Unmasking the Administrative State by John Marini dives deep into the weeds to uncover the principles and history that underlies early Progressivism and its first-generation offspring, the Administrative State.
At the core is the rejection of the theory of natural rights as a permanent principle to a mere theory contingent on the times. The rejection of permanent principles replaced by a Hegelian theory of historicism moves the purpose of the government from a protector of rights to the origin and grantors of those rights. Freedom is defined in terms of group rights rather than individual rights. Identity politics seems sure to follow.
The ground for this is a theory of a general will that replaces political conflicts. The founders understood that conflict was imbedded in human nature and the constitution was a means to recognize and manage these conflicts. Avoiding concentrations of power by decentralization and checks and balances, and locking rights in to a permanent constitutional framework was central to avoiding the historical excesses of power and democracy.
The belief in a general will just theorized the human nature of conflict away, and thus rendered restraints on the government that circumvented their will an unnecessary historical relic.
This belief in a mythical will removed restraints on central power. In Europe under the rule fascism the results still haunt us. While our progressives shared many theoretical positions of European travelers we still were tied to a constitution and a civic culture that restrained such excesses. While we intellectually undermined the founding principle of natural rights, the structure of the constitution remained largely intact and served to limit the excesses of the progressive theory of a general will that engulfed Europe.
FDR redefined progressivism as a fulfillment of constitutional promise, bringing economic equality as a right to be associated with political equality. The language of ‘the general will’ in political theory so common in the first progressive era sounded too much like its fascist adherents. The most famous propaganda film of the early Nazi movement was Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl (1935). It has been replaced by the term ‘social justice.’
Both terms are used to justify an Administrative State that subverts the theory and the restraints of the constitution.