It is an arresting image on Mount Rushmore: Theodore Roosevelt the Rough Rider, man of action, and lover of his country, taking his place alongside three of the greatest men to occupy the presidency – men whom he professed to admire and sought to emulate: Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. And the centennial of Roosevelt’s rise to national prominence led to a spate of biographies and other studies evaluating his presidency and its impact on the nation. Roosevelt’s image is, for many, nearly irresistible. To many Americans, at least, his patriotic nationalism, his efforts to establish a system of national parks,…
Eleven insightful contemporary scholars of American political thought create a dialogue concerning the natural rights origins of America and its Progressive transformation. The first five essays (Thomas West, Paul Rahe, Craig Yirush, Bradley Thompson, and Eric Mack) deal with the “natural rights individualism” of the founders and the political philosophers who influenced them, principally Locke and Montesquieu, and, according to the editors, “the culmination of this tradition in the writings of nineteenth-century individualists such as Lysander Spooner.” The remaining six (James Ceaser, Eldon Eisenach, Tiffany Miller, James Ely, Adam Mossoff, Ronald Pestritto, and Michael Zuckert) consider the assault on natural…
It is a logical fallacy and a clinical delusion, and the body politic is suffering from both: magical thinking—the false linkage of causal events, in this case between the president and, well, everything. Hence the claim—literally childish, as will be seen—that the president personally as well as his policy in the Middle East are somehow to blame for an eruption of rioting against American targets in that region. The concomitant argument from the Romney camp is that were their man president, the riots never would have happened: a claim that is patently absurd except to those who seriously believe enraged rioters en route to a demonstration halfway around the world actually pause first to ask themselves whether the President of the United States frowns upon their actions.
After some hesitation, the American Political Science Association (APSA) has cancelled its annual four-day, pre-Labor Day convention, with Hurricane Isaac bearing down on its New Orleans venue. Even proud contemporary political science must eventually submit to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” in practice, while remaining resistant in theory.
Causing consternation for several days, the APSA, which was founded in New Orleans in 1903, had wanted to defy the laws of nature and proceed to meet in the city of its makers. (To be fair, several hundred convention participants, of the 6000 or so anticipated, were already in New Orleans prior to the long-scheduled Thursday, August 30 formal opening.)
Musing on a catastrophe of Katrina proportions, one person involved in organizing the Annual Meeting joked about a political science version of “Hunger Games.” However satisfying the vision of political scientists spearing each other might be (after making rational choice calculations), the APSA finally acknowledged the sovereignty of the laws of nature and likely averted disaster.
But the confrontation with brute nature brings attention to how political science scholarship set out to manipulate human nature. The first two decades of the APSA produce shocking examples of open assault on the American founding and the Declaration of Independence in particular. The APSA’s first presidents sought counterrevolution against the natural rights and the limited government that flows from them.
President Obama is a man of history—that is, he places himself quite deliberately in historical context. His much-derided self-comparisons with Abraham Lincoln come immediately to mind. But those are clearly superficial. More telling is his choice of Osawatomie, Kansas for a speech that drew comparison to Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” speech delivered there 101 years before. Roosevelt called for a vast expansion of federal government responsibility—a Bureau of Corporations and legislation involving families. Obama claims the legacy of both the Great Emancipator and the Rough Rider to justify his own dramatically more radical schemes.
Obama struck again in his recent speech at Roanoke, Virginia, with a speech that begs comparison with Woodrow Wilson’s “What is Progress?” address from his triumphant 1912 presidential campaign.
Coming after the first progressive wave of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge’s White House tenure boldly challenged their expansive ideas about executive power specifically and federal power generally. Coolidge’s presidency was marked by an understanding of the power and limits to the federal government in terms more congenial to those of the Framers. Instructive in this regard are Coolidge’s fiscal and agricultural policies, and his attempts at federal restraint in the face of regional flood disasters that were marked by repeated calls for bold government action.
The 1912 election fundamentally transformed American politics. This transformation and the events which led to it are the subject of Sidney Milkis’s excellent book Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy. Milkis’s book is both lively and profound, a joy and an education at the same time. The key thread that runs throughout Milkis’s tapestry is the paradoxical result of Theodore Roosevelt’s candidacy: the joining of mass democracy – replacing party politics with candidate-centered elections and a plebiscitary presidency – with a centralized administrative state where commissions make policy outside of the direct influence of public…
The 1912 election fundamentally transformed American politics. This transformation and the events which led to it are the subject of Sidney Milkis’s excellent book. Milkis’s book is both lively and profound, a joy and an education at the same time. The key thread that runs throughout Milkis’s tapestry is the paradoxical result of Theodore Roosevelt’s candidacy: the joining of mass democracy – replacing party politics with candidate-centered elections and a plebiscitary presidency – with a centralized administrative state where commissions make policy outside of the direct influence of public opinion. The dilemmas with which Milkis grapples in the book are still the dilemmas confronting progressivism today, and Milkis’s hesitancy about the legacy of progressivism is highly informative for dealing with the contemporary problems we face in light of the progressive resurgence in 2008.
Milkis’s dramatic account of the 1912 election focuses on the central figure during the election: Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s democratic faith was the impetus for his departure from the Republican Party and leadership of the Progressive Party. Yet it is unclear whether Milkis thinks Roosevelt was a true believer in the cause of democracy or whether Roosevelt used the theme of democracy to provide clear distinctions between he, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Milkis notes that in speeches leading up to 2012, Roosevelt expressed “temperate support for direct democracy” rather than a full-fledged defense of reforms such as the initiative, referendum, recall, direct election of senators, and referenda on judicial decisions. Responding to some progressives’ fears that he was not a faithful devotee of direct democracy, Roosevelt suggested that it was wrong “to speak of democracy…as if it were a goddess.” In an important speech in Columbus in 1912, Roosevelt finally became a convert to the cause of direct democracy, only months after condemning the idea in the National Progressive Republican League platform. Roosevelt’s actions provoke an important question, not fully resolved in the account: did Roosevelt adopt his faith in direct democracy out of sincere belief, or in order to become the leader of a new progressive party?