Progressivism: Revenge of the Sociopaths
If the closest confidante and advisor to an extremely consequential American president had written a fantasy novel about a heroic social agitator with a plan to bring about a “benevolent” progressive dictatorship by instigating a brutal civil war, might one imagine that an honest press would take an interest? In fact this has happened, and America’s actual press has tried to dismiss the book as a meaningless “bad novel.”
In 1912, Edward Mandell House, Woodrow Wilson’s most intimate and influential advisor, wrote Philip Dru: Administrator. (Read it online here.) House is credited with having orchestrated Wilson’s presidential nomination, and was a prime mover in several controversial policy undertakings of his presidency. He was an avowed progressive, and, by his own lights, a master political manipulator and strategist. His novel’s eponymous hero is a neo-Marxist revolutionary who insinuates himself into the machinations of politics in a speculative 1920 in order to prod America into a civil war, in which he himself is generalissimo of the great American progressive forces against the greedy capitalist conspirators who have been ruling the country through subterfuge.
The storytelling is boilerplate stuff—a “bad novel,” to be sure—as is typical where a doctrinaire agenda, rather than an imaginative investigation of human experience, is the novelist’s motive. But to dismiss this book as irrelevant on literary grounds would be akin to dismissing Mein Kampf as disingenuous, or The Communist Manifesto as poorly reasoned. Such books are only incidentally to be judged as literature; they are eminently significant as revelations of the minds that composed them, particularly in light of the historical significance those minds turned out to have.
There have been a few attempts in recent years to draw attention to House’s book, all of them brushed off mockingly by the media “elite,” when not ignored entirely. And perhaps some observers have been too quick to draw direct, ominous connections between House’s seemingly prescient ideas and today’s progressive subversions as carried out by the likes of Obama, Soros, and Ayers. That House was instrumental in pushing through the Federal Reserve Act and the 16th Amendment in 1913, and a major impetus behind the League of Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Treaty of Versailles, are matters of historical record. One may interpret those facts as one wishes.
However, rather than leap from those premises to conclusions which may not be supportable with hard evidence, but merely with eerie background music, it is perhaps more useful to focus on what can be said of House’s plans with certainty, based on his novel, a brilliantly clear revelation of the peculiarly American progressive mind.
Philip Dru, painted in (unintentionally) comical romantic hues, typifies the deranged mental state—the delusional megalomania and self-hypnosis—of the most forward-leaning American progressives of the past hundred years, from Wilson and the FDR administration through the Frankfurt School transplants in America, to Saul Alinsky, to the Weather Underground authors of Prairie Fire, to Obama, Hillary Clinton and John F. “Purple Heart 3” Kerry. It is not so much that Philip Dru is a conspiratorial “blueprint” for the Obama presidency, as that Dru is Obama—as Obama would see himself, rather than as a sane observer sees him.
Philip Dru is a man with an agenda that is larger than life, and larger than his country. The internationalist element of his plans is always present, as is his hatred for limited constitutional government and its separation of powers. Never far from his lips is yet another variation on the historic injustice theme, whether regarding “labor,” women, “capital,” minorities, or the rest of the timeless progressive slogan list.
Aside from the remarkably lifelike details of House’s agenda, another feature bludgeons the reader throughout his book: the hero’s (and author’s) complete lack of ordinary conscience or scruples in pursuing ends that he regards as just. Having deliberately led the country into a civil war in which 40,000 defenders of the status quo are killed, 210,000 wounded, and 375,000 imprisoned—killed, wounded or imprisoned because they dared to defend the United States as founded against neo-Marxist revolutionaries—Dru’s feelings run no deeper (and last no longer) than a few perfunctory “What a waste” comments. Then it is on to tearing down the old structures of society, and instituting the new, progressive America.
This progressive consciencelessness is on full display today in Obama’s and Clinton’s handling of the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. It is evident in Bill Ayers’ discussions with his fellow Weatherman leaders of how to “eliminate” the twenty-five million Americans who would resist re-education after the communist revolution. Liberating one’s mind from the iniquities of “traditional morality” so often seems to have the effect of liberating the heart from “traditional” moral qualms regarding the lives and worth of others.
House depicts Dru as musing, before the war, about how “he would have to reckon with the habits and traditions of centuries” (p. 140). In other words, like Dewey, Marx, and all radical leftists, his political agenda was grounded in a fundamental hatred of the entire history of Western man—rationalism, individualism, Judeo-Christian ethics. In typical progressive fashion, House/Dru complains of political corruption and the oligarchic misdeeds of specific leaders, but this is only a thin veil to obscure his real complaint, which is that Western civilization itself is corrupt at its core. That, of course, is why merely removing the offending individuals from power is never enough— “fundamental transformation” is required.
