The Liberal Century: How Progressivism Transformed America By Thomas B. Silver

“Hobbes and Machiavelli reinforced Dewey’s Darwinian conviction that movement and motion are the only reality, that in the absence of truth adaptation to circumstances is the only strategy, and that human society is born of human needs, fears, and desires.”

John Patrick Diggins, The Promise of Pragmatism

Table of Contents


Part I: Progressivism Ascendant

  1. Natural Right and History: A Preview
  2. 1936
  3. The Progressive Critique of the Constitution
  4. The Progressive Critique of the Declaration
  5. The Progressive Understanding of History, Part One

Part II: Progressivism Versus Progressivism

  1. Multiculturalism
  2. Tribalism
  3. The Progressive Understanding of History, Part Two

Part III: Progressivism Reconsidered

  1. Nature
  2. America As the Best Regime


I use the terms liberal and progressive interchangeably. If anyone wishes to differentiate the two, I have no quarrel, but such a distinction is not germane to my broad purpose here. References to the Progressive Era are to the pre-war period, roughly 1900 to 1917.

By “nature” I mean a standard of human conduct, discernible by reason and applicable to all human beings everywhere and always, that is independent of human will, convention or creation. My focus on nature as known by reason, rather than the divine law as known through revelation, is not meant to rule out the possibility that the two are compatible. The distinctions between natural right, natural rights and natural law, though important in other contexts, are not important for the argument of this book.

By “pragmatism” I mean that philosophic “school” beginning with William James, Ferdinand Schiller, and John Dewey and stretching through Richard Rorty. Pragmatism is the teaching underlying liberalism or progressivism. It rejects “nature” in the name of “history.” It does not understand truth as something independent of human beings, and subject to discovery by them, but rather as a creation, whether conscious or unconscious, of human beings.

Of course, when I refer to schools of thought, e.g., the “pragmatists,” I am well aware that none of these schools is monolithic, that all have their quarrels, and that not every opinion of every individual within the “school” is implicated in my generalizations.


A century has not diminished the hold of Progressive ideas on the American mind. In the years before World War I, known as the Progressive Era, philosophers, academics and intellectuals like John Dewey, William James, Charles Beard, Walter Lippmann, and Herbert Croly set out to transform America’s self-understanding. They sapped and shattered—and then rebuilt—America’s original foundation, which had been the work of our Founding Fathers. We, at the end of the century, are ever more firmly in the grip of their powerful ideas, still standing on the new foundation they built.

With the Twentieth Century now in the history books, we can see clearly its rhythmic pattern, in terms of the American political tradition, calling to mind the cyclical interpretation first set forth by Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger and later carried forward by his son Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

The first twenty years of the 20th Century–the decades of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson–constituted the first in a series of three progressive waves that would dominate American politics for a hundred years. They were followed by the Twenties, a decade of conservatism under the Republican Presidents, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Then came the second wave of progressivism, twenty years of the New Deal and the Fair Deal, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt and ending with Harry Truman. They were followed by the Fifties, a decade of conservatism under President Eisenhower. A third twenty year wave of progressivism began with John F. Kennedy and the New Frontier, continued through the Great Society, and finally petered out with Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan was the leading political figure of the eighties, but Reagan, like Coolidge and Eisenhower before him, lived to see the Democratic Party back in the White House.

Another way, not inconsistent with the cyclical approach, of looking at the progressive domination of American politics in this century is provided by critical elections theory. This holds that there is, every generation or two, an election of such importance that it goes to the root questions of the American political debate, to the most fundamental principles of the polity. The deepest issues are posed, debated, and decided. Thenceforth, the political debate returns to a more mundane level, within the new context imposed by the victors. Such elections were those of 1800, 1860, 1932, and (some argue) 1828 and 1896.

Notwithstanding the hopes of Ronald Reagan’s supporters, no such election took place in the 1980s. Accordingly, Franklin Roosevelt’s smashing mandate of 1936, which ratified the election of 1932, has never been decisively or authoritatively overturned by the American people. 1936 was the election in which the progressive juggernaut, temporarily checked throughout the 1920’s by the policies and rhetoric of President Coolidge, crushed the Republican Party beyond recognition.[1]

