How Did We Get Here? – by Bernhardt Writer

Matt Hennessy, writing for City Journal, characterized the state of the 2016 US election. He blames the Democrats for our situation. But, in my opinion, both parties are complicit:

…They’ve spent the last 100 years expanding the scope of executive authority, granting the federal administrative agencies the power of judge, jury, and executioner over their ever-widening dominion. If liberals and progressives didn’t want that awesome, intrusive power to fall into the wrong hands, perhaps they should have heeded the warnings of small-government conservatives, who railed for a century against the bloat, rot, and corruption they saw metastasizing within the District of Columbia. Perhaps they shouldn’t have declared the U.S. Constitution—with its bill of rights and enumerated powers—to be an antiquated relic.

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge chronicled the rise of progressivism and statism over the past 100 years in their book: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State. We reviewed it here on this blog over a multi-week period in 2015. Here are some excerpts describing progressivism’s rise:

Beatrice Webb’s vision—the state as the epitome of reason and truth—enabled her to develop the ideology adopted by pro-statists worldwide. To her, the state stood for: planning versus confusion, merit versus privilege, and science versus prejudice…Why cause revolution when the same change could be brought about more lastingly through subversion of society using propaganda and recognized committees of experts.

Beatrice and her husband Sidney founded the Fabian Society as guardians of this socialist transformation. They established the London School of Economics to train a global cohort of social engineers…The Webbs also founded the New Statesman, a weekly review of politics and literature, as the clarion of their revolution.

In the period 1905-1915, the Webbs helped enact redistributive taxation to pay for [British] programs and lessened the stigma of “Poor Laws.” The poor became “victims,” not layabouts…They embraced eugenics as eagerly as they did town planning. The Webbs trusted the judgment of professional experts over the “average sensual man” when it came to bettering the life of commoners.

A prominent liberal ally of the Webbs, John Maynard Keynes, advocated for government intervention to aid Adam Smith’s hidden hand of the market. Although he spelled out caveats to his philosophy, these were conveniently forgotten over the years. His philosophy, Keynesianism, still powers big government.

The British Statist model was adopted by Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Peron. They all blended Hegelian state worship into their dictatorships and used the state to control their economies. America, however, took a different turn under the Roosevelts.

Theodore Roosevelt (US president 1901-1909) acknowledged that the Webbs were right when they said that laissez-faire capitalism was over. He established regulatory bodies to constrain the power of corporations over the American people…By not embracing European style statism, with its comprehensive welfare state, he squared-the-circle through his progressive republicanism and saved the US from Europe’s excesses.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for his part, imposed tighter regulation instead of nationalizing broad sectors of the economy in the face of economic collapse and world war. World War II demonstrated big government’s ability to marshal all of industry to the service of war through detailed planning, financial incentives, and coercion.

The same occurred on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific…When Winston Churchill returned to power in October 1951, his government did nothing to roll back the welfare state. In the closing days of World War II, international supervisory organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were created under Keynes influence as a result of the Bretton Woods international agreements.

In his article titled: “It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More,” which we reviewed in 2014 on this blog, Myron Magnet, former Editor-in-Chief of City Journal, says:

President Wilson established in the WWI era the doctrine of the “Living Constitution” administered by the Supreme Court thereby codifying judicial activism that undid civil liberty victories in the aftermath of the Civil War. Secondly, President Roosevelt established prior to and during the WWII era unelected extra-governmental commissions (aka agencies) that have independent legislative, administrative, and judicial powers within themselves. Agencies are created as a matter of course now by legislative action. FDR also strengthened the power of the judiciary to act as a permanent constitutional convention amending the document through their decisions.

Fred Siegel characterized the increasing alienation of the liberal left from common US citizens in his book: The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. We reviewed his book here and here in 2014. This is a brief excerpt from our review:

On July 30, 1916, at 2:08 AM, saboteurs caused a one kiloton explosion on Black Tom Island off the New Jersey coast, near Liberty Island, in NYC harbor. Two million pounds of munitions on their way to the allies were detonated through a series of fires.

This sabotage is viewed as the proximate cause for President Wilson to denounce Germany’s supporters in America as “creatures” of “disloyalty and anarchy [who] must be crushed.” He pushed for and got the Sedition Act of 1918 passed. The Sedition Act extended the Espionage Act of 1917.

