| January 27, 2012
The great American heritage heist (Part 2)
Last week I touched on the nature of the early progressive movement at the turn of the 20th Century. You can think of the progressive movement as anti-constitutionalism. It’s an idea that academics and writers developed that challenges the fundamental principles of “fixed truths” or “inalienable rights.” This movement thrived, gaining the support of people in some of the highest positions in the nation.
Matthew Spalding, in his bestselling book entitled, We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future, notes that in 1987 at the two hundredth anniversary of the United States Constitution, The Commission on the Bicentennial, headed by Chief Justice Warren Burger, invited “‘every state, city, town and hamlet, every organization and institution, and every family and individual’ to celebrate the great occasion with fitting ceremonies, both solemn and festive.”
“Not everyone agreed,” reports Spalding. “‘I cannot accept this invitation,’ wrote Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, ‘for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention.’ Not only is the Constitution merely ‘a product of its times,’ Marshall wrote, but it also ‘was defective from the start.’ All of the patriotic celebrations marking the grand event, ‘prompting proud proclamations of the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice shared by the Framers and reflected in a written document now yellowed with age,’ Marshall argued, amounted to ‘little more than a blind pilgrimage to the shrine of the original document now stored in a vault in the National Archives.’ Meaningless homage to faded documents enshrined in glass cases,” Spalding surmises.
As repulsive as such thinking probably is to patriotic Americans, it will, no doubt, surprise many to realize it was none other than Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who according to Spalding wrote in 1916, “I do not for one moment believe that the Americanism of today should be a mere submission to the American ideals of the period of the Declaration of Independence. Such action would be not only to stand still, but to go back. American democracy, of course, must mean an opportunity for everyone to contribute his own ideas to the working out of the future. But I will go further than you have done. I have actively fought in favor of grafting on our social life, no less than our industrial life, many of the German ideals.”
Roosevelt was merely echoing growing popular belief. Progressives have always held a fascination with European thinking as “enlightened” and “evolving.” It was Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who only a few years earlier, according to Spalding, had noted, “All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when ‘development,’ ‘evolution,’ is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.” As this progressive philosophy develops within both political parties, it begins its corrosive effect. More to follow next week.