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From Kennedy 's Myth to Johnson 's Dream�215

- Bven Kennedy's nondefense policies were sold as the moral anaHe justified
more�education spending#as Johnson�'oul<d after him#on the explicit grounds that
we needed to stay�competitive with the Soviets. Kennedy's tax cuts#aimed to
counteract the worst stock�market crash since the Depression#were�implemented not
in the spirit of supply-side economics (as some�conservatives are wont to
insinuate) but as a form of Keynesianism,�justified in the language of Cold War
competition. Indeed, Kennedy�Kennedy promised to transcend ideology in the name of
what�3uld later be described as cool pragmatism. Like the pragmatists�caine before
him, he eschewed labels, believing that he was beyond right and left.�Instead, he
shared Robert McNamara's confidence that "every problem could be solved"�by
technocratic means.�Once again the Third Way defined ideological sophistication.
In his�1962 Yale commencement address, President Kennedy explained�that "nolitical
labels and ideolosical aDDroaches are irrelevant to the�solution" of today's
challenges. "Most of the problems ... that we�These problems "deal�with questions
which are now beyond the comprehension of most�men" and should therefore be len to
uic expens to settle without subjecting them�to divisive democratic debate.18�Once
again, Kennedy's famous declaration "And so, my fellow�Americans: ask not what
your country can do for you#ask what you�can do for your country" is seen today as
a fine patriotic tum of�phrase. L�But what is often missed is the historical
context and motivation. Kennedy was trying�to re-create the�unity of World War II
in the same way FDR had tried to revive the�unity of World War I. His declaration
that we should put a man on�the moon was not the result of Kennedy's profound
farsightedness,�nor even of his desire to wallop the Russians. Rather, it was his
best�option for finding a moral equivalent of war.�HE DIED FOR LIBERALISM�
212�i." Five days atter Kennedy's�death, the new president, Lyndon Johnson, capped
his address to a�joint session of Congress by asking that Americans "put an end
to�the teachina anri the preaching of hate and evil and violence" and�tum away
from "the apostles of bittemess and bigotry."19�Even after the nature of the
assassination was more clear, the notion that "hate"�and America's collective sin
killed Kennedy endured.�But the�^ennedy presidency represented something more
profound. It�marked the final evolution of Progressivism into a full-blown
religion and a national�cult of the state.�John F. Kennedy represented the cult of
personality tradition of�American liberalism. He wanted to be a great man in the
mold of�American uoemusiu. ^# .�Lyndon Baines Johnson, a�He would transform
the�Kennedy personality cult into a cult ofgovernment. To this end, LBJ,�a crafty
and clever politician, made shameless use of JFK's assassination, converting�it
into precisely the sort of transformative national�crisis that had always eluded
Kennedy himself. His legacy, the modem welfare state,�represents the ultimate
fruition of a progressive�statist tradition going back to Woodrow Wilson.�As we've
seen, Wilson and the progressives laid the intellectual�foundations for the
divinized liberal state. The progressives, it�Kennedy's contribution to the
permanent welfare state was for the�most part stylistic, as we ve seen. but his
"martyrdom" provided a�profound psychological crisis that proved useful for the
promotion of�liberal goals and ideas�Dolitical agenda but to transfonn
Progressivism itself into a fullblown mass political�religion. For the first time,
the progressive�dream could be pursued without reservation during a time of
prosperity and relative�peacf�THE BIRTH OF THE LIBERAL GOD-STATE�215�It is now
necessary to take what mav seem like�a sharp detour to address the cult of the
state itself in American liberalism. Witl�Consider the�1912 Progressive Party
convention. The New York Times described it "I�as a "convention of fanatics," at
which political speeches were punctuated bv the�singing of hymns and shouts of
"Amen!" "It was not a�The American Social Gospel and Christian sociology
movements�essentially sought to bend Christianity to the progressive social�' "
Left-wing clergy like Rauschenbusch�were convinced that the state was the
instmment of God and that collectivism was�the new order sanctioned by
Jesus.28�Conservative theologians argued that only the�individual could be born
again. The progressive Christians claimed�that individuals no longer mattered and
that onlv the state could�serve as divine intercessor. The Baptist Social Gospel
preacher argued that the state�must become "the medium through which�the�guea uiai
uic siaie musi oecome me mcuiuui uu^c>its righteousness."29�Inspiration for such
ideas came from an improbable source:�Bismarck's Pmssia. Bismarck inspired
American progressives in�myriad ways, some of which have been touched on already.
