Kevin Williamson in National Review writes Democrats vs. the Constitution. An excellent article that explains the political chasm between the states and the federal government and a fundamental difference between the parties view of the role of the federal government.
The problem is a familiar one: lack of intellectual humility. The political mind is fundamentally primitive, and it is captive to a kind of magical thinking, laboring under the superstition that the real world is governed by the words in the Federal Register rather than by physics, economics, and history. Observing the efficiency and effectiveness of a limited and manageable enterprise such as a well-organized assembly line or a scrupulously observed railroad schedule, the progressive imagines that the same principles can be put to work managing incomprehensibly complex organic phenomena such as health-care systems and energy markets. This is the dream of society as one big factory under the management of benevolent (not to say godlike) experts.
If you believe that what the world needs — what America needs — is efficient expert management, then you will pursue policy goals that emphasize size, scale, homogeneity, systematization, and regimentation. And your preferred instrument almost always will be the federal government; 50 states doing things 50 different ways is incompatible with your vision of intelligent expert administration. (Of course I am simplifying here, but I do not think that these characterizations are unfair or uncharitable.) And that is what we have seen from our modern Democrats for a generation: Their pursuit of national power, especially the centralized and centralizing power of the presidency, is an obsession followed often to the exclusion of other opportunities for political power. The Democrats won the White House twice under Barack Obama but were jackhammered at the state and local level, losing 900 seats in state legislatures, more than a dozen governorships, and more than a dozen state legislative houses. This did not seem to bother them very much. They also lost their congressional majorities, which stung more, but keeping control of the presidency — and hence the administrative state — was a great consolation. Their commitment to a Washington-based approach to political and economic life has not wavered.
The progressive (and occasional conservative) preference for more direct mass democracy is based either on a romantic overestimate of the intelligence of the mass electorate or (more likely, I think) overconfidence in their ability to manipulate that mass electorate.
It is unsurprising, then, that most of the foregoing Democratic arguments are mere demands for greater political power disguised as calls for “fairness,” an infinitely plastic concept.
Being so focused on Washington, it is natural that the Democrats have allowed the atrophy of their political muscle in the states, leading to diminished power in them. At the same time, the people in the more rural states have not failed to appreciate that the Democrats’ Washington-first approach devalues them and their communities — precisely the problem that our constitutional order was designed to ameliorate.
(Quoting Russell Kirk)
“The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.”
Read the entire article. I am a fan of Kevin and this is a great example of his work.
The early progressives pushed for more democracy yet moved more decisions away from the voters in their benevolent and expert administrative state. They justified this with a belief that there is a general will that can be objectively discerned and separated from the whims of politics.
In a diverse society there is no general will; it is used to declare one to be an enemy of the state if they oppose the party in power. The mythology of the general will pervades progressivism and the Italian fascists.
It was also the core of The Road to Serfdom by Hayek. The general will was used to justify central planning which led to tyranny in Hayek’s analysis.
Early progressives disliked mitigating institutions because they interfered with the power of the central government. Woodrow Wilson described the effective leader as one who would shape the general will. Wilson believed that moral supremacy and oratorical skills were the essential traits of a leader. He avoided the negotiations and compromises that is the lifeblood of out messy system. Patricia O’Toole described his style well in her recent biography, The Moralist.
The second big flaw in progressive thinking is that efficient systems in local and business environments can be scaled up to function in national systems, across 50 diversified states with limited sovereignty.