However, Roosevelt’s destruction of the Republican Party in 1936 is best understood not in terms of seats but of ideas. After all, Republicans bounced back in 1938, picking up 80 seats in the House and six in the Senate. But the 1938 victory, like the 1994 “Contract With America” success, and the presidential landslides of Coolidge, Eisenhower and Reagan, were nothing more than bull rallies in the long bear market of American conservatism, when viewed against the entire span of the Twentieth Century. There is an obvious logic to this progressive dynamic. So long as there is no realistic prospect of dismantling and radically decentralizing the administrative state whose foundations were laid by Woodrow Wilson and built upon by the New Deal and the Great Society, the movement of history must be in a progressive direction. Every major conservative political victory becomes a victory for the status quo; every major liberal political victory becomes an opportunity for another step forward. Heads-we-win; tails-we-do-not-lose. Thus progressives are always just one electoral victory away from resuming the forward march of history. Will anyone be so bold as to predict that there will never be another liberal victory of such magnitude as to allow the adoption, for example, of national health insurance?

A powerful reason for this state of affairs is that, at the deepest level, progressivism long ago won the battle of ideas with conservatism. Certainly this was part of FDR’s grander purpose in 1936. His objective was not just to win an immediate political victory but to interpret that victory for succeeding generations. So completely did he succeed that Presidents Coolidge and Hoover were obliterated as serious figures within the American political tradition. Coolidge in particular, though not a great president, subscribed to a political philosophy whose lineage he traced back through the founder of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, to the founders of America. The historian Paul Johnson rightly called Coolidge “the most internally consistent and single-minded of modern American presidents.”[2] Coolidge, however, was so thoroughly discredited by Roosevelt and subsequent progressive historiography, that his ideas became radioactive for fifty years, even within the precincts of his own party.

They are still radioactive, not so much because of the triumph of the New Deal in 1936, but because of the success of its intellectual forebearers. President Roosevelt’s rhetoric in 1936 was the political expression of a philosophic teaching introduced into the American regime by powerful progressive thinkers a generation before. In succeeding chapters I will systematically lay out Roosevelt’s political teaching and trace its intellectual roots.   Here I would like to state briefly what I mean when I say that progressive ideas remain foundational for our political life.

Everyone can see that the mandate of 1936 remains intact, in the sense that it has not been overturned by a later critical election. Furthermore, the Reagan counterattack against the New Deal, always fiercer in its rhetoric than in its actions, never came close to undoing what Roosevelt set out to do, namely to enlarge public power, partly as a corrective to private social and economic inequities, partly as a means of accomplishing great public purposes. The record shows that Reagan hardly made a dent in the Rooseveltian project.

He rode into Washington on a white horse, promising to decapitate government spending, slash taxes, and slay the great dragon bureaucracies. He did not fulfill those promises. For example, the federal tax bite today is at its highest peacetime level in history: 20.7% of GDP.[3] Taxation by government at all levels—two decades after the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan—is 35.7 cents of each dollar that taxpayers earn, a record high.[4] This is not to say that he accomplished nothing of his agenda;[5] it is to say he did not undo in any serious respect the hegemony of the New Deal. From our vantage point twenty years after his inauguration it is evident that Reagan, the man who would overthrow the New Deal, rode into Washington as St. George and rode out as Don Quixote.

The practical difficulties that conservatives have experienced in pushing back the hands on the clock of history may be explained away by arguing that the effort is young. Rome, after all, was not unbuilt in a day. And is there not in place a body of academic scholarship, particularly in the field of economics, which has in principle refuted progressive thought and which will therefore over time have an increasingly large political effect?

Certainly it is true that the most successful area of conservative scholarship has been in economics. A generation of free market economists has added immensely to our understanding of how markets work, and has undermined much of the Keynesian rationale for the fiscal and monetary policies of the New Deal and its successors. But that work, however powerful, does not address the question I posed above, for several reasons. First, economics is an instrumental discipline; its sphere is the study of means, not of ends. Progressivism, on the other hand, was—and is—at its deepest level a teaching about human and political ends. Second, the successes of free market economics, to the extent that they are broadly convincing, can be assimilated, sometimes easily, into the pragmatic framework of American progressivism or liberalism. For example, during the 1970’s it became clear, thanks in large measure to the work of free market economists, that various kinds of government regulation had had unintended consequences and were in fact harmful to the people they were supposed to help while helpful to the very special interests they were supposed to check. President Carter and other liberals had no trouble becoming proponents of de-regulation in certain areas. Similarly, to the extent that a convincing argument can be made that tax cuts generate job creation and economic growth, there is nothing necessarily inconsistent with his liberalism to prevent a President Kennedy from proposing them. Again, if a steady monetary policy, like the one conducted from 1987 to 1997 by a free market disciple of Ayn Rand,[6] can be shown to produce sound results, it is no violation of his liberalism for President Clinton to embrace it, as he has.

