American Constitutionalism and the Legacy of Progressivism

The Annual James Madison Program May Conference

May 21, 2012
American Constitutionalism conference poster

Keynote Address by James W. Ceaser, Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics, Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, University of Virginia

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the election of 1912, which retired William Howard Taft from the presidency and elevated Woodrow Wilson in his place.  That election featured a stark contrast between, on the one hand, a progressivism that sought to increase the power of government with a view to ameliorating economic inequality, and, on the other, an older constitutional conservatism committed to more strictly limited government.  2012 promises to see an election of no less historical import, and one involving similar themes.  With the election in 2008 of Barack Obama, progressivism seemed once again ascendant, and the president and his supporters in Congress enacted ambitious legislation, most especially the health care act, animated by a progressive impulse to increase government’s reach with the aim of addressing social and economic inequalities.  This agenda, however, also provoked strenuous opposition.  That opposition gave rise to a new movement in American politics, the “tea party,” many of whose members have criticized the president’s agenda not only as imprudently ambitious, but even as transcending constitutional limits on federal power.

These parallels remind us that the contest between progressivism and constitutional conservatism is an enduring aspect of modern American politics, one that may reflect a permanent tension in the nature of our regime.  With a view to understanding that contest and that tension, along with their historical and contemporary implications for our politics, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and the Association for the Study of Free Institutions are pleased to announce a conference on American Constitutionalism and the Legacy of Progressivism.  The program includes scholars from a variety of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities speaking on issues relating to this theme.  We seek to address a number of questions: How has progressivism influenced the development of American institutions?  Has it merely adapted those institutions to new circumstances, or has it transformed them radically from their original character?  What ideas and issues were contested in the election of 1912, and to what extent are they still in play today?  What is the relationship of progressivism to the American founding?  Can it claim to have philosophic roots in the founding, or does it represent ideas alien to the American regime as it was first established?  How has progressivism influenced the development of American law and constitutional interpretation?  Finally, and most generally, how does progressivism shape contemporary American politics and culture, and what is likely to be the future of its influence?

Progressivism and Institutional Change
John J. Dinan, Wake Forest University
Kenneth P. Miller, Princeton University & Claremont McKenna College
Ralph A. Rossum, Claremont McKenna College
Chair: William B. Allen, Michigan State University

The Election of 1912
Louise W. Knight, Northwestern University
Sidney M. Milkis, University of Virginia
Nick Salvatore, Cornell University
Chair: Daniel K. Williams, Princeton University & University of West Georgia

Progressivism and the American Founding
Alan R. Gibson, California State University, Chico
Charles R. Kesler, Claremont McKenna College
Johnathan O’Neill, Georgia Southern University
William Kristol, The Weekly Standard
Chair: Carson L. Holloway, University of Nebraska, Omaha

American Law and the Legacy of Progressivism
Barry Cushman, Princeton University & University of Virginia
Ken I. Kersch, Boston College
Paul D. Moreno, Hillsdale College
Bradley C.  S. Watson, St. Vincent College
Chair: Keith E. Whittington, Princeton University

The Legacy of Progressivism in Contemporary American Politics and Culture: A Roundtable Discussion
James W. Ceaser, University of Virginia
Patrick J. Deneen, Georgetown University
Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg College
William Kristol, The Weekly Standard
Chair: Robert P. George, Princeton University

Video:

Presentation of Award of the Association for the Study of Free Institutions to James W. Ceaser

Progressivism and Institutional Change

The Election of 1912

Progressivism and the American Founding

American Law and the Legacy of Progressivism

The Legacy of Progressivism in Contemporary American Politics and Culture: A Roundtable Discussion

Location:

Lewis Library 120

Cosponsored by:

  • The Association for the Study of Free Institutions, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Photo Album:

  • James Caesar lecture
  • James Caesar lecture
  • James Caesar lecture