Suddenly everyone is talking about the Progressives—but not in the way you would expect. With the forthcoming recall election against California Governor Gray Davis, liberals are decrying with horror the tumultuousness and unpredictability of direct democracy, and singing the praises—somewhat uncharacteristically—of orderly, representative government. Conservatives, meanwhile, have a newfound awe for their old antagonists, which has started shading into some misplaced hyperbole. "California owes a colossal debt toâ€¦ Hiram Johnson. He was the governor who put a recall provision in the state constitution in 1911," writes Fred Barnes in the current Weekly Standard.
Though surprising on the surface, neither of these reactions is entirely new, at least in California. The recall is only a more extreme case of what conservatives here have been doing for decades: turning the Progressives' direct democracy measures, like the initiative process, against the administrative state. And whatever populist nostrums they may regurgitate on the campaign trail, California's liberals have opposed all the most far-reaching and important ballot propositions, from Prop. 13's cap on property taxes, to 209's repudiation of race preferences.
What both sides fail to appreciate fully is that California's fractured, dysfunctional government—which conservatives keep trying to rein in through initiatives and now the recall—is itself one of the legacies of Progressivism. We may thank Hiram Johnson for giving us a cure (of sorts) for what's gone wrong in Sacramento, but we should also remember that he had lot to do with spreading the disease in the first place. More importantly, few understand adequately how the Progressives' instrumental innovations derive from a theoretical understanding of government and human nature that stands foursquare against the constitutional republicanism of America's Founding Fathers.
To explore what all of that means, the Claremont Institute will be sponsoring nine panels on "Progressivism and its Legacy" at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Philadelphia next week. At the same meeting, our friends at The American Public Philosophy Institute will be addressing a very different, though not unrelated, question. As the Progressives sought to use social science to perfect or remake human nature in the political realm, modern biomedical research pursues a similar dubious effort through genetic manipulation. This vast and vital topic will be the subject of a debate between the distinguished political philosophers Robert George and Michael Sandel, "The Ethics of Cloning and Stem-Cell Research: The Embryo and Human Dignity," on Saturday morning.
Specific information on the panel locations will not, unfortunately, be available until the meeting begins. But visit www. apsanet.org to learn more about these and other panels.