While reading the preface to Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom (I dabble rather than dive into serious history), I came across this quote by Richard T. Ely, an early 20th Century Progressive/Socialist:
We regard the state as an educational and ethical agency whose positive aid is an indispensable condition of human progress. While we recognize the necessity of individual initiative in industrial life, we hold that the doctrine of laissez-faire is unsafe in politics and unsound in morals, and that it suggests an inadequate explanation of the relations between the state and its citizens.
What stands out most to me is the state as an instrument of “positive aid.” This means that instead of the state as an arbiter between parties whose primary purpose is to ensure law and order (protecting against crimes of aggression), the state must take an increasingly active role to facilitate “human progress.”
I find this statement chillingly summarizes not only the far left, like the Socialists and the Trotskyites, but also the center-left of the DNC and the mainstream center-right politics of the GOP. To not believe in this statement, politically-speaking, is to stand on a far extreme in today’s climate.
And yet, I think most Americans would still have a hard time with this statement, specifically, that the state is an unreservedly indispensable tool and “positive aid” whose increased intervention is an unquestionable sign of human progress.
But getting people to believe that Washington (and most state politics, for that matter) is on another, much more statist page, is difficult to accomplish.