Whereas, pre-war Progressives {in the US] hoped to reform a nation of immigrants grounded in the Protestant ethic, Liberals objected to wartime conscription, civil liberties repression, Prohibition, and the first Red Scare. They saw middle class values as a continuation of WWI repressions.

“Like most sensible people,” liberal Harold Edmund Stearns said, “I regard Prohibition as an outrage and a direct invitation to revolution.”

Those supporting Communism and the Soviets used the Sacco and Vanzetti trial (1926-27) as a wedge to draw prominent liberals to their cause. Drawing on declassified Comintern documents, Stephen Koch, in his Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West, explains that Willi Münzenberg, the Comintern’s master propagandist, intended:

to create for the right-thinking non-Communist West… the belief that…to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and mankind by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.

Münzenberg thought the “the idea of America” had to be countered. Koch noted that Soviet sympathizers used events such as the trial:

to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people, to undermine the myth of the Land of Opportunity, the United States would be shown as an almost insanely xenophobic place, murderously hostile to foreigners.

In 1928, H. G. Wells described his alternative in his book The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (revised and republished as What Are We to Do with Our Lives?) where he states: “the [instinctive fellowship] of the highly competent” ruling class would subject the masses to “the great processes of social reconstruction.” and, through their rule, “escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life.” He also wrote:

We no longer want that breeding swarm of hefty sweaty bodies, without which the former civilizations could not have endured, we want watchful and understanding guardians and drivers of complex delicate machines, which can be mishandled and brutalized and spoilt all too easily.

…In this light, American liberalism of the early twentieth century, as distinct from classical liberalism of the nineteenth century, was driven by hatred of the common man, his morals, and his liberty.

Reflecting on the impact of such “liberal” ideology, Kenneth Minogue wrote: Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology. We reviewed it in this blog. Here is a synopsis of Minogue’s thought on the outcome of implementing such philosophy in our society:

In Western societies, individuals follow customs or conduct projects of which others may dislike or disapprove and the result may be conflict.

However, Western society is predominantly peaceful in spite of potential (or actual) conflict because individuals master internalized rules of law and morality. Poverty, inequality, and disappointment are inevitable consequences of open participation in a risk based society even when it is free from iniquitous societal distortions (e.g., American slavery).

Ideologists say these consequences result from hidden structural flaws that can only be remedied through the destruction of the prevailing system. One must attain the perfection of social harmony. If material possessions cause envy, then all possessions must be jointly owned. Rather than insisting on moral decency to curb envy, ideologists will abolish ownership altogether.

This same approach, rooted in externals, is applied to all inequality and disappointment. Transcendent principles (e.g., morality) are not applicable to unruly minds. Once harmony is achieved there will be no need for the transcendent; all humanity will become one in thinking and affections.

Finally, Myron Magnet writes on how Tocqueville foresaw the “End of Democracy in America” in the 1830s. Magnet, speaking of current society says:

Today’s sovereign…forces men to act as well as suppresses [their] action…As Tocqueville observed, “It is the state that has undertaken virtually alone to give bread to the hungry, aid and shelter to the sick, and work to the idle.”

…And whatever traditional American mores defined as good and bad, moral and immoral, base and praiseworthy, the sovereign has redefined and redefined until all such ideas have lost their meaning. Is it any wonder that today’s Americans feel that they have no say in how they are governed—or that they don’t understand how that came about?

Such oppression is “less degrading” in democracies because, since the citizens elect the sovereign, “each citizen, hobbled and reduced to impotence though he may be, can still imagine that in obeying he is only submitting to himself.”

Moreover, democratic citizens love equality more than liberty, and the love of equality grows as equality itself expands. Don’t let him have or be more than me. Tocqueville despairingly concluded, “The only necessary condition for centralizing public power in a democratic society is to love equality or to make a show of loving it. Thus the science of despotism, can be reduced…to a single principle.”

By this last statement, Tocqueville anticipated the controlling idea of Orwell’s classic allegory, Animal Farm: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

***

Progressivism used to stand for progress and truth. But, collectively, we’ve abandoned that paradigm for historical revision and nihilism. Perhaps we should “adjust,” as our leaders say, to a new normal: terrorism, crime, corruption, and complicity. Perhaps…

But, then I remember that the United States of America was founded not upon blood and soil as other nations were but on ideals summarized in our Declaration of Independence and Preamble of the Constitution.

