Progressivism Past Present and Future: Part 1, Progressives of the Past

Theodore-Roosevelt

Modern Progressivism traces it roots back to the late 19th and into the early 20th century in what purports to be motivated by the need for social and economic reform. While many may believe this movement was begun in order to help the less fortunate, the poor, the underprivileged, as well as those of other races including Native Americans, a closer examination of these roots uncovers the truth; that this movement was actually begun and continued in order to prop up those who considered themselves better than the aforementioned groups of people. In other words, it was a movement of snobs against slobs.


While on the surface progressivism appears to have the well being of society in mind, the means to achieve their ideals of well being and of a better society are outright suspect. Progressivism wasn't just an economic philosophy, but it was and still is a philosophy of a kind of community organizing, social engineering. Progressives didn't believe that the founders of the United States got it right. They didn't believe, for example in natural or "God given" rights. Progressives believed that rights were given by the law and thus by the state. Progressives believed that it was the responsibility of those who were higher bred and better educated to decide for the rest of society what was best for them. Out of this philosophy grew theories related to economics as well as theories of community building.

Minimum wage laws were among the ideas hatched by progressives during this era, not to make sure people were paid well enough to sustain themselves, but because they believed there was a certain class of people that should only be allowed to work for these low wages and should not be allowed to be entrepreneurs or to be involved in certain aspects of business, which the free market offered, because they weren't intelligent enough or they weren't of the right "class" of people. This included Native Americans, African Americans, those with cognitive disabilities (the so called feeble minded or mentally ill) and women. In other words, the poor trash and women needed to be kept in their places.

 "If the inefficient entrepreneurs would be eliminated [by minimum wages,] so would the ineffective workers. I am not disposed to waste much sympathy upon either class. The elimination of the inefficient is in line with our traditional emphasis on free competition, and also with the spirit and trend of modern social economics. There is no panacea that can 'save' the incompetents except at the expense of the normal people. They are a burden on society and on the producers wherever they are."  

– A.B. Wolfe, American Economic Review, 1917 

Progressives also began to propagate the ideas of eugenics that at the time they tried to legitimize as a science. In 1883 Francis Galton, in England, coined the term "eugenics" to encompass the idea of modification of natural selection through "selective breeding for the improvement of humankind." Eugenics was considered a science by those who advocated for it. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines eugenics: "the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations (as by sterilization) to improve the population's genetic composition. Worse yet eugenics and the polices of eugenics were embraced by the Hitler and then utilized by the Nazis during WWII. This synopsis on "Hitler's American Model" sums it up:

"Nazism triumphed in Germany during the high era of Jim Crow laws in the United States. Did the American regime of racial oppression in any way inspire the Nazis? The unsettling answer is yes. In Hitler's American Model, James Whitman presents a detailed investigation of the American impact on the notorious Nuremberg Laws, the centerpiece anti-Jewish legislation of the Nazi regime. Both American citizenship and antimiscegenation laws proved directly relevant to the two principal Nuremberg Laws―the Citizenship Law and the Blood Law. Contrary to those who have insisted otherwise, Whitman demonstrates that the Nazis took a real, sustained, significant, and revealing interest in American race policies. He looks at the ultimate, ugly irony that when Nazis rejected American practices, it was sometimes not because they found them too enlightened but too harsh. Indelibly linking American race laws to the shaping of Nazi policies in Germany, Hitler's American Model upends the understanding of America's influence on racist practices in the wider world."

Not only did the progressives of the past, among them Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, seek to sterilize out of existence those they considered to be unworthy to propagate, setting up laws in 32 states for involuntary sterilization, but they also favored racist immigration policies as well as efforts to limit full United States citizenship of certain classes of citizens deemed unfit.

Unfortunately, during this time period it didn't prove to be all that difficult to bring many of these ideas into practical reality. With the help of certain politicians and even judges many of these ideas began to be instituted in a very big way across the United States. For example the well known Supreme Court case known as Buck Vs. Bell wherein it was decided that Carrie Buck, who was considered mentally unfit could be forcibly sterilized for her own good and for the good of society. 

