Understanding the unconstrained vision in the 20th century

This is a follow-up to a couple previous posts I wrote, called “We are suffering under the ignorance of our national heritage”, and “The liberal/conservative divide explained”. Next to the show where Beck introduced Sarah Palin to the world (before McCain picked her as his VP candidate), the following show, from 1/29/2010, is the best one I’ve seen him do.

He’s talked for a while about the origins of socialist, fascist, and communist thought, mostly its European origins and its effects in Europe, though he’s talked some about the effects of progressive thought in the U.S., from what I’ve seen. Like I’ve said before, I don’t watch his show much. He’s usually too hysterical for me. This episode was an exception. It really gets into what the original progressives were thinking, and how they influenced our entire society to separate us from the founding philosophy of the United States, and the understanding of why the original ideas were good. (h/t to The 912 Diary):

Edit 3-10-2010: I’ve added/updated the following four paragraphs.

I just recently found this interview with Norman Dodd, a man who was a researcher with the Reece Commission in 1953. This interview was done in 1982. It really helps fill in what the men on Beck’s show were talking about, regarding how our notions of our history were deliberately changed by a group of elites and their tax-exempt foundations in the first half of the 20th century. It also gets to their motivations, which will sound outlandish.

The reason behind this push to change our history is that the Progressives saw the Constitution and the founding ideas as their enemy. They thought of them as backward and outdated. They were ignorant of why these ideas were (and are still) good. Their world view is understandable by listening to what Thomas Sowell has had to say about the unconstrained vision, which believes that special elites need to be put into leadership so that they can work their will to bring about a better society. Their conceit was the belief that there are such “perfect” people who are so refined and educated that they do not have the flaws that the rest of us have. As was briefly mentioned in the Glenn Beck episode, this notion came from pseudoscientific ideas that were popular in intellectual circles at the time, namely eugenics and social darwinism. They thought they could improve upon the Founders by moving away from the idea that there’s a wise tension between the “wisdom of crowds” and an accomplished elite whom we elect to represent us that respects the sovereign rights of all Americans, and move us toward the idea that the people need to be led by philosopher kings who contain all the wisdom necessary to do what is right. The struggle between the constrained and the unconstrained vision has been around since the dawn of Western civilization, 2,500 years ago.

I’ve been discovering that there have been some very powerful people in our country who have had some very foolish ideas. The more I read about this subject the more they sounds like mad scientists. We can understand their foolishness by keeping in mind that these people operated under technocratic assumptions. They believed that a better society could be achieved by making everything, even human societies, conform to mathematical “laws” that were predictable. They would also benefit from this, as it would keep their businesses profitable, and help them consolidate their power. They tried to use their notions of science and engineering to bring about this utopia. They believed that efficiency was the ultimate value in society. I don’t mean to say that the disciplines of mathematics, science, and engineering are not valuable. They just don’t deliver what people of this consciousness think they do. Nevertheless, most of us have been at the effect of these foolish ideas for about 60 years, and it has been to our detriment.

The reason I favor getting back to the Founders’ vision for the U.S. is it seems to me they understood these disciplines well, and they wanted to use the perspective that they really do provide to help the members of society improve society. They did not worship mathematics as the ultimate perfecter of humans, nor did they worship science as the ultimate revealer of truth.

The constrained and unconstrained visions in everyday life

We can see the difference between those who believe in the constrained vs. the unconstrained vision by their attitudes. There are gradations of these attitudes among people. One should not take these as cookie cutter templates. I’m presenting “purist” definitions here to provide contrast.

Those who believe in the constrained vision of humanity approach the ideas of governance from a philosophical, principled standpoint. They are interested in the give and take of ideas, and encourage vigorous and robust debate. They believe in the fallibility of human beings, and so are wary of the idea that any one person has the one right answer, though they are confident that there are many wrong answers. The challenge is to try to tease out which are the good ideas, and to filter out the bad ones. They believe that power in government must be checked by competing forces, and that competition has its benefits in other arenas. They see society as a collection of systems, and they have a keen understanding of human nature. Their debates center around a comparison of systems, and which better serve the greater good, making human nature a key factor.