First, he�was a centralizer, a uniter, a European Lincoln who brought disparate
regions and�factions under the yoke of the state, heedless of�dissent. Second, he
was the innovator of top-down socialism, which�pioneered many of the welfare state
programs the progressives�yeamed for: pensions, health insurance, worker safety
measures,�eight-hour workdays, and so on. Bismarck's efficiency at
delivering�programs without the messiness of "excessive" democracy set
the�"recedent for the idea that "great men," modemizers, and "men of�action" could
do what the leaders of decadent and decaying democMoreover, Bismarck's�socialism
from above gelded classical liberalism in Gennany and helped to hobble�it around
the globe.�This�was precisely his purpose. Bismarck wanted to forestall greater
socialist or democratic�radicalism by giving the people what they�wanted without
having them vote for it. To this end he bought off the�left-leaning reformers who
didn't particularly care about limited�^ovemment or liberal constitutionalism. At
the same time, he methodically marginalized,�and in many cases cmshed, the
classical or�limited-state liberals (a similar dynamic transpired in the
United�States during Worid War i). Hence, in Germany, both left and right�became
in effect statist ideologies, and the two sides fought over�who would get to
impose its vision on society. Liberalism, defined�. Liberalism, defined�SFideology
of individual freedom and democratic govemment,�slowlv atrophied and died in
Germany because Bismarck denied it a�popular constituency. In its place was the
stadst liberalism of Dewey�r>nd DuBois, Wilson and FDR, a liberalism defined by
economic en
;r. The important point about the�K'nitnrlcamnf. lost on so many contemporary
commentators, is that it�was a liberal phenomenon. Gennan progressives declared
war on�backward Catholicism, believing that their blending of science and a�form
of nationalistic Social Gospel was the ideologv of the future. It�ody. For the
"modem" clergy this�meant that politics was a religious calling; after all,
politics is notbing less�than the effort to define the mission ofthe state, and
the�state�was the hand of God.�Virtually all of the leading progressive
intellectuals shared this�"organic" and spiritual understanding of
politics#perhaps none�more than Richard Ely. "God works through the State in
carrying out�His purposes more universally than through any other
institution"�proclaimed the founder of the American Economic Association and�the
so-called Wisconsin School of progressivism. The state, he insisted, "is
religious�in its essence" and there is no comer of human�existence beyond the
scope of its authority. A mentor to Wilson and�Ely was a
postmillennialist�Christian who defined the state as "a mighty force in
furthering�God's kingdom and establishing righteous relations."31 Many of�.
The�American Economic Association, its mission statement dedicated to�uniting
church, state, and science to secure America's redemption,�served as both the
intellectual engine of progressive social policy�and a de facto organ ofthe Social
Gospel movement. More than sixty�clergymen#roughly halfthe group's roster#counted
themselves as�members. Later, durine World War I. �Virtiiallv all of the leading
progressive intellectuals shared this�"organic" and spiritual understanding of
politics#perhaps none�no^e than Richard Ely.'�'God works through the State in
carrying out�Fhe state, he insisted, "is religious in its essence," and there is
no comer of human�^beyond the scope of its authority. A mentor to Wilson and�a
great influence on Teddy Roosevelt, Ely was a postmillennialist�It made little
sense to talk about progressives as a group distinct�from the theocratic zealots
trying to create a new God-state. The�American Economic Association, its mission
statement dedicated to�uniting church, state, and science to secure America's
redemption,�served as both the intellectual engine of progressive social
policy�and a de facto organ ofthe Social Gospel movement. Mor�With Woodrow Wilson,
it is impossible to senarate the nriest from�the professor. From early essays with
such titles as "Christ's Army"�The war only served to intensify these impulses.