("Carrie Buck is a feeble minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony above mentioned in due form. She is the daughter of a feeble minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble minded child. She was eighteen years old at the time of the trial of her case in the Circuit Court, in the latter part of 1924.")  

In total 32 U.S. states passed sterilization laws between 1907 and 1937. It wasn't until the 1970s that states began to repeal these laws, finding them antiquated and discriminatory, particularly towards people with disabilities. Some data suggests that it wasn't only the mentally handicapped that were sterilized, but that populations who were targeted included those with Latino names, African Americans and immigrants.

Among those who were proponents of eugenics are some names that may surprise some of us. Margaret Sanger, who became the founder of what is today known as Planned Parenthood, was among them. Here is a list of ten other people who were such proponents:

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States and also a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 "Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind."

Helen Keller who believed that babies born disabled should be put before a panel of judges to decide whether or not they be allowed to live.

Winston Churchill - "The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the Feeble-Minded and Insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate."

Linus Pauling didn't believe in castration or forced sterilization, but he believed that African Americans who carried sickle cell anemia cell mutation should not be allowed to marry or reproduce. He advocated instituting programs that tested for the mutation be put in place and that carriers get "tattooed".

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for over 30 years, who wrote the majority opinion in Buck Vs. Bell mentioned above in this article.

John Maynard Keynes, father of Keynesian economics which we still utilize today and which was put into widespread use by another great progressive Franklin D. Roosevelt. Keynes was also director of the Eugenics Society for about seven years and believed that birth control was necessary to limit the growth of the lower classes because they were too "drunken and ignorant" to be allowed to reproduce.

Edward Franklin Frazier an African America sociologist who wrote in "Eugenics and the Race Problem", "There is no apparent danger that the best mentally endowed Negroes will debase their intellectual inheritance by mating with feebleminded persons. But there is a danger that the proper institutional controls, which should control the procreation of the colored feebleminded, will be lacking among colored people. In the South where little notice is taken of the colored feebleminded, they are permitted to breed at a rapid rate."

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, also an African American who co-founded the NAACP. His approach "divided the black community into four groups—from the desirable "Talented Tenth," whom he saw as educated leaders, to the undesirable "submerged tenth," whom he described as prostitutes, criminals, and loafers."

Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, who was also the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize following WWI. He also established the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve. He signed into law in 1911 the N.J. Sterilization bill which allowed the forced sterilization of certain individuals.

Clarence Darrow, famed attorney who argued for compassion for those who were underprivileged but also said that unfit children should be chloroformed.  "Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live", he said.

In summary, the progressives of the past used social engineering through minimum wages and eugenics as a means to create a purer race of wealthy white people that ruled and made decisions for the rest of the lower classes. Or at least that was their supposed goal. Hitler admired this and and used it as a model for his own eugenics programs and implemented them on a much wider scale. In Germany in a 12 year period from 1933-1945 Nazi Germany performed about 6 million abortions both forced and voluntary in addition to the extermination programs and concentration camps.

Progressivism went hand in hand with socialism and communism. Margaret Sanger herself was a member of the communist party. Mao Zedong exterminated between 60-80 million of his own people. China's ongoing limits on child birth and how they have persecuted their minorities is a clear example of this.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    DonaldG · 23 days ago
    Bravo! Excellent exposé.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Beverly · 23 days ago
    Reading in one place how modern progressive-ism has grown from it's subtle dark roots into massive harmful movements in politics and our culture is eye opening. Well done and thank you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jeanette · 23 days ago
    Wow, thanks, Peggy. Well researched. I really liked the quotes. There's nothing like reading a progressive's own damning words. Hillsdale College Constitution 101 Course talks about how the progressives want to tear down the constitution because it stands in the way of their goal of Utopia through social engineering. Dr. Jordan Peterson talks about the Utopian pipe dream of the progressive left quite a bit also. My local library carries James Whitman's book - just reserved a copy. Thank you for the hours it must have taken to research and write this. Big hugs! ♥
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Franz · 23 days ago
    Thanks for writing this, if people only knew.
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