Saturday, December 12, 2015

illiberal progressives

 When I first studied the progressive era in early 20th century America, I was excited to see how growing elements of both major parties embraced reforms that made government more efficient and more responsive. I thought they deserved to prevail over their adversaries -- the corrupt political machines that dominated so many cities and states. I saw nothing wrong with the direct election of Senators, laws by public referendum, recall of elected officials, and other progressive reforms. [After seeing California craziness on ballot initiatives, however, I'm  much more dubious of the value of referenda.]

Now I realize that many of the progressives had other views that are quite deplorable. They were arrogant and paternalistic, believing that they knew best. But worse, they were white Anglo-Saxon supremacists and supporters of eugenics, the racist pseudoscience  that flourished in the 'teens and 'twenties. Virginia Postrel has a fine piece documenting their illiberal views. Woodrow Wilson was in congenial company.

These illiberal views do not disqualify otherwise admirable public figures from having things named after them -- actions matter much more, pro and con, than mere beliefs -- but we should weigh these aspects of their character as part of their legacy.

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