"The Past and the�Present are in deadly grapple," he declared. His goal was the
complete "destruction�of every arbitrary power anywhere ... that can�disturb the
peace of the world" and the "settlement of every question" facing mankind.�Wilson
advocated "Force! Force to the utmost! Force without stint or limit! The
righteous�and triumphant�Force which shall make Right the law of the worid, and
cast every�selfish dominion down in the dust."�Wilson sharprl with other fascist
leaders a firm conviction that his�organic connection with "the people" was
absolute and transcended�the mere mechanics of democrflcv "Sr� sincerelv do I
believe these�That Wilson's govemment intmded deeply into the private sector�in
unprecedented ways is indisputable. It launched the effort, carried�forward by
FDR, of tuming the economy into a "cooperative" enterprise where labor.�business.
and govemment sat around a�table and�hashed things out on their own. Such a
svstem#thev called it syndicalism, corporatism,�and fascism in Europe#sounds
attractive on�paper, but inevitably it serves to benefit the people inside the
room�and few others. When Wilson's dollar-a-year men weren't rewarding�their
respective industries, thev wprp subiecting more of the private�sector to
govemment control. Wilson's planners set prices on almost�every commodity, fixed
wages, commandeered the private ryiilrnark.�created a vast machinery for the
policing of thought crimes, and even�tried to dictate the menu of every family
meal.35�Wilson's war socialism was temporary, but its legacy was permanent. The
War Industries�Board and cartels closed shop after�the war,�but the precedent they
set would prove too attractive for progressives�to abandon.�While America was the
victor in World War I, Wilson and the progressives lost their�war at home. The
govemment's deep penetration�into civil society seemed forgivable during a war but
was unacceptable during peace.�Likewise, the artificial economic boom came�to�an
end. Moreover, the Treaty of Versailles, which was supposed to�justify every
imposition and sacrifice, proved a disappointing riot of�hypocrisies and false
promises.�But the progressive faith endured. Liberal intellectuals and activists
insisted during�the 1920s that Wilson's war socialism�had�been a smashing success
and its failures a result of insufficient zeal.�"We planned in war" became their
slogan. Alas, they couldn't conand more to admire�the Bismarckian approach of top-
down socialMarxist emphasis on scientific socialism�and social engineering
infected American Progressivism. And since science isn't open�to�democratic
debate, an arrogant literal-mindedness took over Progressivism.�It was also around
this time that through a dexterous sleight of�haiuji Progressivism came to be
renamed "liberalism." In the past,�liberalism had referred to political and
economic liberty as understood by Enlightenment�thinkers like John Locke and
Adam�Smith.�For them, the ultimate desideratum was maximum individual freedom
under the benign�protection of a minimalist state. The�progresThe progressives,
led by Dewey, subtly changed the meaning of this term,�importing the Pmssian
vision of liberalism as the alleviation of material and educational�poverty, and
liberation from old dogmas and�old faiths. For progressives liberty no longer
meant freedom from�tyranny, but freedom from want, freedom to be a "constmctive"
citzen,, the Rousseauian�and Hegelian "freedom" of living in accord�with the state
and the general will. Classical liberals were now�routinely called conservatives,
while devotees of social control�were dubbed liberals. Thus in 1935 John Dewey
would write in�Given this worldview, it shouldn't be surprising that so many
liberals believed the�Soviet Union was the freest place on�earth. In a
sed".tane�Addams also paUed the Soviets "the greatest social exoeriment
in�history."37 Freed from the dogmas of the past, and adhering to evoluhistory"37
Freed�from the dogmas of the past, and adhering to evolutionary imperatives,
nagmausis�oelieved that even states must�"leam by doing"#even if that meant, once
again, that the new�Jacobins had to unleash terror on those who would not comply
with�the general will.�For a generation progressives had complained that
America�lacked, in effect, a Volksgeist, a singular general will that could
fuel�this conception of a God-state. When the stock market crashed in�1929, they
believed their shining moment had retumed.�"[T]he United States in the 1920s "
writes William Leuchtenburg,�"had almost no institutional structure to which
Europeans would accord the term 'the�State.' " Beyond the post office, most
people�had�very little interaction with or dependence on "the govemment
in�Washington"38 The New Deal changed all that. It represented the last�stage in
the transformation of American liberalism, whereby the�U.S. govemment became a
European "state" and liberalism a political religion.�As economic policy, the New
Deal was a failure. If anything, it�likely prolonged the Depression. And yet we
are constantly told that�the New Deal remains the greatest domestic accomplishment
