Progressive government has fully entrenched progressive theory into everyone’s daily life with freedom itself feeling oppressed for a growing number of people. Rules and regulations outnumber legislative, constitutional law. Administrative law is the law of the land, often trumping supreme law in rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court. Rather than a separation of powers lives are controlled through delegated powers.
Liberty is restricted to the liberty left within the rules set by bureaucrats politically influenced by corporations, causes, and factions. Should the executive or administrator want a change in regulations legislative debate is often by-passed simply through the edict of a new or altered rule. Special welfare exceeds general welfare and citizens are currently experiencing a growing wave of new rules that suddenly alter their pursuit of happiness.
When the framers of the progressive movement envisioned the application of administrative law in place of constitutional law a key focus was ending political influence and corruption. In 1885 Woodrow Wilson stated, “The period of constitution-making is passed now. We have reached a new territory in which we need new guides, the vast territory of administration.” By 1893 another emerging leader of the rising progressive movement, Frank Goodnow, echoed Wilson’s views;
“The great problems of modern public law are almost exclusively administrative. While the age that has passed was one of constitutional, the present age is one of administrative reform.”
This reform required delegating powers to the administrative experts that could more wisely craft the intricate details of rules and regulations to enact any law. Their salaries and safety in position, not having to be subjected to elections, would help insure an honest application of the laws, proper enforcement and adjudication of the laws, and an open hearing of any complaints about the laws. Elected officials were too tied to cronyism, corruption, and an ever increasing need for campaign funding to continue to hold office. The spoils system was the result of the constitution’s separation while administrative delegation would resolve these errors in current constitutional order.
Their theory was based on a belief human nature had advanced to a point administrative experts would be more diligent in protecting the people than politicians. It was a historical error, by the original framers of the US Constitution, not to have recognized mankind’s advancement. It was also an error to believe so deeply in individual liberty. “It was the fear of political tyranny through which liberty might be lost which led to the adoption of the theories of checks and balances and of the separation of powers,” Goodnow proclaimed. Constitutional theory (Goodnow, Wilson, and many European political experts of the day believed) was unfounded having no historical justification. As Germany, England, and France moved toward administrative law there was no harm in learning, no problem in creating a ‘living’ constitution based on sound theory instead of such old, outdated notions prevalent in days long past.
Another major problem with constitutional law was the notion rights were natural, given from a Creator.
“The rights which [an individual] possesses are, it is believed, conferred upon him, not by his Creator, but rather by society to which he belongs. What they are is to be determined by the legislative authority in view of the needs of that society. Social expediency, rather than natural right, is thus to determine the sphere of individual freedom of action.” (Goodnow, The American Conception of Liberty and Government, p. 11)
As the country moved toward industrialization and as immigrants poured in from European nations already moving toward administrative law the time was ripe for the Progressive Era. Over a hundred years have passed. Implementing more centralized administration in the United States has been poorly executed. Nobody wanted to repeal the Supreme Law, it was still too revered by the population.
Instead a mixed up approach to governing has grown from the attempts to supplant constitutional law in favor of ever increasing federal administrative law. Is the new rule a violation of the Constitution? Can an executive simply rewrite regulation to alter law without a need to seek out the council of the legislative branch? Will the Supreme Court rule in favor of the Supreme Law or the administrative law? Since 1935 the answer has been largely administrative as the monstrosity continues to snarl into a Gordian knot of confused law, authority, and freedom.
Still the political landscape is dominated by those promising more progress toward the ultimate vision of pure administrative efficiency. Whether through more progressive reforms, rules, and regulations or by something regaining popularity this election cycle, socialism. Progressives simply believe the government is failing not due to the rise of the administrative state but due to the Supreme Law still hindering the progress, still binding the promise from reaching fruition.
Conservatives today are trying to conserve a form of government adulterated by the mixed system in place today. Some say they want to restore the Constitution but do they really believe they can rip out the bureaucracy at this point? What we have today is a system of centralized, administrative law controlled by bureaucrats and their corporate connections, is this what they want to conserve?
Politicians join in this mixed system through the growth of a lobbying class working in conjunction with political action committees. The legislative branches at the general and state level are factionally controlled through the tradition of majority and minority leadership roles dominated by the two major parties despite over a third of the voting public not belonging to either party. Their message of conservatism gets more muddied with each passing day.
The U.S. Constitution has been nearly killed off, choked out like a frail lawn overrun by a wide variety of weeds. The vast administrative state we are dealing with does not have an ability to sustain itself, this we do know from history. Regulating freedom through progressive government failed in the three main countries the Progressive Era founders relied on to support their theories, Germany, England, and France; it will fail here. How radical the ensuing failure will be is the one question many of us still must grapple with answering.