The New Freedom and The New Nationalism: Differing Brands of Progressive Thought – Jake Berman

Woodrow Wilson is clearly very wary of trusts in his “New Freedom” speech. He devotes most of his speech to explaining exactly why trusts are a danger to America. In doing so, he is careful to draw a distinction between natural and unnatural monopolies, or big corporations and trusts. This distinction is important in determining policies; large corporations are immensely beneficial in Wilson’s eyes, as they have the ability to provide their good or service more efficiently, but he sees trusts as being inherently inefficient.

Wilson’s view of the role of government is shaped by this distinction between natural and unnatural monopolies. Government should not interfere with the activities of corporations unless they become inefficient monopolies. Once a trust is created, that is where it starts to become a drain on society; it stops true competition from existing, and collusion between industries starts. Wilson has no will to exert any sort of power over corporations; he only wants to ensure that the economy can operate at maximum efficiency, without encroaching on individuals’ rights to purchase goods at a fair price, or even compete in the market themselves. In this sense, while his ideas can be seen as radical compared to the status quo, they are also conservative in that he wishes to return to a time when corporations did not exert the same type of control over the nation.

While this “brand” of progressivism is similar to that of Roosevelt, there are stark contrasts. Roosevelt, in his “New Nationalism” speech, is much more interested in the military aspect of government control. While this may reflect the venue, where he is addressing Civil War veterans, I think the fact that he is mentioning economic policies at such a speech says a lot about his brand of progressivism. His mentions of freeing the government, ” from the sinister influence or control of special interests,” (p. 4) is very different from Wilson’s ideas of stopping trusts from infringing on American people’s freedoms, even if only in rhetoric and not in practice.

None of this is to say, though, that Wilson’s and Roosevelt’s brands of progressivism are incompatible. In fact, it doesn’t seem like there are any deep-rooted reasons that their respective goals cannot be achieved by similar policies. Roosevelt would likely be satisfied with trusts being broken up in the way Wilson wishes, and Wilson would likely be satisfied with special interests being excluded from the political process. However, their respective focuses of trusts and large corporations, respectively, show more what each finds important: Wilson is far more concerned with the American people’s loss of freedoms at the hands of trusts, whereas Roosevelt’s concerns lie with corporate interests tarnishing the democratic process.

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