In case you don’t recollect these ideals word for word, the Declaration of Independence says:

…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

And the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America says:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

***

If you profess Christ as Lord and Savior, why should you care about the direction this country is taking? The Prophet Jeremiah spoke to that question in his letter to all those whom King Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

…Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

While He dwelt among us, the Lord Jesus Christ pressed home this lesson:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44 (ESV)

And, while characterizing the whole of God’s law, He said:

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (ESV)

***

After all this, maybe you’re thinking: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

I think that this election is about consolidating power of the unconstitutional administrative state and persecuting, either overtly or covertly, those opposed to its decisions versus a return to a constitutional republic of, by, and for the People of the United States of America, however tentative that return seems at the moment.

It’s your choice.

Declaration of Independence of the United States of America

Principles for Voting, R. C. Sproul, 27.5 minute MP3, 2012, Associated post, Declaration of Independence courtesy of the National Archives – Charters of Freedom

For your consideration:

The Rebellion

Most of us would like to know beforehand when a disaster will occur. Many, to avoid the consequences, but some, to profit from them. If only those who boarded the planes knew that fateful September morning what was about to happen.

In the same way, we’d all like to know when the world will end. Many pretend that it will go on just as it has for millennia. Some think differently. A few believe the scriptures when they speak of the last day:

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

So there are signs of the end. But, what would these things look like? John Calvin comments on this passage:

Paul, …foretells that, after [those in the visible church] have had foreign enemies for some time molesting them, they will have more evils to endure from enemies [within the church], inasmuch as many of those that have made a profession of attachment to Christ would be hurried away into base treachery, and inasmuch as the temple of God itself would be polluted by sacrilegious tyranny, so that Christ’s greatest enemy would exercise dominion there.

Relative to Antichrist’s pernicious arrogation of deity, Calvin says:

Scripture declares that God is the alone Lawgiver (James 4:12) who is able to save and to destroy; the alone King, whose office it is to govern souls by His word. [Scripture] represents Him as the author of all sacred rites; it teaches that righteousness and salvation are to be sought from Christ alone; and it assigns, at the same time, the manner and means.

And concerning the history of the visible church, Calvin says:

My readers now understand, that all the sects by which the Church has been lessened from the beginning, have been so many streams of revolt which began to draw away the water from the right course, but that the sect of Mahomet was like a violent bursting forth of water, that took away about the half of the Church by its violence. It remained, also, that Antichrist should infect the remaining part with his poison. Thus, we see with our own eyes, that this memorable prediction of Paul has been confirmed by the event.

So, are we able discern the fruition of these things in time to flee the consequences? The Lord Jesus Christ warned:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39 (ESV)

Calvin comments on this passage:

So now Christ declares that the last age of the world will be in a state of [senseless] indifference, so that men will think of nothing but the present life, and will extend their cares to a long period, pursuing their ordinary course of life, as if the world were always to remain in the same condition… [Emphasis mine]

Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails.

Therefore, if you haven’t yet, we urge you to repent while there is still time.

***

Speaking of our collective indifference, The Federalist has summarized the recent Planned Parent video expose’. Item number 7 describes the Carly Fiorina video. No, I did NOT watch.

In the same vein, I don’t often agree with Mr. O’Reilly, but when I do, I offer you this video:

Is America Becoming Barbaric? Fox News, July 28, 2015

The Fourth Revolution – Review and Commentary

The book by former Economist Editor in Chief John Micklethwait and Management Editor Adrian Wooldridge: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State contends that states in the West must complete the revolution started by Reagan and Thatcher and become smaller, more efficient systems that provide greater individual liberty.

In 1814, during the first revolutionary period, John Adams said: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He also said: “It is vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than autocracy or monarchy…” The authors of The Fourth Revolution contend that the secret of good governance lies in checking human desires, not letting them run free.

America’s founding fathers also worried that democracy would crush individual liberty. The majority would use pressure and regulation to press the minority into conformity. The authors say few examine these issues now. In the vacuum, voters regard the practice of democracy as corrupt and inefficient. And yet they won’t question the theory. Their contempt delegitimizes government and turns setbacks into crises.

