We’ve been looking at Woodrow Wilson and his role in eliminating the vestiges of what was once known as “Lincoln Republicanism,” i.e., a political philosophy that viewed government as being of the people, by the people, and for the people. The Progressive Party was pretty much the last gasp of the type of Republicanism that replaced the Whig Party and ran Abraham Lincoln for president back in the day.
Underscoring this, we recently came across an article from December 1854 in a Democratic Party journal, The United States Review, “Whig Principles: What’s Left of Them.” It was clear that the Whig Party was on the skids and the only way to go was down further. There was no disagreement on that point among either Whigs or Democrats. The Democrats were a trifle snarky about how they said it, but the fact itself was beyond dispute.
The problem came in with what they viewed as the causes of the Whig downfall. The article listed eight:
· Woman’s Rights
· Abolition of Black Slavery [emphasis in original]
· Isms in General
Of these alleged causes of the downfall of the Whigs, the only substantive ones were protectionism and abolition of slavery. The others were straw men intended to make the Whig stand on the abolition of slavery look as ridiculous as socialism, prohibition, vegetarianism, women’s rights, and spiritualism allegedly were. The fact that these things were not really Whig political doctrines, and that at least as many Democrats held the same or similar opinions, was conveniently ignored.
Protectionism versus free trade was dismissed in a few short sentences with the observation that no one with any sense or sanity opposed free trade. Socialism — which the Whig Party opposed, by the way — was analyzed in some depth with a high degree of accuracy. The only problem was that Whigs as a party condemned socialism, while many Whigs as well as Democrats supported it personally.
The real issue, of course, was slavery. Every argument was trotted out, whether states’ rights, the natural inferiority of blacks, economic necessity, threats of violence from abolitionists, the claim that black slaves were better treated than Northern factory workers, etc., etc., etc.
What the article particularly ridiculed, however, was the claim that “the negro” is as fully human as a White (for some reason, “the negro” was never capitalized, but “Blacks” and “Whites” were). As the article put it, “the negro” is “[m]ost certainly not [emphasis in original] — ‘most certainly and aromatically not’ cry all who have susceptible olfactories in whatever part of the world” (apparently “the negro” was presumed to stink at least as much as this argument), and so on (and on, and on, blah, blah).
|Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Any arguments to the contrary (Uncle Tom’s Cabin was mentioned twice) were “very cooly” dismissed and thrown out the window as unworthy of consideration. The fact remained firmly locked in the mind of the slave owner — and this was the real argument — that the economic survival of the United States depended on slavery. Period. No other factor had any weight whatsoever.
So what has this precis of Democratic policy in 1854 got to do with Democratic policy in 1912? Quite a lot, actually. Woodrow Wilson’s philosophy of government of increasing State power as much as possible was, in essence, no different from that of the antebellum slaveowner who believed that economic necessity and the natural inferiority of the lower classes of all colors mandated increasing the power of the slaveowner as much as possible.
Even commentators favorable to Wilson are not able to put a positive spin on his style of leadership, although they speak of it (and of Wilson) in glowing terms, e.g., “genius,” “brilliant,” “incomparable.” The language brings to mind the manner in which historians and other experts speak of the Tudors.
|Albert Sidney Burleson
With the possible exception of its founder, Henry VII, the Tudor dynasty had a fatal susceptibility to flattery. They combined this with a talent for imposing sweeping social changes to gain personal ends to the detriment of civil, domestic, and religious society. The effect, if not the intended goal, was to bring everything under the control of the State. The new economic magnates who displaced the old aristocracy in turn controlled the State.
Flattery allowed others to manipulate the Tudors virtually at will. The power of these others was, in many cases, derived from their growing wealth, often based on a redistribution of “the patrimony of the poor” confiscated from the Catholic Church.
The similarity to Wilson is striking. As Arthur Link noted in his book on the Wilson administration,
Wilson’s temperament put a heavy strain on his administrative talents. Because he valued loyalty and flattery over hardheaded frankness and cold and sometimes unpleasant logic, his advisers either told him what they thought he wanted to hear or else remained silent.
Soon after the inauguration, Albert Sidney Burleson (1863-1937), the new Postmaster General, subverted Wilson’s minimal reforming zeal. Burleson, “a superb professional politician,” easily persuaded Wilson that the support of the old Democratic reactionaries in Congress was much more valuable than what could be mustered by the progressives and populists who, led by Bryan, had gotten Wilson elected over Roosevelt.
In short, Wilson was guided by personal faith rather than reason, his own subjective will rather than the objective intellect. This took the form of a supreme confidence in his own infallibility, a mark of modernists and positivists in every age. As Robert Lansing (1864-1928), who replaced Bryan as Secretary of State, related in his diary,
When one comes to consider Mr. Wilson’s mental processes, there is the feeling that intuition rather than reason played the chief part in the way he reached conclusions and judgments. In fact arguments, however soundly reasoned, did not appeal to him if they were opposed to his feeling of what was the right thing to do. Even established facts were ignored if they did not fit in with this intuitive sense, this semi-divine power to select the right. . . . In the case of Mr. Wilson, it explains many things in his public career, which are otherwise very perplexing.
In the first place it gave a superior place to his own judgment. With him it was a matter of conviction formed without weighing evidence and without going through the process of rational deduction. His judgments were always right in his own mind, because he knew that they were right. How did he know that they were right? Why he knew it and that was the best reason in the world. No other was necessary.
|Louis Freeland Post
Nothing could better illustrate Wilson’s concept of government and the role of the State — and of the direction in which the country was heading. As ordinary people lost not only capital ownership, but any hope of access to the means of acquiring and possessing property in capital, the wealthy élite were able to control more and more of everyday life, whether directly through their virtual monopoly on wage system jobs, or indirectly through their control of the State. Significantly, Louis Freeland Post (1849-1928), Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of Labor, was a georgist.
The plant that took root in America with the Dred Scott case was now bearing its inevitable fruit. All rights were assumed to be inherent in the State, which doled them out to people as those in power saw fit or as they found expedient.
We have already noted that, as is manifest from his doctoral thesis, Wilson derived his political philosophy from that of Walter Bagehot. What many people may not sufficiently appreciate is the degree to which Bagehot’s philosophy, both political and economic, derived from that of the totalitarian political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
Hobbes has usually been considered as the chief proponent of the divine right of kings. It is, however, more accurate to describe Hobbes’s philosophy as the divine right of the State, with the State itself construed, in Hobbes’s term, as a “Mortall God” (Hobbes’s spelling).
To Hobbes, the specific form of government is ultimately irrelevant. If sovereignty is vested in a king, the king rules by divine right. If power is vested in parliament, then that body rules by the same justification. Presidents, dictators, first citizens, emperors — it does not matter what they are called, as long as they have power; power is self-justifying.
To Hobbes, government must be based not on consent of the governed, but on force. This is because most people understand only coercion. Fear of punishment is what holds society together. The State is held together by the strongest, whose will all others must accept. All other forms of society, including Church and the Family, are subsumed into the State, for there is no meaningful distinction between “the State” and “society.”
Resistance to authority can never be justified; the will of the sovereign, like that of the slaveowner, is the supreme law of the land. All sovereignty is vested in government, whatever specific form that government takes, not in the people.