Mark Levin is a rabid right wing radio talk show host. Because I at least scan about any title with the word progressivism in it, I viewed his latest book Rediscovering Americanism: and the Tyranny of Progressivism and was pleasantly surprised at the depth of his topic. His study of the origin of natural rights, his survey of the philosophers like Montesquieu who influenced the founders and framers, and his review of the changes in our fundamental governing ideas that came with progressivism make this a very worthy read. Its depth is surprising and at least for me required a slow reading.
Kevin Williamson at National Review wrote an excellent review in Rediscovering Austrianism and focused further on Levin’s distinction between our constitutional heritage and progressivism:
Levin considers the question of individualism and its variations, contrasting the progressives’ romantic version of individualism, rooted in Rousseau, with the richer understanding of individualism in the classical-liberal tradition, which he connects to the political ideas of John Adams. The choice before us can be difficult to understand at times: Do we have a national (or, as some progressives envision, worldwide) social plan, under which all economic and political activity is in some sense directed toward a set of unified goals in a conscientiously engineered and purportedly rational manner, or do we have a rules-based order under which individuals, firms, political parties, associations, etc., each pursue their own plans, leading to the development of a spontaneous order? This is, as Hayek points out and Levin emphasizes, distinct from what we might indicate by the modern usage of “libertarian,” distinct from what Hayek called “a dogmatic laissez faire attitude.” The rules-based order permits the emergence of vastly complex systems that are beyond the understanding of any individual or bureaucracy. That is the hard part for progressives to swallow, because they imagine themselves to be engaged in the “scientific” management of society.
Early progressives fought the notion of individualism, later progressives redefined it. Progressives in the fist phase took an adversarial stance to constitutional principles. In the second stage under FDR, they more subtly reinterpreted the constitutional principles to justify the government power the Constitution sought to limit.