From the Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2018, Charles Kesler writes, Thinking About Trump:
When the original American populists organized the People’s Party in time for the 1892 election, their rallying cry was the people versus “the interests,” meaning the railroads and large corporations that were squeezing farmers and small businessmen, and that allegedly dominated the two main political parties. So they started a new party calling for silver money and lots of it, nationalization of the railroads, a federal income tax, and other reforms including the initiative, referendum, and direct election of senators.
The early progressives pushed for greater democracy and opposed constitutional restraints and dilutions of the popular vote. Yet Wilson and other progressives favored a non elected administrative elite to reach solutions, assuming a general will that should be unimpeded. Wilson also assumed a charismatic leader would properly discern this general or people’s will.
The will of the people is a myth. Is is nothing more than the will of one interest group willing to use the force of government to enforce their will on others. Friedrich Hayek saw this clearly. Wilson’s idea of a leader discerning this will is nothing more than a demagogue dictating the will of the people.
Wilson wanted more democracy, yet wanted more decisions removed from the democratic process. The administrative state came to do much more than administer the technical affairs of the state. It became a source of power and political rights with no electoral accountability. Through regulatory capture it became a means for the powerful to manipulate government power to their ends. This was the last outcome the early Progressives would have wanted.