Democracy is overloaded with obligations, overburdened with unfulfillable expectations, and distorted by special interests. The population’s dependency forces government to continuously expand. During the second revolution, nineteenth century liberals in Great Britain reformed both the state’s machinery and its form of representation. The authors suggest today’s politicians should trim the state and renew democracy.

The rise of the Beijing consensus’s top down modernization and meritocratic governmental institutions makes the west’s democratic alternative seem regressive. America demonstrates too many of democracy’s vices and Europe too few of its virtues.

America’s checks and balances, though successful in the past in preventing the tyranny of the majority, has been subverted to become a political tool that decreases efficiency, compromise, and justice. America’s gerrymandering voting districts entrench special interests, extremism, and mediocre representation for a lifetime. America’s lobbying by special interests awash in money begs the question of graft and favoritism.

Europe, in an effort to stifle popular passions that caused two world wars, has sacrificed national sovereignty to technocratic governmental, financial, and trade bodies and, in the process, are vivifying national populist movements.

Economic inequality is putting western democracy to the test. Quoting Louis Brandeis, “we can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.” In the era of financial crisis with less to go around and a bloated but inefficient welfare state, the West must stop democracy’s decay or risk their people’s ire.

The authors call for limited government that constrains itself through self-denying ordinances. In the process, three government dangers must be overcome: liberty encroaching expansion, surrender to special interests, and making unfulfillable promises.

As remedies, the authors propose balanced budgets over the economic cycle, fully funded and means tested entitlements tied to life expectancy, and sunset clauses for laws and regulations. Handing some economic power to technocrats and independent commissions and pushing decisions to the states and cities are ways to limit centralized power.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge say that the cost of inaction is high—unreformed, the welfare state will collapse under oppressive debt. The opportunity is great—the rewards to states that revive democracy and reduce the burden of the state will sprint ahead of its peers economically and in life satisfaction. History will be on the side of the nations that promote individual liberty.

We in the West are polarized politically. Our leaders pander to special interests instead of providing for the common good. How much longer can we mortgage our children’s future to pay for our pensions and health care? We are getting less benefit from and paying more for our educational system. We’re transferring tax revenues to the middle classes and crony capitalists in agriculture, defense, finance, etc. at the expense of caring for the truly poor.

The world is looking to the East as the model for economic advances and a better life at the expense of individual liberties. We in the West must become serious about reforming our systems or be left behind in the rubbish heap of history. Some western states, provinces, and cities are becoming more efficient through experimentation. There are lots of ideas to try, if only we were willing to start.

In the coming weeks we’ll cover how Beatrice and Sidney Webb laid the foundations for the welfare state in the third revolution, how Lee Kuan Yew created the Asian Consensus, and how the Nordic states point the way to the future.

The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State

How They Love One Another

Lately, I’ve been struck by the distance between my actions and my words. Maybe you have, too? It’s cliché to consider resolutions this time of year. However, resolutions that we set for ourselves are sure to fail. Ask God, with me, that our actions and words align this year. In that spirit, let us consider:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 English Standard Version (ESV)

So we do not go far astray, let’s see what Calvin has to say about the verse:

A new commandment I give you. …In order to impress more deeply, therefore, on the minds of his disciples the doctrine of brotherly love, Christ recommends it on the ground of novelty; as if he had said, “I wish you continually to remember this commandment, as if it had been a law but lately made.”

…And how necessary this admonition was, we learn by daily experience; for, since it is difficult to maintain brotherly love, men lay it aside, and contrive, for themselves, new methods of worshipping God, and Satan suggests many things for the purpose of occupying their attention. Thus, by idle employments, they in vain attempt to mock God, but they deceive themselves.

By not following Christ’s command, it’s as if we seek to worship Him in ways not commanded.

That you love one another. Brotherly love is, indeed, extended to strangers, for we are all of the same flesh, and are all created after the image of God; but because the image of God shines more brightly in those who have been regenerated, it is proper that the bond of love, among the disciples of Christ, should be far more close.

In God brotherly love seeks its cause, from him it has its root, and to him it is directed. Thus, in proportion as it perceives any man to be a child of God, it embraces him with the greater warmth and affection.