of the�United States in the twentieth century and a model liberals constantly wish
to emulate,�preserve, and restore. In 2007 Nancy Pelosi�reportedly said that three
words prove the Democrats aren't out of�ideas: "Franklin Delano Roosevelt."39 Why
such devotion? The answer most often offered�is that the New Deal gave Americans
"hope"�and "faith" in a "cause larger than themselves" Hope for what^ Faith�in
what'7 What "cause"? The answer: the liberal God-state or, if you�prefer, the
Great Society#which is merelv that society govemed by�the God-state in accordance
with the general will.�The New Deal amounted to a religious breakthrough
for�American liberalism. Not only had faith in the liberal ideal become�thoroughly
religious in nature#irrational, dogmatic, mythological#but many smart�liberals
recognized this fact and welcomed it.�In 1934 Dewey had defined the battle for the
liberal ideal as a "religious quality"�in and of itself. Thurman Amold, one of the
New�Deal's most influential intellectuals, proposed that Americans be�taught a new
"religion of govemment," which would finally liberate�the public from its
superstitions about individualism and free markets.40 It was�as Robespierre
insisted: the "religious instinct"�must be�
The apotheosis of Uberal aspirations under FDR took place not�during the New Deal
but during World War II. Roosevelt in his 1944�State of the Union address proposed
what he called a "second Bill of�Rights." But this was really an argument for a
new Bill of Rights,�tuming the original on its head. "Necessitous men are not free
men,"�he declared. Therefore the state must provide a "new basis of security and
prosperity."�Among the new rights on offer were�"a useful�and remunerativejob," "a
decent home;' "adequate medical care and�the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good
health," "adequate protection from the�economic fears of old age, sickness,
accident,�and unemployment" and "a good education." This second Bill of
Rights�remains the spiritual lodestar of liberal aspirations to this
day.41�PURGING THE DEMONS WITHIN�Fhe war against Hitler was as pristine an example
of good versus evil�as we've seen in the history of warfare. But that doesn't mean
the�war (and the New Deal mobilization) had only salutary effects.�People grew
accustomed to following the exhortations of elites#in�the press, at leading
institutions, and in govemment#without much�flection or skepticism. These elites
told the American public that�the war and state planning had "saved" Westem
civilization and that�it was now America's job to keep it safe.�ovemment was
now�tmly mn by experts. The public consensus was favorable to liberal�ambitions.
Classical liberalism seemed permanently discredited.�Even the utopian dream of a
new world order and, perhaps, a world�govemment envisioned by Wilson, H. G. Wells,
and manv others�was given new life by the creation of the United Nations. The nrob
The problem for liberalism was that the new enemy on the horizon wasn't�from the
risht but from the left. For liberals in the late 1920s and�early 1930s the Soviet
Union was like Bismarck's Pmssia a eeneration earlier#a model�to be emulated.
During the 1930s the Soviets�were on the front line fighting the fascist threat.
In the 1940s the�Soviets were our allies. But after the war it soon became clear
that�Soviet intentions weren't that honorable and that Soviet methods�were
embarrassingly difficult to distinguish from Nazi methods.�ere is a modem notion
that liberals didn't disapprove of or oppose anti-communism;�theyjust opposed
McCarthyite excesses. The�problem is that communists and liberals have always made
allowances for McCarthyite�tactics when it is one of their enemies getThe House
Un-American Activities Committee,�after�all, was founded by a progressive
Democrat, Samuel Dickstein, to�investigate Gennan sympathizers. During the barely
remembered�Much like Wilson, FDR believed that�any domestic dissent was treachery
and insisted that his Department�of Justice persecute his opponents. At the height
of the madness. .�One might excuse such tactics as a necessary evil in the
fight�against Nazism. But the more poignant hypocrisy is that American�communists
did the same thing to other American communists. The�Smith Act, which made it
illegal to belong to an organization that advocated the�overthrow of the United
States, was a linchpin of�\merican fascism, according to many leftists. Bi�But
American comBut that was a sideshow far from public eyes. After the war,
liberals�could not tolerate such tactics when aimed at their�own ranks.�Their
denial that their own ideas and history had any link with totalitarianism was�so
total that anybody who suggested otherwise had�to�be destroyed. Whittaker Chambers
demonstrated this when he accurately identified�Alger Hiss, a scion of American
liberalism, as a�communist. The establishment rallied around Hiss while it
demonized Chambers as a�liar, a psychopath, a fascist.43�Joseph McCarthy could not
be so easily dismissed, largely be;ause he was a U.S. senator.�Despite his flaws
