Progressive Versus Progressive, Part 5: Virtue and the Family

The Old Progressives are notably different from the New Progressives of today in another very conspicuous way: the Old Progressives would fit easily into today’s “pro-family movement,” exclusively associated typically but erroneously with the religious right.
Teddy Roosevelt’s views on character and virtue (especially warlike virtue) are well known. My favorite example is from one of the more interesting of the Progressives, Sen. Albert J. Beveridge, whom I have mentioned in this series before. In his speeches can be found aphorisms such as “The highest human purpose is the development of the soul of man, or “The purpose of this Republic is to produce manhood and womanhood. After all, the whole object of civilization is character.” Can anyone imagine Al Franken talking this way?
In addition to his massive biography of John Marshall and his unfinished biography of Lincoln, Beveridge also wrote a charming short book entitled The Young Man and the World. It was a work of almost Dear Abby-style advice for ambitious up-and-comers, on everything from exercise, diet, smoking and drinking (Beveridge frowned upon both unfortunately), whether to go to college and if so what kind of clubs to join or avoid, what literature to read, the status of women, how to be a good lawyer, and many more. He was clearly a “family values” man:

No wonder that Bismarck considered the perpetuation of the German home. . . the purpose and end of all statesmanship. . . It would be far better for America if our public men were more interested in these simple, vital, elemental matters than in “great problems of statesmanship,” many of which, on analysis, are found to be imaginary and suppositious.

It could hardly be better put by Calvin Coolidge. The contrast with the scope and scale of Progressivism today is obvious. The mind boggles at the thought of Cass Sunstein offering character advice to young adults, or suggesting particular paths of virtue. This is regarded by contemporary Progressives as a purely private matter, best left to Bill Bennett and his books of virtue.


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