From an intellectual perspective, signs of America’s decline appeared with the advent of Progressive Movement toward the end of the 19th century. The most prominent leader of Progressivism was Woodrow Wilson.
Philosophically understood, the concept of Progressivism denies fixed or trans-historical truths. Progressivism therefore resonates with historical relativism or “historicism.” It also resonates with evolutionary Darwinism which took academia by storm after the First World War.
Historicism entered American higher education early in the 20th century. The doctrine was ensconced in Johns Hopkins, Wilson’s alma mater.
Historicism, Progressivism, and evolutionary Darwinism are cousins. Just as Darwinism denies fixed species, so Progressivism and Historicism deny permanent or immutable truths. Both contradict America’s primary foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, whose pivotal concept is the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” the ultimate source of man’s inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. These rights entail limitations on the powers of government—of the One, the Few, and the Many. The academic denial of the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” is the first step toward a second American revolution.
Steps toward a second American revolution
Few have probed the intellectual causes of this bloodless revolution. It has been going on with increasing force for more than a century spearheaded by higher education.
Early evidence of this revolution appeared in a book written by, Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence (1922). Becker, a historicist, portrayed the Declaration as a mere tract of the times. He negated the Declaration’s pivotal idea of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” the source of man’s inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Becker’s historicism was reinforced by evolutionary Darwinism. Darwinism is a materialistic doctrine. It contradicts the creation narrative of the Bible. So does Becker, who boldly states:
Much serious, minutely critical investigation into the origins of institutions seemed to show that all things human might be fully accounted for without recourse to God or the Transcendental Idea.
Becker’s materialistic worldview was reinforced by Charles Beard’s Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. Such has been the number of its printings since 1913 that it became commonplace for historians and political scientists to explain the political principles of the Founding Fathers in terms of their economic interests. This is an example of the reductionism and crypto-Marxism—indeed, the cynicism—that has permeated the social sciences for more than a century. Is anything more required to undermine a people’s reverence for their foundational documents?
Woodrow Wilson sees no limits to Presidential power
Returning to Wilson: he not only rejected the Declaration’s concept of natural rights. He also rejected the Constitution’s system of institutional checks and balances. He targeted the constraints on the Executive branch. He regarded the President as the spokesman of the people, but in a new way. The President, he said, is to “move with the common impulse” and feel what ordinary men feel, to feel “what touches them to the quick.”
Wilson thus inaugurated what I called in 1974 the “politics of compassion.” This politics opposed the politics of the Founding Fathers, which I termed the “politics of magnanimity.” The latter identifies not with the few, and not with the many, but rather with the nation—with those structural principles and universal moral values that make this nation unique, exceptional, a nation that transcends the paltry and perennial conflict between the rich and the poor, a nation headed by statesmen, not politicians, statesmen whose love of fame is wedded to noble ideas, to immutable and transcendental truths.
Historical relativism cannot but degrade this lofty concept of statesmanship. This academic doctrine, which makes the philosopher a child of his times, also strips the statesman of intellectual independence. No longer is the statesman an educator. He becomes merely a policy maker, who may be nothing more than a puppet of the masses, for he must “move with the common impulse.”
Whereas the politics of magnanimity makes demands on and elevates the people, the politics of compassion undermines the people’s sense of personal responsibility and thus leads to the “nanny” state of which Wilson may be deemed the grandfather.
Barack Obama, post-American
Fast forward to Barack Obama, the unlearned successor of the learned Woodrow Wilson. But note well that Obama, as a “post-American” President, augurs the end of American Exceptionalism.
What made his election possible was one hundred years of American “higher” education, an education steeped in the decrepit doctrine of moral relativism. This doctrine, which the present writer excoriated in an article of warning published in the Congressional Record (Senate) in 1968, has degraded the American people. It has corrupted countless opinion makers, lawmakers¸ decision makers, and judges—to which add America’s cultural elite, if we may take a liberal view of the word “culture.”
There is no way of undoing this insidious, century-long revolution by conventional politics. America has become a “Humpty-Dumpty.”
This decadence is of course symptomatic of what has happened to Western Civilization. This civilization ceased being civilized in proportion to its forsaking the Biblical heritage and yielding to the atheism spawned by scientific materialism and multicultural moral relativism.
The First World War proves Progressivism wrong
The First World War that engulfed Christian Europe was a bloody refutation of “Progressivism” or the Idea of Progress—the conceit of the “Enlightenment.” That war put a question mark on Christianity. Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (d. 1935), Israel’s first Chief Rabbi of Mandate Palestine said Western Civilization was bankrupt.
The most distinctive and greatest intellectual achievement of this civilization was science, above all, mathematical physics. It so happens, however, that the founders of modern science, Galileo and Newton, had bestowed upon the West a science devoid of any moral compass. The truth is that paganism still lurked in Christian Europe, whose nations, in contradistinction to saintly individual Christians, had not fully assimilated the ethical and intellectual monotheism imported from Israel.
The Great War brought this paganism to the surface. Europe, the heart of Western Civilization, of Christianity and humanism, was again drenched in rivers of blood. Neither the religion of love nor humanism had made the nations of Europe truly righteous or humane. While the works of Goethe and Schiller, Herder and Schelling, Lessing and Schlegel may have illumined the salons of Europe, their influence was invisible during Hitler’s long night. Once again Jew-hatred has erupted in Europe. We see this sign of paganism in Europe’s support of the Arab Palestinians, an invented people that adorns its paganism in the guise of monotheism which threatens the world.
Don’t worry, America – Israel is coming!
We should also recall, however, that the Great War not only terminated the Ottoman Empire, but also produced the Balfour Declaration, thus facilitating the rebirth of the State of Israel.
No doubt it will appear fanciful to say that just as a daughter of Israel saved Rome from utter barbarism, perhaps Israel herself will come to America’s? Since America no longer has the heart and the mind to confront the greatest enemy of civilization, perhaps the task has been left to minuscule Israel whose complete redemption requires the convergence of science and the Book of Truth.
Paul Eidelberg is a former US Air Force officer and electronics engineer and inventor. He wrote several salient works on American history and Constitutional government. Then in 1976 he “made Aaliyah” and joined the faculty of Bar-Ilian University in Jerusalem, from which he is now retired. He also has founded the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy and the Israel-America Renaissance Institute. His work has appeared at various venues, including PoliticalMavens.com and Arutz-7.
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