Besides, the mutual exercise of love cannot exist but in those who are guided by the same Spirit. It is the highest degree of brotherly love, therefore, that is here described by Christ; but we ought to believe, on the other hand, that, as the goodness of God extends to the whole world, so we ought to love all, even those who hate us.

The love we owe the brethren will spill over to even those who oppose our beliefs and conduct.

As I have loved you. He holds out his own example, not because we can reach it, for we are at a vast distance behind him, but that we may, at least, aim at the same end.

By this all men will know. Christ again confirms what he had formerly said, that they who mutually love one another have not been in vain taught in his school; as if he had said, “Not only will you know that you are my disciples, but your profession will also be acknowledged by others to be sincere.”

…Nor is it superfluous that Christ dwells so largely on this subject. There is no greater agreement between the love of ourselves, and the love of our neighbor, than there is between fire and water. Self love keeps all our senses bound in such a manner that brotherly love is altogether banished; and yet we think that we fully discharge our duty, because Satan has many enticements to deceive us, that we may not perceive our faults.

Whoever, then, desires to be truly a disciple of Christ, and to be acknowledged by God, let him form and direct his whole life to love the brethren, and let him pursue this object with diligence.

This is the essence of what I desire for myself, the fellowship I attend, and the Church in America and the world:

“Not only will you know that you are my disciples, but your profession will also be acknowledged by others to be sincere.”

Philadelphia [Brotherly Love] from Pennsylvania Building

Philadelphia [Brotherly Love] from Pennsylvania Building, No known copyright restrictions, OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons @ Flickr Commons

PreCrime in America

For all the tragedy and folderol in politics, one thing for which I consistently credit the left is advocating civil rights. Here’s just the latest example from someone who went to Bernhardt’s high school. I may not agree with the entire speech but here’s an excerpt anyone interested in individualized and equal justice can appreciate:

Here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, legislators have introduced the concept of “risk assessments” that seek to assign a probability to an individual’s likelihood of committing future crimes and, based on those risk assessments, make sentencing determinations. Although these measures were crafted with the best of intentions, I am concerned that they may inadvertently undermine our efforts to ensure individualized and equal justice…

Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant’s history of criminal conduct. They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place. Equal justice can only mean individualized justice, with charges, convictions, and sentences befitting the conduct of each defendant and the particular crime he or she commits…

Of course, we all know about PreCrime from the movie: Minority Report, which was loosely adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story: The Minority Report.

Bernhardt will continue his review and commentary of Professor Fred Siegel’s book: The Revolt Against the Masses in the weeks to come.

The Revolt Against the Masses – A Review (Part 2) — by Bernhardt Writer

This week we tackle chapters 2 through 5. The chapters are titled:

2. Betrayal and the Birth of Modern Liberalism

3. Randolph Bourne Writing Novels

4. Three Trials

5. Giants in Decline

What I took away from these chapters is that a harrowing and confusing period in American history, World War I and its aftermath, divided those who sought social reform from those who, it pains me to say it, sought social cleansing and the rise of a new ruling class. Many of the individuals described in chapter one played a part during this time. The forces of lasting reform seem to have gone dormant in America and those for the other goal are, as yet, thwarted. Succeeding chapters will show how these latter forces strove to accomplish their agenda throughout the twentieth century.

This is my inadequate review and commentary of chapters two through five. Many quotes are drawn from Professor Siegel’s book and are supplemented by original sources when necessary.

A young progressive reformer, John Chamberlain, characterized the period prior to America’s entry into WWI as: “the years of Great Expectation when the Millennium, Woodrovian fostered, seemed just around the corner.” The Millennium alluded to was the thousand years of peace prophesied in the Revelation of John. It was not to be.

On July 30, 1916, at 2:08 AM, saboteurs caused a one kiloton explosion on Black Tom Island off the New Jersey coast, near Liberty Island, in NYC harbor. Two million pounds of munitions on their way to the allies were detonated through a series of fires.

This sabotage is viewed as the proximate cause for President Wilson to denounce Germany’s supporters in America as “creatures” of “disloyalty and anarchy [who] must be crushed.” He pushed for and got the Sedition Act of 1918 passed. The Sedition Act extended the Espionage Act of 1917.

The Act’s section 3 text called for in part:

Whoever,…when the United States is at war, shall wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces…or any language intended to bring the form of government… or the Constitution… or the military or naval forces… or the flag… of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute…shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both….

