Constitution 201: Case Study—Religious Liberty in the Administrative State

This lesson is taught by Dr. Thomas West, the Paul & Dawn Potter Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College.  Dr. West has taught at Hillsdale since 2011, and from 1974-2011 at the University of Dallas.  His courses on American politics include the U.S. Constitution, civil rights, foreign policy, and the political thought of the American Founding.  He also teaches political philosophy, with a focus on Aquinas, Locke, and Hobbes.  Dr. West is a Senior Fellow at Claremont Institute, where he instructs in the Institute’s Publius and Lincoln fellows summer program.  He is the author of “Vindicating the Founders:  Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America.”  Dr. West received his BA from Cornell University, and his PhD from Claremont Graduate University. The Founders believed religious liberty to be the most important single unalienable right because the most crucial outcome of life is the ultimate destiny of the soul, the relation between man and his conscientious understanding of God.  When government stands in the way, it is doing the very worst thing it can do.  The more common understanding in those times in almost all the nations was that government should oppose any religion not sanctioned by that government.  Even in the colonies, there were cases of religious repression.  In 1774, Baptists were imprisoned in Virginia for preaching their faith without a government issued license.  Situations like this offended the advocates of religious liberty, such as Jefferson and Madison.  When Virginia issued its own Declaration of Independence in 1776, protection of religious liberty was an important guarantee. Fast forward to today.  Obamacare mandates that employees must be provided...

Constitution 201: Post 1960’s Progressivism

This lesson is taught by Dr. John Grant, Assistant Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College.  Dr. Grant teaches courses in early modern political philosophy and American political thought.  He received his BA from Eureka College, and his MA and PhD in Politics from the University of Dallas.  Dr. Grant’s research interests include natural law tradition, American foreign policy, and the relationship between theology and politics.  He is an Adjunct Fellow at the Claremont Institute. The Great Society of the mid-1960’s was the culmination of the Old Progressive vision.  President Johnson was within that tradition.  Guided by our government experts, and with no help from “nature’s God,” we would fulfill all human aspirations, material and spiritual.  We would address our racial issues through special attention to the historical conditions that made fair competition impossible for blacks as a group.  Government experts would redistribute resources into newly empowered black communities to lift up the disadvantaged people and strengthen the black family.  We would protect and improve our environment to meet our human spiritual needs.  We would end poverty and rebuild our civilization, accomplishing ends never even believed possible by those who came before us.  All this brought to us by government administrators who knew how to work the levers of reform for the benefit of the people. That boundless faith in the science of government to meet any and all human needs was about to be replaced by a New Progressivism, a modern “liberalism,” that brought new ideas to the Progressive project.  There are continuities and discontinuities in the ideas of the old and new Progressives, and it is worthwhile to...

Constitution 201: The Transformation of America’s Political Institutions

This lesson is taught by Dr. Kevin Portteus, Associate Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, and faculty advisor for Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program.  Dr. Portteus teaches courses in American political thought, and American political institutions.  He is also a visiting graduate faculty member at Ashland University.  Dr. Portteus’ book, Executive Details:  Public Administration and American Constitutionalism, is under review for publication.  He received his BA from Ashland University, his MA and PhD in Politics from the University of Dallas.  Those interested in seeing and hearing this lecture, or any of the others in the series, may register at constitution.hillsdale.edu.  There is no fee. Progressives divide government into two essential parts:  Politics, which is representation of the will of the people; and Administration, which is the development and implementation of civic policies and programs.  When we are taught about the Progressive Era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in our high school history classes, there is focus on Progressive reforms that made government more directly representative:  direct election of senators; initiatives and referendums; and party primaries.  This brought politics closer to the people and improved their ability to express their will for change—especially progressive changes beyond Constitutional limitations.  Yet, Progressives’ more important contribution to American government was the concept of the administrative state, where bureaucrats, relatively free from political control, would ply their specialized expertise in the implementation of that popular will.  The Progressive vision was a politics of broad social policy (“We want clean water and air!”), resulting in declarations of objectives from representative government (a Clean Air and Clean Water Act specifying the broad objectives and not much...

Constitution 201 – Total Regulation: LBJ’s Great Society

This lesson is taught by Dr. Kevin Portteus, Associate Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, and faculty advisor for Washington Hillsdale Internship Program.  Dr. Portteus teaches courses in American political thought, and American political institutions.  He is also a visiting graduate faculty member at Ashland University.  Dr. Portteus’s book, Executive Details:  Public Administration and American Constitutionalism, is under review for publication.  He received his BA from Ashland University, his MA and PhD in Politics from the University of Dallas.  Those interested in seeing and hearing this lecture, or any of the others in the series may register at constitution.hillsdale.edu.  There is no fee. LBJ’s Great Society was the culmination of Progressive thought.  Wilson had argued that federal bureaucratic experts could address and solve modern problems faced by our citizens.  FDR had enacted programs of social justice, including federal regulation of the economy and money transfers to make economic outcomes more equal.  President Johnson had an even more ambitious goal for the administrative state. In 1964, President Johnson delivered the Commencement Address at the University of Michigan.  He introduced the Great Society to the assembled students and to the nation:  “The Great Society is…a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.”  He meant it.  Government bureaucrats would not merely be ad hoc problem solvers.  In the tradition of Progressives like John Dewey, he believed that through state action we could remake our whole society by creating a perfect world in which humans would be transformed by designed uplift programs. ...

Constitution 201: Woodrow Wilson and the Rejection of the Founders’ Principles

This article was originally published here on Hawaii Reporter. This lesson is taught by Dr. Ronald Pestritto, Associate Professor of Politics and Dean of the Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College.  Dr. Pestritto is a senior fellow at Hillsdale’s Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship.  He teaches courses in American politics and political philosophy.  Dr. Pestritto is also a senior fellow at Claremont Institute and an academic fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  He has published extensively, both books and articles, particularly concerning his main focus on the political thought of the Progressives.  He received his BA from Claremont McKenna College, and his MA and PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University.  This lecture was posted on the internet September 10, and those interested may register at constitution.hillsdale.edu.  There is no fee.    The Founders had argued that we were governed by unchanging human nature, permanent truths about the human condition.  This led to the recognition of inalienable individual rights, and the responsibility of a just government to secure them.  While our reason makes us fit for self government, we must also accept that our passions can be dangerous to its just realization.  A constitutional framework must distribute power widely, and establish checks on those powers, to ensure our ultimate reliance on reason and to minimize negative effects from the passions of factions—even majority factions. The Progressives have challenged the universalism of the Founders.  Founding principles were fine for the problems we faced at the end of the eighteenth century.  However, conditions change, bringing new problems.  Government must evolve to meet new challenges, and the...