Sundays With The Christianists: American History Textbooks For Free Enterprise No Matter What
The Progressive Era presents a tricky challenge for ourrightwing Christian U.S. History textbooks. On the one hand, they are firmly in the pro-capitalism cheering section; on the other hand, they can't entirely deny that by the turn of the 20th Century, there was a lot about the free market that wasn't working so great. Happily, they have something of an out, because if capitalism fails to make everyone happy and prosperous, that can be blamed on Sin -- so regulation of business would be unnecessary if only more people turned to Jesus. In any case, both of our textbooks grudgingly admit that Progressives did some good, but also warn that a lot of scary liberal ideas lurked in the background.
As usual, our 8th-grade text America: Land I Love (A Beka, 1994), is happy to explain exactly what students should think about this stuff (and that will be on the test):
Teddy Roosevelt did more than anyone else to popularize the Progressive Movement, a widespread effort to make changes in the American political system. Some of these changes were good, because they introduced reforms to take corruption and inefficiency out of government. But some led to government intervention in business and industry.
Which of course, can only be a bad thing, because FREEDOM. But far worse for Land I Love is the dangerous notion that government can solve problems, which everyone knows is just wrong:
Progressives often made the mistake of believing that government regulation of private property could solve poverty, crime, and other problems of human nature.
Why is believing such a thing a mistake? Didn't you see the sacred words "private property?" We've got our eye on you; don't make us call your parents.
As usual, our 11th/12th-grade text from Bob Jones University Press, United States History for Christian Schools (2001), is a little more willing to do nuance, defining Progressivism as
an ideological movement of the early twentieth century that favored achieving political and social reform through education, wider political participation by all classes of society, and direct government action... Many in the movement were members of the middle and upper classes who had been shocked by the abuses of industrialists, by corruption in government, and by the plight of the poor.
Ah, but while most Progressives were "simply moral Americans whose sense of justice was outraged," there were also some of those dangerous folks that Land I Love warns about:
Some of the progressives, however, were evolutionary in their thinking. In their view, because man had been constantly evolving and improving from a lower form of life to a higher form, he should continue to improve and progress. To these Reform Darwinists, progress was a process of the natural order that could be aided by government intervention. Some Christians strongly opposed this un-Biblical evolutionary view of progress but still supported progressive reforms. For these believers, reform was an "opportunity...[to] do good unto all men"(Gal. 6:10).
Needless to say, those crazy evolutionists failed to recognize that humanity is base and sinful, a dangerous assumption that led to all sorts of foolishness:
For progressives, as historian George Brown Tindall has noted, "The cure for the ills of democracy was more democracy." The progressives, because of their general faith in the basic goodness of man, believed that placing power in the hands of the people would naturally result in better government. For example, William Jennings Bryan said he favored "anything that makes the government more democratic, more popular in form, anything that gives the people more control over government."
For the most part, U.S. History seems willing to live with a fair amount of the democratic reforms that resulted, even if they were based on false assumptions about human nature. No complaints about secret ballots, direct primaries, initiatives and referenda, and other attempts to curb corruption, although the authors do sigh that the 17th amendment's introduction of direct election of Senators "eliminated one of the safeguards which the Founding Fathers had so painstakingly built into our federal system of government."
U.S. History is actually pretty even-handed in its discussion of Progressive interventions in the economy, agreeing that it's a good idea not to have glass and rat feces in meat, for instance, and that unregulated monopolies may occasionally go a little too far, what with the child labor and stuff. On the whole, though, it warns that the road to Big Gummint was paved with good intentions:
It must be stressed that progressives conceived of government intervention as an extension of the idea of direct democracy. The people control the government, progressives argued; therefore, government control of business was really popular control of business. Only after time passed did people realize that popular control of government was more difficult to achieve in reality than in theory and that big government could be the ultimate monopoly.
For its part, Land I Love is loath to acknowledge that government intervention can ever be anything but bad, although it admits that, if you have to have some regulations, they should only be applied to bad people. The authors hold up Teddy Roosevelt as the best possible Progressive because he didn't go too far:
Unlike some of the Progressives, Roosevelt praised private property and the entrepreneurs of industry for building a great nation. But he cautioned that dishonest men were using the system to build up monopolies and trusts that reduced free competition.