A third reason why economics alone cannot undo progressivism is that liberalism, contrary to common opinion, is not the ideology of the proletariat or the poor. We are accustomed to associate the political success of New Deal liberalism with the opportunity provided by the Great Depression, and thus by extension to assume, falsely, that liberalism’s greatest opportunity is among the downtrodden and the disadvantaged. Hence the self-deception among some conservatives that prosperity will be a cure for progressivism! [7]

In fact, one of the great ironies of American political history was the aftermath of the Bryan campaign against McKinley in 1896. Twenty years of deflation had caused genuine hardship and discontent across the heartland of American. In his “cross of gold” speech (July 9, 1896) William Jennings Bryan proposed lifting the debt burden on farmers, working people and small businessmen through an inflation to be generated by the coinage of silver at the ratio of 16 to 1. Literally at the moment Bryan was stumping the country during the presidential campaign, gold was discovered in the Yukon (August 1896). That discovery and subsequent ones in other parts of the world became the basis for a substantial inflation and a 15-year upswing in the economy. By 1910, under President Taft, farmers had reached what they would later look back on as the golden age of agriculture. The ironies were multiple: far from being crucified on a cross of gold, the farmers found their savior and their salvation in gold; the Republicans, having posed as the defenders of “sound money” in 1896, acquiesced in a scheme of massive inflation; and, irony of ironies, in the midst of this prosperity modern progressivism was born. It should also be remembered that the greatest extension of New Deal progressivism was accomplished during the 1960s, one of the most dynamic economic decades in American history.

The fourth and final reason why free market economists have not overthrown progressivism is that the conservative forces arrayed against progressivism are by no means agreed that a debate over the best means to prosperity is the key issue. True enough, peace and prosperity are often the dominant concerns during elections, and most conservatives coalesce on the broad question of the free market versus the planned economy. But peace and prosperity for what? It is precisely that deeper question that divides the right and gives it the appearance of being nothing more than an alliance of convenience.

Let us begin with those irascible yokefellows, the libertarians and the Christian right. Many libertarians (I of course do not say all) are Atheists in the traditional sense and atheists in the modern secular sense, i.e., they deny the authority both of revelation and of reason in telling people how they ought to live. On this view, it supposedly follows that (a) human beings should be “free to choose” their own ends and lifestyles, and (b) that that government is best that gives its citizens the widest latitude to make such choices; in other words, that government is best that governs least (or, in some extreme versions of libertarianism, not at all!). Indulgence in pornography, prostitution and pot ought to be legal and perfectly acceptable. A softer version of this libertarian argument (but leading to the same practical conclusion) is Agnosticism and agnosticism. This is not the flat denial of the authority of God or reason, but the more subtle claim that we simply don’t know. Who is to say what is right or wrong? So long as this remains an open question, it would be prejudicial to foreclose the discussion prematurely. As a practical matter, agnosticism collapses into atheism, because if we have made no progress in moral discovery during the past five thousand years of human history, it is hardly likely that something convincing is going to turn up, say, before the next election. If there is no objective right or wrong, or if it cannot be known, then who is to tell someone else how to live his life? Therefore, everyone should have the absolute right to do as he pleases, just so long as he accords everyone else the same right. Thus across a wide expanse of the libertarian right, the absolute right that we have in our persons and property is regarded as a deduction from the relativism of all values. Obviously, it would not take a rocket scientist to drive a truck through this argument. It would take a truck driver.[8]

For the Christian right, the question of how to live is not open but closed. For this reason, liberals and libertarians both fear that the victory of the Christian right would usher in something like the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini. And indeed, to the extent that they identify themselves as the Christian right, do not religious conservatives point to the Bible as the source of their moral beliefs? Does this mean that their political agenda comes directly from biblical revelation? If so, how authoritative can it be for citizens in a constitutional democracy, one of whose glories is the separation of church and state? How can the concern for morality or virtue be reconciled with freedom? On the other hand, if biblical revelation is not the source of the Christian right’s political agenda, then what is?

Into the motley camp of economic conservatives, libertarians and religious conservatives come the traditionalists or the “original intent” conservatives. Their view is that on the fundamental issues of today we ought to be guided by the will of the American people—the American people, that is, who lived 200 years ago—as codified in the United States Constitution, until such time as the people themselves dictate a change in policy through the proper constitutional channels. But why should we be bound for a moment by what some people 200 years ago—people wholly ignorant of our own circumstances—thought? What is old is not necessarily good. An argument is needed to connect the old and the good.