Which leads us to the details. The proof that “Colonel” House—the author’s nickname, and it is interesting that during his fictional civil war, his hero becomes “General Dru”—intended this book to be seen as both inspirational and practically programmatic is demonstrated by the dry specificity with which he lays out, step by step, his alter ego’s reforms, including precise declarations to his supporters, and to the vanquished. Some striking examples:
[The nation] recognized that Dru had dominated the situation and that a master mind had at last arisen in the Republic. (148)
He announced that no one, neither the highest nor the lowest, would be arrested, tried, or in any way disturbed provided they accepted the result of the battle as final, and as determining a change in the policy of government in accordance with the views held by those whom he represented. (150, emphasis added)
[Dru] announced his purpose of assuming the powers of a dictator, distasteful as it was to him, and, as he felt it might [!] also be, to the people. He explained that such a radical step was necessary, in order to quickly purge the government of those abuses that had arisen, and to give it the form and purpose for which they had fought. (152)
Dru’s instruction to the commission was to limit the power of the courts to the extent that they could no longer pass [judgment] upon the constitutionality of laws, their function being merely to decide… what the law was, as was the practice in all other civilized nations. (168)
It was not the Administrator’s purpose to rewrite at that time the Federal and State Constitutions, but to do so at a later date when the laws had been rewritten and decided upon; he wished to first satisfy himself as to them and their adaptability to the existing conditions, and then make a constitution conforming with them. (174, emphasis added)
Therefore, after the Revolution, Dru saw that the time had come… for the National Government to take upon itself some of the functions heretofore exclusively within the jurisdiction of the States. (182)
He also proposed making corporations share with the Government a certain part of their net earnings…. (182)
“While the problem is complicated,” he continued, “its solution lies in the new financial system, together with the new system of control of public utilities.” (188)
“I wish rather to cull that which is best from the other nations of the earth, and let you have the benefit of their thought and experience…. [W]e have lagged behind other nations in democracy. Our Government is, perhaps, less responsive to the will of the people than that of almost any of the civilized nations. Our Constitution and our laws served us well for the first hundred years of our existence, but under the conditions of today they are not only obsolete, but even grotesque.” (222)
“And if no work is to be had, I shall arrange that every indigent person that is honest and industrious shall be given employment by the Federal, State, County or Municipal Government as the case may be.” (228, House’s emphasis)
“Labor is no longer to be classed as an inert commodity to be bought and sold by the law of supply and demand, but the human equation shall hereafter be the commanding force in all agreements between man and capital.” (229-30, House’s emphasis: his translation of “people before profit”)
For brevity’s sake, I will pass over the rest of House’s program: a graduated income tax (180); the deliberate manipulation of the women’s suffrage movement (270); government control of healthcare and medical colleges (231); the annexation of Canada (274-5) and the invasion and occupation of Mexico (282); and the forcible rearrangement of Europe and Asia, assigning jurisdictions as though Dru were dictator of the world (274-6).
House’s book is utopian in the sense that he is fantasizing about being given the authority to achieve, in one fell swoop, the agenda wished and fought for by the progressives of his time, as of ours. It deserves attention, first of all, because of the obvious consistency of purpose between House’s fiction and his own real, practical political maneuverings, along with those of the American progressive movement in general, in which he is a seminal figure. (And his designation of his hero as “Administrator” indicates the real meaning of the Kafkaesque labyrinth of irrational authority known as the administrative state, that late modern monster one of whose leading progenitors was none other than House’s friend and front man, Woodrow Wilson.)
More importantly, however, Philip Dru: Administrator, with its spirited revelation of the true mind of progressivism, unwittingly demonstrates a fact which is too easily obscured when one is faced with the obfuscating public statements of today’s progressives: Progressivism is the political philosophy of sociopaths. It is not a reasonable but misguided quest for equality and justice. It is power-lust masquerading as a social theory, and merciless hatred for mankind dressed up as a new moral code. House’s “bad novel” is, viewed objectively, the American progressives’ answer to Mein Kampf.
If the above depiction of progressivism seems hyperbolic to you—if you are instinctively inclined to respond, “but there are insane people in every political movement,” or “you can disagree with their politics without questioning their humanity”—the reason for your discomfort is perhaps best explained by House himself.
It has been my contention that if you want to understand progressivism, you must examine the writings and public statements of its proponents from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For at that time their agenda was not so carefully concealed, as progressives still believed, with some justification, that they might persuade the masses of the truth of their cause more directly, and instigate an outright revolution, like the one dreamt of in House’s novel.
There was, in 1912, the Progressive Party of Theodore Roosevelt, which espoused a tame version of Philip Dru’s radical platform, and which garnered 27% of the popular vote, in the same presidential election in which Wilson won 42% and the Socialist Party 6%. Thus, the year Philip Dru was published, declared progressive platforms won 75% of America’s popular vote. The most radical progressives, therefore, naturally felt free to speak more openly of their goals, and of their criticisms of Western civilization.
Having eventually realized, however, that their moment for complete revolution was slipping away, the clever ones fell back on a long term plan to undermine the West’s traditions and structures by stealth, relying on euphemisms and half-truths to plant seeds of moral and intellectual corruption which could later be exploited to advance their agenda piecemeal. Thus, more recent spokesmen for the great cause of Marx, Lenin, Dewey, House, Wilson et al, have generally become more circumspect in their rhetoric.
House anticipates this development himself, in the most insightful passage from his grotesque book. Dru’s socialist uprising is made possible by mass public outrage resulting from an unmasked conspiracy within the current administration. House, who knows he is writing fantasy, presents his hero’s reflections on this lucky happenstance:
“If our late masters [i.e., the capitalist conspirators] had been more moderate in their greed we would have been content to struggle for yet another period, hoping that in time we might again have justice and equality before the law. But even so we would [still] have had a defective Government, defective in machinery and defective in its constitution and laws. To have righted it, a century of public education would have been necessary.” (155-6, emphasis added)
To paraphrase: barring the kind of scandalous trigger of upheaval that typically occurs only in fiction, the fundamental transformation of the American constitutional republic will require a century of gradual indoctrination. Edward Mandell House wrote those words almost exactly one hundred years ago.
Thank you, Colonel House. Whatever one thinks of progressivism’s passive supporters, mouthpieces, and dupes, it would be folly to dismiss the movement’s political and intellectual leaders, the true progressives, as merely misguided, incompetent, or ignorant.
Sociopathic, yes; stupid, no.
(Originally published in March 2013)