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Sat Feb 23, 2013, 09:44 AM

An eloquent summation of the progressive movement from 1912, from Elihu Root.

This is an excerpt from an address to the New York Sate Bar Association in 1912, which I stumbled across reading "The Oxford History of the American People" - a great book, btw. For those who don't know, keep in mind that Elihu Root was at one point Secretary of War and then Secretary of State - and the 2nd American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, after Theodore Roosevelt.

What impressed me the most about Root's remarks was how he tied the need for progressive reforms to the permanent loss of individualism in a high-powered, highly-specialized modern society. That the notion that we are independent free agents like we were in colonial times (if we were lucky enough to be the right race, gender, and own property), is no longer true, if it ever was. That if economic justice is to be done, that government must act on behalf of the individual citizen. This is powerful stuff, imo, coming from such an admired leader of the time, and more importantly, providing the "why" to the progressive movement in terms that even an "original intent" guy like Antonin Scalia could understand.


"The real difficulty appears to be that the new conditions incident to the extraordinary industrial development of the last half century are continuously and progressively demanding the readjustment of the relations between great bodies of men and the establishment of new legal rights and obligations not contemplated when existing laws were passed or existing limitations upon the powers of government were prescribed in our Constitution.

In place of the old individual independence of life in which every healthy and intelligent citizen was competent to take care of himself and his family, we have come to a high degree of interdependence in which the greater part of our people have to rely for all the necessities of life upon the systematized co-operation of a vast number of other men working through complicated industrial and commercial machinery.

Instead of the completeness of individual effort working out its own results in obtaining food and clothing and shelter, we have specialization and division of labor which leaves each individual unable to apply his industry and intelligence except in co-operation with a great number of others whose activity conjoined to his is necessary to produce any useful result.

Instead of the give and take of free individual contact, the tremendous power of organization has combined great aggregations of capital in enormous industrial establishments working through vast agencies of commerce and employing great masses of men in movements of production and transportation and trade, so great in the mass that each individual concerned in them is quite helpless by himself.

The relations between the employer and the employed, between the owners of aggregated capital and the units of organized labor, between the small producer the small trader, the consumer, and the great transporting and manufacturing and distributing agencies, all present new questions for the solution of which the old reliance upon the free action of individual wills appears quite inadequate. And in many directions the intervention of that organized control which we call government seems necessary to produce the same result of justice and right conduct which obtained through the attrition of individuals before the new conditions arose."

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