In traditional societies, the old is identified with the good because the ancestral is divine: the ancestors, or the ancestors of the ancestors, were gods. One might place that in a modern context as follows: for Americans our “ancestral” faith is the creed expressed in the Declaration of Independence, whose principles are said to be derived from “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The constitutional authority of the people, whether those living 200 years ago or those living today, is derived from, and limited by, something higher than the mere will of the people. Apparently, however, our “original intent” conservatives would sooner have their tongues cut out than mention the “n” word, nature, in the same breath with the Constitution. For example, William Rehnquist, in an often cited article critiquing the notion of a “living Constitution” (i.e., one that changes over time due to changes in society’s understanding of morality), declines to locate the authority of the Constitution in any correspondence between the Founders’ design and their understanding of natural law. He writes:

The laws that emerge after a typical political struggle in
which various individual value judgments are debated . . .
take on a form of moral goodness because they have been
enacted into positive law. It is the fact of their enactment that
gives them whatever moral claim they have upon us as a society,
however, and not any independent virtue they may have
in any particular citizen’s own scale of values.

Beyond the Constitution and the laws in our society, there
simply is no basis other than the individual conscience of the
citizen that may serve as a platform for the launching of moral
judgments. There is no conceivable way in which I can logically
demonstrate to you that the judgments of my conscience are
superior to the judgments of your conscience, and vice versa.
Many of us necessarily feel strongly and deeply about our own
moral judgments, but they remain only personal moral judgments
until in some way given the sanction of law.[9]

[Thus the constitutionalism of the originalists] degenerates into conventionalism, and they find themselves in the awkward position of defending the old merely because it is old, which is no more plausible than defending the new merely because it is new.[10] If there is no authority outside the will of the people, then why may not the people elect a President (e.g., Eisenhower) who in a perfectly legal way appoints a Supreme Court Justice (e.g., Warren) who takes a more latitudinarian approach to constitutional jurisprudence than the traditionalists want to?[11]

Beyond this problem is an even more dispositive consideration. Suppose that a fundamental proposal for change is brought forward in the “proper” way, namely through the amending process—an equal rights amendment or an amendment to overturn Roe vs. Wade or to repeal the 13th Amendment. Once their formal legal requirements as to procedure are satisfied, what have the “original intent” conservatives to say about the substance of these questions, or any other?

With this brief survey of contemporary conservatism, we begin to see how the perplexities of conservative thought contribute to the progressive hold on the American mind and why progressivism cannot be dislodged by mere policy studies, however many and however persuasive. Ronald Reagan, a master rhetorician, understood this and unified the right through a patriotic rhetoric that appealed back to the Founding Fathers and to the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The purpose of the rhetoric was to accommodate moral, economic and national security concerns within a single framework. The question, however, is this: is it possible to regard such rhetoric as anything more serious than mere rhetoric? Or is it not just a temporary expedient, a pretty papering over of fundamental difficulties, akin to hiding the fatal structural defects in a house by putting up colonial wallpaper? Reagan’s rhetoric is exposed to one massive problem: most serious thinkers today, including many, if not the majority, on the right, no longer accept the idea of Nature articulated in the Declaration of Independence. The whole weight of modern science and philosophy has been brought against the idea of Nature as the universal ground of political obligation, valid for all human beings everywhere and always. Thus it would appear to be profoundly reactionary to attempt to return in any serious way to the 18th Century thought of the Founding Fathers.

To indicate something of the difficulty involved, and to foreshadow the coming discussion, I will return briefly to the Progressive Era at the beginning of this century.

*                *                *

In his introduction to Arthur Bentley’s classic of behavioral political science, The Process of Government (1908), Peter Odegard wrote that Bentley’s “emphasis, we must remember, is always on process, action, change…”

“Bentley’s process-transactionalism,” wrote Odegard, “echoes Heraclitus and Lucretius. It was the latter who wrote:

‘No single thing abides; but all things flow.
Fragment to fragment clings—the things thus grow
Until we know and name them. By degrees
they melt, and are no more the things we know.’”[12]

The Process of Government, written at the height of the Progressive Era, was Bentley’s opening salvo in a lifelong “attack on the ‘ghosts’ or ‘spooks’ of classical philosophy and psychology and …Aristotelian principles of logic, especially the rule of identity, when applied to the complex, moving process of behaving, knowing, and being known.” This relentless critique, carried on at first alone, later in the company of John Dewey during their famous collaboration, was meant to rid scientific inquiry of every vestige of the permanent, the eternal, or the absolute, whether in the form of nature, or of metaphysics. There is no transcendence of the ceaseless flux from which man emerged, and into which he is destined to be swallowed up, no terra firma for his deepest aspirations and beliefs.

