The Progressive Assault on America

A Review of ‘We Still Hold These Truths,’ by Matthew Spalding
A small but growing portion of the US population has come to believe that America is at a tipping point. The people with this insight, a group that I shall refer to as the community of believers, see America in 2010 as radically changed from the America they believe existed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The changes that disturb this community are of course not in the material or technological details of daily life, but in the political, economic and cultural principles that determine how America is governed, how the people achieve and sustain prosperity and the spiritual and philosophical axioms that control their beliefs and behavior.

The community of believers sees a century-long atrophying of individual liberty, property rights, Constitutional rule of law, limited government, free market capitalism, American exceptionalism, moral character and conservative traditions. They also see its gradual; replacement by a progressive, collectivist, egalitarian, secular, anti-family, apologetic nation, which is dominated by an exceedingly powerful, repressive and paternalistic federal government. They believe that the current radical administration has brought the United States of America to a tipping point in that its socialist policies (Obamacare, cap and trade, amnesty for illegals and more) will push the society beyond the point that it could ever recover from the progressive calamity that has befallen us.

An avalanche of books, videos and manifestos has appeared that express the frustrations of those who hold this view. Many are structured to answer one or more of the following three questions:

1.     What exactly is it that we had prior to 1900 that is on the precipice of extinction?

2.     How was it lost and to whom was it lost?

3.     How do we get it back?

Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation is among those who hold this view. His book, ‘We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future’ (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2009) addresses the above three questions, albeit in an uneven fashion. In eleven eloquent and edifying chapters he provides answers to the questions. I say uneven because he devotes nine chapters to the first question and only one chapter each to the latter two.

With that kind of division of labor, one would expect the book to stand or fall on the quality of the first nine chapters. Indeed, Mr. Spalding presents a brilliant, if somewhat academic account of the principles on which our Founding Fathers built the American republic. Not surprisingly, the principles he emphasizes include:

·       Individual liberty is the prime right and main objective of the American people.

·       Government derives its powers only from the consent of the governed, whereas the people derive their rights from the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.

·       A democratic republic can succeed only if the people have moral character grounded in religious faith.

·       Property is sacrosanct; commerce is the foundation of our prosperity.

·       There should be no privileged classes; all stand equal before the law.

·       The rule of law emanates from our Constitution. It is the supreme law of the land and shall remain so forever. It may be altered only by a laborious process that requires the support of an overwhelming majority of the people.

·       Liberty is not the same as license; ours is to be an ordered liberty.

·       Family, community and religious and civic associations form the bedrock of our civil society and it is to them that our citizens look primarily for satisfaction, guidance and succor.

·       The Declaration of Independence put us in command of our fortunes and established that the USA is an exceptional creation in human history. Nations should look to us for guidance, not the other way around.

In fact, I have encapsulated his nine chapters in these nine bullets, which constitute Spalding’s answer to the first question.

I am certain that virtually all in the community of believers would endorse all of these principles. I am just as certain that President Obama believes in none of it. Nor do any of his henchmen who have brought us to the tipping point. But I think that Spalding believes that many Americans – perhaps even most Americans – would subscribe to these principles if they were not so totally blinded by the brainwashing they have endured at the hands of the educational system, the mainstream media, the legal profession, politicians (who are largely lawyers), the professoriate, the librarians and virtually all the opinion-forming organs of American society that have been captured by progressives. Given that, Spalding’s words mean hardly anything at all to the great brainwashed multitude. But I am getting ahead of myself – Question 3 comes later.

As I said, Chapters 1-9 are a nice read. They constitute a wonderful lesson in American history, civics, Constitutionalism and the nature of man. The writing is clear, the research is impeccable and the argumentation is persuasive. It will reinforce the opinions of any in the community of believers. But in fact these nine chapters do not constitute the main worth of the book. That can be found in Chapter 10. In 27 breathtaking pages, Spalding offers up the best explanation I have ever read of the progressive philosophy and methodology designed to destroy our Constitutional republic and replace it with a statist, social welfare state. His chapter title: ‘A New Republic: The Progressive Assault on the Founders’ Principles’ is a perfect description of what he has accomplished in the chapter.

Spalding explains how ‘progressive thinking was profoundly shaped by two revolutionary concepts: relativism and historicism.’ The former is the notion that there are no eternal truths or permanent principles; thus it is wrong to be guided by an ancient document (the Constitution) unless it is reinterpreted continuously in light of modern ideas. The latter concept teaches that not only are ideas relative, but their meaning is determined by their moment in time. ‘The problem with the American Founders, the new thinkers argued, is that they did not understand and account for the lack of permanence and the constant flux and change in all things.’

We know the outcome. A century-long progressive onslaught on our nation has yielded a society that – in direct contradiction of the nine bullets above – increasingly accepts the following alternate principles:

·       Equality of outcome takes precedence over individual liberty.

·       Government discovers new rights all the time and then grants them to the people.

·       Religious faith belongs to the past; it has been superseded by reason and science.

·       Property is ultimately the province of government; business must be subservient to government.

·       The people’s lives are best guided by ‘experts’ – federal bureaucrats whose regulations have the force of law.

·       In addition, law is what the President, Congress and especially the Supreme Court say it is, not what the Founders wrote in the Constitution.

·       Distinguishing liberty from license is not a useful exercise as long as the people get what the government deems is good for them.

·       Government is far more important than family or community. The latter are transient; while a benevolent government is the true bedrock of society.

·       America is one of many nations. Moreover, it has a checkered history. It has no special role to play in the world saga.

Spalding closes the chapter as follows: ‘The result of all this is that America seems to be moving even further away from its original principles and constitutional design. While progressive ideas have not completely won the day…the dominance of these arguments – in our schools, in the public square, and in our politics – has significantly weakened the very foundations of American constitutionalism, making it all the more difficult not only to defend but more importantly to recover the ideas and institutions of America’s Founders. Is it still possible to revitalize our country’s principles and to renew our liberty?’

Unfortunately, the answer he provides in the final chapter is by far the weakest part of the book. The chapter is full of exhortations like: ‘We must return to…’; ‘We must look to the principles of the American Founders…’; ‘We must reverse this course…’; ‘Americans must be familiar with the history of the American Revolution…’; ‘We must continue to teach the principles of liberty…’; ‘We need learned judges who take the Constitution seriously…’ The point is: How? What is the actual recipe for recapturing our Constitutional republic from the hands of the progressives who have decimated the work of our Founders? Of this there is precious little in the chapter.

Perhaps this is an unfair criticism. It is only recently that more than a sliver of the population has come to appreciate the incredible damage done to our nation by progressivism and, amazingly, how far it has succeeded in fundamentally altering the nature of the United States of America. Hopefully, books like Spalding’s will spread the message and increase the size of the community of believers. If the recent Tea Party phenomenon is an indication, that might be happening. But a blueprint for reversing course – if there is even time to do so – is not to be found in Spalding’s book. For that, readers will have to look elsewhere.
This article also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative at