Walter E. Williams

What's the difference between a progressive, a liberal and a racist? In some cases, not much. President Woodrow Wilson was a leading progressive who believed in notions of racial superiority and inferiority. He was so enthralled with D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" movie, glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, that he invited various dignitaries to the White House to view it with him. During one private screening, President Wilson exclaimed: "It's like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." When President Wilson introduced racial segregation to the civil service, the NAACP and the National Independent Political League protested. Wilson vigorously defended it, arguing that segregation was in the interest of Negroes.

Dr. Thomas Sowell, in "Intellectuals and Race," documents other progressives who were advocates of theories of racial inferiority. They included former presidents of Stanford University and MIT, among others. Eventually, the views of progressives fell out of favor. They changed their name to liberals, but in the latter part of the 20th century, the name liberals fell into disrepute. Now they are back to calling themselves progressives.

I'm not arguing that today's progressives are racists like their predecessors, but they share a contempt for liberty, just as President Wilson did. According to Hillsdale College history professor Paul A. Rahe -- author of "Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift" -- in his National Review Online (4/11/13) article "Progressive Racism," Wilson wanted to persuade his compatriots to get "beyond the Declaration of Independence." President Wilson said the document "did not mention the questions" of his day, adding, "It is of no consequence to us." My question is: Why haven't today's progressives disavowed their racist predecessors?


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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