Beck’s latest move has been to tap into the fear that radical conservatives have of change. He wants his audience to see anyone but those in the Tea Party Movement as dangerous because they want to change things, they want to “progress.” He has said on numerous occasions that he sees the “progressive movement” as a “cancer” that is eating away at both political parties. He says that his war is not just against Obama, but against what Obama epitomizes – the whole progressive movement. He contends that his viewers should fight for getting America back to the way the country was originally founded, when individual liberty meant a limited government that stayed out of people’s lives.
It all sounds so easy: Let’s go back to better times. Let’s reverse the trend of progressivism.
Beck wants to go back to the beginning of the country, when private liberty was based on limited government and a totally free market.
The United States was founded as an experiment in John Locke’s ideas concerning the State. Thomas Jefferson’s words in the first part of the Declaration of Independence are almost a paraphrase of Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government. The idea was a simple one: Individual liberty. Every individual has the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” A government needed to be established that did not curtail these rights. The United States Constitution was written for this purpose.
The right to private liberty was intimately connected to the right to private property. Here was a very progressive idea in its time: that every person has the right to private property. The American value of individual property rights was a major progressive development from previous feudal systems, and even a progression on the earlier Hobbesian view of the Commonwealth. Therefore, this new idea of individual liberty mandated that the government’s main task was to provide the security needed for individuals to own their own possessions. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (written the same year as Jefferson penned the Declaration) laid out the economic implications of John Locke’s individual liberty: a capitalistic market of unrestricted free competition, a market in which the government must not interfere.
This was a major part of why there was an American Revolution: The colonists desired to be free from the British Mercantile System, in which England provided manufactured goods in return for taxes and raw materials from the colonies. With the American experiment in individual property rights, England’s monopolist East India Company could now be in competition with innovative privately owned companies.
The Free Market brought about the Industrial Revolution. The benefits of this progression of Capitalism included the advent of the factory system, mass production, and of mind-boggling inventions. Goods could be created much more efficiently and at lower costs.
But the ideals of Private Liberty were at risk as well. As a result of an unregulated Free Market, the economy was ruled by a few large companies with their urban factories filled with workers who were paid small wages and worked long hours. At this time, the evolutionary ideas of Darwin moved from biology into economics – that it is appropriate for the economically fittest to survive, and everyone else should rightfully perish. Because of the ruthlessness of the free market, members of the working class who had entrepreneurial dreams did not have a chance to get started while smaller, family owned businesses were at risk.
Ironically, the dream of the being freed from the evils of the Mercantile System (where monopolies were protected by the King) led into something very similar to it. The “Robber Barons” like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt had manipulated the economic system and in the process effectively curtailed the private liberty of the American citizenry.
This led the nation to begin regulating business for the common good.
- Without "Progressive" ideas, would the United States even exist?
- In what ways does the idea of "Individual Liberty" have shortcomings?
- As I understand Beck, he wants the United States to revert back to this age of American history. What problems did we experience then, and why would we want to relive those days again?