratified industrial societies seemed especially prone throughout the 19th century.
To that latter end especially, progressives sought factory reform, labor laws, improved zoning ordinances, as well as investigative and punitive bodies that could deal with infractions. They also regarded public education as an appropriate instrument for asserting control over working-class (and non-Anglo) urban youth — but they did so not merely out of an aggressive desire to “assimilate” the children of the “foreign-born,” but also out of a conviction that education was a means to redistribute social and economic opportunity. Progressives were also enthusiastic about the expansion and modernization of, say, municipal police forces, which they viewed as equally essential to the maintenance of the civic order — but they were also obsessed with the “professionalization” of law enforcement, which among other things meant that suspected criminals should not be tortured and held without charges or access to lawyers. To see any of this as mildly authoritarian is fine, but to link it to “out-of-control executive power” is just howlingly ignorant. The truly authoritarian solutions would have included the harassment, mass arrest and summary deportations of ideological “undesirables,” as well as the creation of chauvinistic immigration laws that deliberately excluded Asians as well as the “Slavic” and “Mediterranean” races. All of these things happened, of course, after the “liberal fascist” Wilson was either incapacitated by a stroke or gone from office and feeding carbon to the soil.
All of this underscores a simple point that for the first time in my life allows me to say that Michael Ledeen is making sense. In Ledeen’s unexpectedly brutal review of Goldberg’s book he argues that Pantload, at the end of the day, doesn’t know fuck-all about fascism. The same can be said for his observations about early 20th century American progressives.
That’s right. Jonah Goldberg is so goddamned dumb that he makes Michael “Throw a Country Against a Wall for Democracy’s Sake” Ledeen seem like a reasonably bright person.