The incongruity between Wilson’s fighting the war to end all wars to make the world safe for democracy and his curtailment of liberties at home drove a wedge between progressives and those who would soon call themselves liberals.

President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany on 2 April 1917

“For the freedom of the world”. President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany on 2 April 1917. Color halftone photomechanical print, 1917.04.02 (photograph), 1918.12.21 (publication), Public Domain in the United States

In 1919, Walter Lippmann wrote, “The word liberalism, was introduced into the jargon of American politics by that group who were Progressives in 1912 and Wilson Democrats from 1916 to 1918.”

Whereas, pre-war Progressives hoped to reform a nation of immigrants grounded in the Protestant ethic, Liberals objected to wartime conscription, civil liberties repression, Prohibition, and the first Red Scare. They saw middle class values as a continuation of WWI repressions.

“Like most sensible people,” liberal Harold Edmund Stearns said, “I regard Prohibition as an outrage and a direct invitation to revolution.”

Randolph Bourne, noted in 1918: “The modern radical opposes the present social system not because it does not give him ‘rights’ but because it warps and stunts the potentialities of society and of human nature.”

But, in a triumph for American free speech rights, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, in Schenck v. United States (1919):

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic… The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

Yet, Harold Stearns wrote in his 1919 book, Liberalism in America: Its Origin, Its Temporary Collapse, Its Future:

In Soviet countries there is in fact no freedom of the press and no pretense that there is. In America today there is in fact no freedom of the press and we only make the matter worse by pretending that there is.

In the same book, Stearns wrote:

The root of liberalism, in a word, is hatred of compulsion, for liberalism has the respect for the individual and his conscience and reason which the employment of coercion necessarily destroys. The liberal has faith in the individual – faith that he can be persuaded by rational means to beliefs compatible with social good.

Sinclair Lewis, through his book, Main Street, gave cultural content to the label “liberal.”

About Main Street, Siegel says:

Main Street caught the post-war literary mood of disillusion perfectly. It distilled and amplified the sentiments of Americans who thought of themselves as members of a creative class stifled by the conventions of provincial life.

Lewis followed up Main Street with his satire Babbitt in 1922. At the end of the novel, the main character, George Follansbee Babbitt, says, “I’ve never done a single thing I want to in my whole life! I don’t know’s I’ve accomplished anything except to just get along.”

H. L. Mencken wrote:

It is not what he [George Babbitt] feels and aspires that moves him primarily; it is what the folks about him will think of him. His politics is communal politics, mob politics, herd politics; his religion is a public rite wholly without subjective significance.

He thought George Babbitt embodied what was wrong in society. Thus Mencken agreed with Lewis, who characterized Babbitt as: “This is the story of the ruler of America.”

In his 1927 New Republic essay “The Drug on the Market,” Waldo Frank said:

In a democracy, where castes are vague, where money-power has few manifest badges of dress or standard of living; where indeed millionaire and clerk go to the same movie, read the same books, travel the same roads, and where intellectual distinctions must be carefully concealed,” it is the “herd” that rules.

Three defining court cases took place in the 1920s. They were the 1924 Leopold and Loeb, 1925 Scopes, and 1926-27 Sacco and Vanzetti trials. Clarence Darrow defended the first two and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter argued for a second appeal to the Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court of the third one. Each trial helped shape case-law and how justice is carried out in America.

Leopold wrote to Loeb: “A superman…is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do.” Pleasure was their moral guide, as Nietzsche’s writings suggested.

During his plea to Cook County Circuit Court Judge John R. Caverly, Darrow asked:

Why did they kill Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite, not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of a boy or the man something slipped, and these unfortunate lads sit here, hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting.

All the Leopold and Loeb trial documentation is available online. Darrow put Biblical morality on trial and survival of the fittest won.

As part of the defense, Darrow called Scopes’ student, Harry Shelton, to the witness stand to demonstrate that Scopes’ evolution lessons had not adversely him:

Darrow: “Are you a church member?”

Shelton: “Yes, sir.”

D: “Do you still belong?”

S: “Yes, sir.”

D: “You didn’t leave church when he [Scopes] told you all forms of life began with a single cell?”

S: “No,sir.”

Through several witnesses’ testimony, Darrow attempted to show no moral corruption resulted due to learning about evolution.