The problem is never capitalism. It's only dishonest men, and them, we can deal with. Land I Love rejects the image of TR as a "trust buster," instead explaining that
he did not oppose all trusts. Often, a bigger business can be more efficient and produce goods more cheaply than a smaller one. Roosevelt discriminated between "good” trusts that obeyed the law and ”bad" trusts that set high prices and abused their position. But the more radical Progressives wanted the government to regulate all businesses.
The book leaves to the imagination the question of how exactly regulations that curb only bad behavior without somehow applying to "all businesses," because the main thing to remember is that regulation is bad. In any case, this time around, Land I Love is at least accurate about Roosevelt's own stated views, which is an excuse to pop in this lovely old cartoon:
For the most part, Land I Love really does not trust those darn Progressives. Where U.S. History contrasts reform-minded muckraking journalists with the "yellow" journalists who "reported sensational stories simply to boost sales," Land I Love says that the muckrakers were yellow journalists, "grossly distorting the facts in order to sell their writing or promote radical ideas." In U.S. History, Ida Tarbell's History of the Standard Oil Company (1904) is "a scathing portrait of the unscrupulous, even dishonest, methods used by John D. Rockefeller to build his oil empire." In Land I Love, Tarbell is mentioned in the very next sentence after that accusation of distortion and radicalism, and is dismissed as merely "accusing" Rockefeller of unfair business practices. U.S. History says the muckrakers "served an important purpose...in informing the public" of corruption and injustice, and credits them with sparking significant reforms. Land I Love mostly warns children that they should not trust the liberal media: "Many of these writers intended to promote socialism by exposing what they considered to be flaws in the capitalist system." U.S. History includes a short excerpt from The Jungle and credits its disgusting details about the meatpacking industry with passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act; Land I Love admits it existed.
Still, if there has to be a government, Land I Love sees Teddy Roosevelt as a fairly tolerable guy -- even his conservationism, in this telling, gets crammed into a pro-industry box:
More than any previous President, he worked to establish national parks and forests throughout the United States. Some of these lands were set aside to preserve their natural beauty and to provide a home for wildlife while allowing for recreational use. But most national lands were to be carefully managed -- the forests would be periodically harvested and the mineral resources would be mined as long as the land was reclaimed and the water table restored. President Roosevelt supported the wise stewardship of creation for the benefit of mankind.
No way would Teddy Roosevelt let some stupid fish keep a perfectly useful dam from getting built, by golly.
Finally, on foreign policy, both texts seem mostly OK with the "Roosevelt Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine, which proclaimed that Europe better not interfere in South America. While both books' first editions originated during the Reagan years and the conservative movement's lingering butthurt over Jimmy Carter "giving away" the Panama Canal, Land I Love is definitely much more in the "we stole it fair and square" camp, explaining that "the people of Panama wanted the Americans to build the canal" so they revolted to gain independence from Columbia and "invited" America to help them. The grateful new country then agreed that the "Canal Zone was to remain a possession of the United States forever."
U.S. History is a bit more leery of foreign entanglements; it acknowledges that the "Roosevelt Corollary" ultimately led to constant interventions in Latin American countries' affairs, and notes:
The circumstances under which the United States acquired the canal zone were at least questionable, although the canal clearly benefited most of the nations of the Western Hemisphere. Colombia was understandably resentful, and other Latin American countries also expressed their fear of the United States -- the "Colossus of the North," as they put it. Some congressmen raised ethical objections, but Roosevelt characteristically commented, "I took the Canal Zone and let Congress debate; and while the debate goes on the Canal does also."
And so, once again, we find ourselves in the weird position of praising the textbook from Bob Jones University for its strange devotion to subtlety in some areas -- just as long as they don't involve "Darwinism," of course.
Next Week: Woodrow Wilson and, oh no, the Income Tax & the Federal Reserve. America is Over Also: Triangle factory fire? What Triangle factory fire?.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.