Progressive Political Theory, Contemporary Politics, and the REINS Act


This draft chapter was prepared for a conference (hosted at St. Vincent’s College, Pennsylvania) and for a book, both directed toward an educated lay audience, on critiques by leading Progressive theorists and statesmen of American constitutionalism. The chapter explains why the main themes of the book continue to resonate in contemporary politics. Early Progressive arguments in favor of centralized administrative governance contributed to the structure of national regulatory and welfare state programs later associated with the New Deal and Great Society. Separately, although centralized administrative governance is politically quite attractive, it is also coming under criticism by prominent political opponents as a “Progressive” institution. Finally, these criticisms are part of a broader conflict between citizens who identify with the Tea Party movement and those who identify with government by apolitical administration. As viewed in the terms of classical political theory, this opposition is a conflict between two different groups of elites for pre-eminence in the American political regime. The writings of early Progressive theorists make extremely clear the claims of the elites who seek pre-eminence in a system of centralized administrative governance. Throughout, the chapter illustrates with contemporary examples, including the REINS Act, the Schoolhouse Rock episode “I’m Just a Bill,” and references to that episode in recent judicial opinions and popular entertainment addressing administrative policy-making.