In rebuttal, Bryan turned Darrow’s logic against him. Bryan quoted the defense Darrow used in the Leopold and Loeb case to show that Darrow believed in education’s culpability in moral outcomes.

If this boy is to blame for this, where did he get it? Is there any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? And there is no question in this case but what is true. Then who is to blame? ‘The university would be more to blame than he is. The scholars of the world would be more to blame than he is. The publishers of the world—and Nietzsche’s books are published by one of the biggest publishers in the world—are more to blame than he is. Your Honor, it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university.

The Scopes trial documentation is online. Darrow and the ACLU put Biblical creation on trial and Darwinian evolution won.

The Sacco and Vanzetti case concerned whether the two were guilty of a factory robbery and killing in support of the Galleanists, an Italian anarchist group that advocated revolutionary violence, including ongoing bombing and assassination in America.

Critical opinion assessed that they were railroaded because of anti-Italian prejudice and their anarchist political beliefs. The trials and various appeals were riddled with judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. Later investigations and admissions asserted Sacco was directly involved in the murder but both were involved with the group.

In October 1927, H.G. Wells wrote “Wells Speaks Some Plain Words To Us,” a New York Times essay that described Sacco and Vanzetti as “a case like the Dreyfus case, by which the soul of a people is tested and displayed.” He said:

The guilt or innocence of these two Italians is not the issue that has excited the opinion of the world. Possibly they were actual murderers, and still more possibly they knew more than they would admit about the crime…. Europe is not “retrying” Sacco and Vanzetti or anything of the sort. It is saying what it thinks of Judge Thayer. Executing political opponents as political opponents after the fashion of Mussolini and Moscow we can understand, or bandits as bandits; but this business of trying and executing murderers as Reds, or Reds as murderers, seems to be a new and very frightening line for the courts of a State in the most powerful and civilized Union on earth to pursue.

Prompted by the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law in 1939 requiring a review of all evidence in first-degree murder cases. The review can result in a reduced conviction or a new trial based on the law and on the evidence or “for any other reason that justice may require.” (Mass laws, 1939 c 341).

Those supporting Communism and the Soviets used the Sacco and Vanzetti trial as a wedge to draw prominent liberals to their cause. Drawing on declassified Comintern documents, Stephen Koch, in his Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West, explains that Willi Münzenberg, the Comintern’s master propagandist, intended:

to create for the right-thinking non-Communist West… the belief that…to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and mankind by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.

Münzenberg thought the “the idea of America” had to be countered. Koch noted that Soviet sympathizers used events such as the trial:

to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people, to undermine the myth of the Land of Opportunity, the United States would be shown as an almost insanely xenophobic place, murderously hostile to foreigners.

After Herbert Croly’s death in 1930, George Soule, The New Republic’s polemicist for economic planning, said Croly intended liberalism to be “a mental attitude, the faith in the pursuit of a new truth as the chief agency of human deliverance.”

Earlier, in Wells’ 1920 Outline of History, he writes, “There can be no peace now…but a common peace in all the world; no prosperity but a general prosperity, but there can be no peace and prosperity without common historical ideas.”

In 1924, Wells wrote the essay “The Spirit of Fascism: Is There Any Good in It?” In it, Wells wrote:

Moscow and Rome are alike in this, that they embody the rule of a minority conceited enough to believe that they have a clue to the tangled incoherencies of human life, and need only sufficiently terrorize criticism and opposition to achieve a general happiness…Neither recognizes the enormously tentative quality of human institutions, and the tangled and scarcely explored difficulties in the path of social reconstruction.

In 1928, Wells described his alternative in his book The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (revised and republished as What Are We to Do with Our Lives?) where he states: “the freemasonry of the highly competent” ruling class would subject the masses to “the great processes of social reconstruction.” and, through their rule, “escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life.” He also wrote:

We no longer want that breeding swarm of hefty sweaty bodies, without which the former civilizations could not have endured, we want watchful and understanding guardians and drivers of complex delicate machines, which can be mishandled and brutalized and spoilt all too easily.

If only words had no power to move mankind’s heart to actions which, in retrospect, are monstrous and despicable. But such is the choice we have as humans. The same choice, in kind, as that which we had in the Garden:

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” Genesis 3:2-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

And so it goes.