As Bentley put it years later in his usual uncompromising way:

“I can deeply sympathize with anyone who objects to being tossed
into such a floating cosmology. Much as I have stressed its
substantiality, I can hardly expect everyone to feel it. The firm land
of ‘matter’ or even of ‘sense’ or ‘self’ is pleasanter, if only it stands
firm. To anyone whose tasks can be performed on such ground, I
have not the slightest thought of bringing disturbance. But for many
of us, tasks are pressing in the course of which our firmest spots of
conventional departure themselves dissolve in function. When they
have so dissolved there is no hope of finding refuge on some island
of ‘fact’ which may appear. The continents go and the islands. The
pang may be like that felt by a confirmed landsman at his first
venture on the ocean, but the ocean in time becomes familiar and

The doctrine of the primacy of change is at the heart of pragmatism, which is the philosophy of American progressivism.[14] As Bentley was writing The Process of Government, one of the three early giants of pragmatism, William James (the other two were John Dewey and the Englishman, Ferdinand Canning Schiller), was publishing a series of essays and lectures, in his matchless prose style, laying the keel of the new philosophy.

Change was the central tenet of pragmatism. In his essay, “Humanism and Truth,” written in 1904, James said:

“The fundamental fact about our experience is that it is a
process of change. . . . But, owing to the fact that all experience
is a process, no point of view can ever be the last one. . . .
Humanism is willing to let finite experience be self-supporting.
Somewhere being must immediately breast nonentity. Why may
not the advancing front of experience, carrying its immanent
satisfactions and dissatisfactions, cut against the black inane as
the luminous orb of the moon cuts the cerulean abyss? Why should
anywhere the world be absolutely fixed and finished?”[15]

No more beautiful statement of the groundless and changeable character of human experience ever came from the pen of an American pragmatist, unless it was some other passage written by James himself.

Now this view of the world, as James acknowledged repeatedly, is not congenial to common sense and common opinion, especially not the common opinion of Americans living in 1900, most of whom believed that the United States is anchored to an absolute and eternal order through “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” This is why the Declaration of Independence was for the American people an object of reverence.

Thinkers like James believed that permanence was an illusion created by the fact that, while all things change, some change is very rapid and some is glacially slow. For example, Aristotle is said to have thought that the stars—and indeed the entire visible universe—are eternal. The living species, including the human species, are eternal parts of an eternal whole. But modern science teaches that stars and species, perhaps the universe itself, though ancient, are not eternal. They are born, evolve and die.

In other words, we have it on the authority of modern science and modern philosophy that the traditional idea of nature[16] has gone the way of all things. The problem for conservatives, at least for those who take their bearings by the American Founding, is that the principles of the Founding are rooted in just such a conception of nature. But who can care any longer what was the “original intent” of the Founders if in fact their world-view has been rendered obsolete by the passage of time?

Such was the reasoning that opened the door to the belief that the Constitution and Declaration are “living documents” subject to the relentless change that is an essential constituent of all human things, and of all things simply. Conservatives, therefore, face this choice: they can attempt to recover, against the whole authority of modern science and philosophy, the idea of nature as expressed in the Declaration of Independence; or, they can come to terms with modernity. The latter is the course taken by some traditionalists and libertarians, which means that their critique of liberalism takes place within a theoretical context established by pragmatism. To return to the assertion that began this discussion: policy studies will not drive pragmatism from the field.

*                 *                 *

To say that we “know” something means to be able to give an account of it, a process of reasoning the Greeks called logos. But this account cannot be mere rote or sloganeering; it must be capable of defense against objections. The process of working through those objections to defend, or modify, one’s opinions is called dialogue (dialogos). This book attempts to be a dialogue on the meaning of America, on our self-knowledge.

The main interlocutors in the dialogue are two of the most interesting schools of thinkers in the country today, the pragmatists and a group of scholars who are attempting to re-open the question of the relationship between nature and history. The “dialogue” itself is my own creation, since the two schools don’t much talk to each other. However, there have been moments. A decade ago in the New Republic (April 4, 1988) Professor Richard Rorty wrote a review of The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, a prominent student of the late Professor Leo Strauss. Rorty complained that Bloom was part of a group of cultists who were intolerant of opposing ideas and would not even talk with those who differed with them. In a witty rejoinder, Professor Harvey Mansfield of Harvard responded, “When did Rorty ever send flowers?’