and unforgivable�excesses, he accurately called attention to the fact that much
of�the liberal establishment had been Mested with communists and�communist
sympathizers. For that crime he, too, was dubbed a fascist.�You will also hear
that McCarthyism represents a grotesque distortion of patriotism,�jingoism, and
the like. This is a more complicated�complaint, though it's worth remembering that
many on the left�think nearly any exhortation to patriotism is fascist. Still, it
is tme�ter. But far from being right-wing, this sentiment�was in fact a throwback
to traditional left-wing populist politics. Red�baiting, witch hunts, censorship,
and the like were a tradition in good�standing among Wisconsin progressives and
populists.�Today few remember that McCarthy's political roots lay firmly in�the
Progressive Era. McCarthy was, after all, a populist progressive�from quite
arguably the most progressive state in the Union, Richard�Ely's and Robert La
Follette's Wisconsin. Joe�What I am saying is that what it meant to be a liberal
was changing�very rapidly after World War II. And once again, the losers in
a�liberal civil war#the right wing of the left#weie demonized.�Liberalism was in
effect shedding its unrefined elements, throwing�off the husk of the Social Gospel
and all of that God talk. Had not�the Holocaust proved that God was dead? The old
liberals increasliberals needed something�that could unite�and revive this
trinity. They found the glue they needed in psychology.�A handful of immensely
influential Marxist theorists, mostly�Germans from the so-called Frankfurt School
(transplanted to�Columbia University beginning in the 1930s), married
psychology�and Marxism to provide a new vocabulary for liberalism. These
theorists#led by Theodor�Adomo, Max Horkheimer, Erich Fromm,�and Herbert
Marcuse#tried to explain why fascism had been more�popular than communism in much
ofEurope. Borrowing from Freud�described Nazism and Fascism as�forms ofmass
psychosis. That was plausible enough, but their analyis also held that�since
Marxism was objectively superior to its alterlatives, the masses, the
bourgeoisie,�and anyone else who disagreed�with them had to be, quite literally,
mad.�^ For McClosky, Adomo, and establishment liberals generally, conservatism was
at�best the human face�of the madness of Nazi-style fascism.�iut the tactic was
more sophisticated than that.�The essential argument was brilliant in its
simplicity. The original�Men who cannot handle "progress"�respond violently
because they have "authoritarian personalities."�So, in effect, anyone who
disagrees with the aims, scope, and methods of liberalism�is suffering from a
mental defect, commonly�known as fascism.�American history was a tale of liberals
decapitating fascist Hydra�heads in every chapter. His work dripped with the
language of The�Authoritarian Persondlity. In "Pseudo-Conservative Revolt"#which�
?ecause it showed them how to conduct political criticism in psychiatric
categories,�to make those categories�bear the�weight of political criticism. This
procedure excused them from the�difficult work ofjudgment and argumentation.
Instead of arguing with�opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric
grounds."45�Indeed, modem psychology was a perfect substitute for the Social
Gospel, militarism,�Thurman Amold's�"religion of govemment," "social control," and
even eugenics.�Whereas progressives were once determined to weed out the
biologically unfit, they�now directed the same energies to the psychologically
unfit�A wave of liberal theologians met the psychiatrists halfway, arguing that
various�neuroses were the product of social alienation and�that traditional
religion should reorient itself toward healing them.�Psychiatry#and
"relevance"#became the new standards for clergy�everywhere. For Paul Tillich, the
source of salvation would be a re�defining and recombining of the secular and the
sacred, rendering�politics, psychiatry, and religion all parts of the same
seamless web.�the liberal pattem. Liberals love populism, when it comes from
the�left. But whenever the people's populist desires are at cross-purposes�with
the agenda of the left, suddenly "reaction," "extremism," and of�course "fascism"
are loosed upon the land. Bill Clinton titled his�"blueprint" for America Putting
People First, but when the Deople�rejected his agenda, we were informed that
"angry white men" (read�white "authoritarian personalities") were a threat to the
Republic.�Similarly, when the people supported New Deal social planners, one�could
barely find an inch of daylight between Progressivism and�populism. But when the
same people had become fed up with socialism from above, they�became "paranoid"
and dangerous, susceptible�to diseases of the mind and fascistic manipulation.
Hence, liberal social planners�were all the more justified in their efforts to
"fix" the�people, to reorient their dysfunctional inner lives, to give
them�"meaning." It was all reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht's famous quip:�"Would it
not be easier ... for the govemment / To dissolve the people / And