Those who believe in the constrained vision believe in a literary and scientific education (ie. testing our notions about what we think we know, and what we think we see, and forming our own models which map well to the results of those tests) to empower individuals to understand and reason about their world, and their society.

Those who believe in the unconstrained vision approach the ideas of governance from a moral and symptomatic standpoint. They see some problem or other in the moment, and in response attempt to address it with a grand solution, big or small, that seems to fit the size of the problem in the moment. They do not look at fixed systems of interaction which may have created the problem. Instead they see groups of people acting morally or immorally and attempt to stymie and correct the people who they deem to have acted immorally. In short, they are reactionary.

They see it as the job of those who govern to manage everything, and to some extent everyone, for the benefit of those whom they deem are oppressed. The leaders demand something in return, to maintain their power–“I scratch your back, and you scratch mine”–and so they set up systems of patronage, even with the oppressed.

They do not care for debate. Authorities whom they deem to be cultured, intelligent, educated, moral, and know how to wield power are to be respected, without question. They do not see any “wisdom of crowds”, which are just “the seething ignorant mob” to them. These “mobs” cannot have grievances that they have determined for themselves, because they are not intelligent enough to have any. It’s assumed that the leadership will be able to determine which groups of people are aggrieved, and that they will act appropriately to address them.

Any group that is to be respected must have a leader or group of leaders that is deemed respectable by the aforementioned criteria, or else they are illegitimate. If you are not a member of the aforementioned oppressed, and you are not considered a legitimate leader of a group that can help the oppressed and maintain the leadership’s power, you must abide whatever the leadership deems is appropriate to do. If you resist, you are made a pariah.

Those who believe in the unconstrained vision also believe in education, one that is cultured and literary. Critical thought is encouraged, but there is a heavy emphasis on approaching subjects in a symptomatic way. In all but the best schools, deep understanding of subjects is not encouraged. Instead there is an emphasis on analysis and case-based skills.

The Founders used a constrained vision of humanity in designing our government in the Constitution. They were men of the Enlightenment. They designed the government to address human nature as it has been, as it is, and will be for a very, very long time. The Progressives have always been deluded, as the socialists of all stripes have been, in believing that humans can be perfected. Our flaws can be rectified and eliminated. The Founders believed that our flaws can only be mitigated. That’s the difference. In other words, our flaws are innate and unchangeable, but systems can be put in place and used in order to improve our lot, to bring out and encourage the positive aspects of our nature, and put a damper on and frustrate the extremely negative aspects of it, so as to create a society that is as harmonious as humanly possible. That’s a limited statement. The Founders never envisioned America as a utopia, and did not believe that was possible. What they went for was a “as good as it gets” society. The Founders formed it based on a learned view of history, of past regimes, and worked carefully to construct a system of government that promoted freedom, but did not allow anarchy and the concentration of power. They tried to learn from past mistakes. They went for a “happy medium”.

Secondly, they understood that the project of building our society and government was not complete when they first created it, and that future generations would need to change the structure of our government to create a “more perfect union”. Thankfully we did. The most significant accomplishments have been freeing the slaves, which the Founders could not reconcile and deliberately left to a future generation to resolve, giving women property rights and the vote, and promoting equal rights for all citizens, no matter who they are or where they came from. We should rightfully celebrate those changes. I think they have created a more perfect union. Where we “went off the road” was with the idea that the Constitution is an interpretive document in all respects, that we need not try to understand the original intent of its articles and amendments–what was in the heads of those who wrote them, and that they mean whatever we want it to mean. That way leads to a gradual erosion of our rights, and our freedom. We become a nation of flawed, hubristic humans ruling to try to correct the actions of flawed humans; not a nation of law, but a nation of will, which will ultimately lead to a tyrannical government if we remain ignorant of our legal heritage.

Edit 2/10/2010: I found out about this ad after the Super Bowl. We could be looking forward to this if we’re not careful.

It really would behoove us to reject the Progressive philosophy of governance, because it has been shown to be a failure many times over. They never seem to learn. Because of their cultural influence, we have forgotten, and so we haven’t learned either. That can always be corrected, but we as individuals have to undertake our own education. Unfortunately our schools, for the most part, are not going to help us with that.

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