This book is an attempt to send flowers, and to ask, “Does anyone want to talk?”


Read more of The Liberal Century by Thomas B. Silver:

Table of Contents & Introduction

Chapter 1: Natural Right and History, A Preview

Chapter 2: 1936


[1] In 1930 the two parties were in almost perfect balance in the Congress, with 217 Democrats and 217 Republicans in the House and 47 Democrats and 48 Republicans in the Senate. After the 1936 election, the Republicans were left with only 88 members in the House and 17 in the Senate.

[2] Paul Johnson, Modern Times (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 219. “No public man carried into modern times more comprehensively the founding principles of Americanism: hard work, frugality, freedom of conscience, freedom from government, respect for serious culture (he went to Amherst, and was exceptionally well-read in classical and foreign literature and in history).” Ibid.

[3] Amity Shlaes, “The Greedy Hand in a Velvet Glove,” Wall Street Journal, April 15,1999, p. A22.

[4] Gene Epstein, “Taxing Times,” Barron’s, June 21, 1999, p. 27.

[5] Reagan faced two immediate crises in 1981: the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression and an intensification of the Soviet threat. Comparing these two crises at the beginning of Reagan’s term with circumstances at the end of his term, one cannot avoid the conclusion that, at least with respect to these two problems, his presidency was as successful as Franklin Roosevelt’s if FDR is subjected to a comparable test, namely, a comparison of the economy in 1933 versus the economy in 1945 and the incipient Axis threat in 1933 versus the defeat of the Nazis in 1945.

[6] Alan Greenspan [was appointed Federal Reserve Chairman by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and reappointed by Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.]

[7] Some years ago Professor Robert J. Barro argued that it was precisely economic stability and prosperity that make it easier for the government to enact an array of new interventions into the economy. See his article “The New Socialism,” Wall Street Journal, October 25, 1993, p. A 14.

[8] So long as the question of justice remains cloaked in an impenetrable shroud of ignorance, intolerance remains no less choiceworthy than tolerance, despotism no less choiceworthy than democracy.

[9] “The Notion of a Living Constitution,” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, (Vol 29, No. 2, 19??) p. 413. Reprinted from 54 TEX. L. REV. 693 (1976). Available online from: In elaborating this argument, Rehnquist approvingly quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes’ essay, “Natural Law” (which denies the existence of such law). See Holmes, Collected Legal Papers (1920; Reprinted by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd, 2010) p. 310 – 311

[10] “…if the Constitution, as certain conservatives say, was not meant to be seen in the light of the natural or ‘higher’ law, why ought judges to pay it special respect? Granted, the sovereign majority, a long time ago, authorized the Constitution to be the fundamental rules of the American game; but that was, well, a long time ago. Besides, why should majority rule be accepted as a dictate of right in the first place? And why should majority rule be restrained and shaped by constitutional forms?” Charles Kesler, “Natural Law and the Constitution: The Federalist’s View,” in Sarah B. Thurow, ed., Constitutionalism in Perspective: The United States Constitution in Twentieth Century Politics, University Press of America, 1988, pp. 155-181.

[11] Of course, it does not work to say that forcing the expression of the people’s will through a constitutional process fosters the virtue of deliberation and reasonableness, unless you are prepared to answer, reasonable by what standard?

[12] Arthur F. Bentley, The Process of Government: A Study of Social Processes (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1967), p. xxxviii. Originally published at Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1908.

[13] Arthur F. Bentley, Behavior, Knowledge, Fact (Bloomington: Principia Press, 1935), p. 183.

[14] Henry Steele Commager, in The American Mind [(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950), 100], says of the pragmatist philosopher and progressive leader, John Dewey: “So faithfully did Dewey live up to his own philosophical creed that he became the guide, the mentor, and the conscience of the American people: it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that for a generation no major issue was clarified until Dewey had spoken. . . . He illustrated in his own career how effective philosophy could be in that reconstruction of society which was his preoccupation and its responsibility.”

[15] William James, The Meaning of Truth (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1911), p. 92.

[16] Nature, whether understood as the ground of political obligation or as a guide for human life more generally, is defined hereafter as “a standard of right and wrong, discernible by reason, that is independent of human will, convention or creation.”

About The Peoria Project

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