Woodrow Wilson is best known for expressing his intent, in his April 1917 war message to Congress, to make the world “safe for democracy.” As I say in my commentary, “Woodrow Wilson’s Case Against the Constitution,” published on May 31, by the Washington Times: “Much less known is the key role Wilson earlier played – as a professor of political science and president of Princeton University – in the Progressive Era project to ‘make the United States safe for the modern administrative state.’”
But long before becoming president, as a political science professor and then president of Princeton University, Wilson’s aim was nothing less than establishing the theoretical basis for remaking the American system of government in accordance with p then-emerging Progressive Era ideals. As my piece shows, Wilson “exhibited remarkably little reticence regarding his objective – and the need, in his view, to alter the then-prevailing understanding of the Constitution’s dictates.”
For Wilson – and his Progressive acolytes – traditional understandings of the Constitution, especially those relating to separation of powers and popular consent, were obstacles to be overcome. In their view, “modern government” should be guided by administrative agency “experts” with specialized knowledge beyond the ken of ordinary Americans – and that these experts shouldn’t be unduly constrained by ordinary notions of democratic rule or constitutional constraints.
After explaining how Wilsonian theory and Progressive Era conceptions of government have led to today’s burgeoning administrative state, I pose this question near the end of my essay: “Have Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era theorists so thoroughly prevailed that surrender is the only option?”
Although largely a subject for another day, “for starters” I do point the way for at least imposing some constraints on the exercise of overly broad agency discretion.
The entire “Woodrow Wilson’s Case Against the Constitution” Washington Times commentary is here.