It is a forest fire, this Inquisition-like obsession with race, and the conflagration will consume all before it reaches Peshtigo.
While Mayor Soglin knocks down anodyne memorials to long-dead foot soldiers, University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank vows to autopsy student organizations for past links to the Ku Klux Klan.
Her team of spelunkers better include an archeologist because we’re talking the early 1920s. It’s an interesting story (due credit to Pat Schneider of The Capital Times) because the roster included actor Fredric March, Thomas Brittingham Jr., co-founder of WARF, and Philip Falk, Madison schools superintendent during the 1950s. An elementary school is named for him.
Interesting also because there is some doubt as to how closely their group was connected to the real, cross-burning Klan. Maybe Blank’s raiders will bring closure to this obscure chapter.
Hiding in plain sight, however, is the sainted Progressive Movement, which Birthed for the Nation the hallowed Wisconsin Idea on the very campus Professor Blank chancels.
Anyone who was schooled with this state’s borders is taught to reverence Progressivism and its progenitors, particularly the sainted La Follettes. Nothing is more hagiographic than the featured article in the 1995-96 Blue Book of Wisconsin government. The movement accomplished much that is good and lasting: restricted work hours, oversight of utilities, compensation for worker industrial accident victims, unemployed workers insurance. They also devised the legislature’s service bureaus: reference, audit, and finance.
Here is what John Nichols and the Progressive magazine wants to disappear down the memory hole: much of the progressive movement was core racist. True, its racism was more refined than the tobacco road rednecks exemplified by the likes of Pitchfork Ben Tillman. Call it racism with peer review and footnotes.
Woodrow Wilson, a fan of Birth of a Nation, told his Atlantic Monthly readers that the freed slaves and their descendants were unprepared for freedom.
African-Americans were “unpracticed in liberty, unschooled in self control, never sobered by the discipline of self support, never established in any habit of prudence … insolent and aggressive, sick of work, (and) covetous of pleasure.”
We learn this from Princeton University economics professor Thomas C. Leonard, who blew the covers off The Wisconsin Idea in the Autumn 2016 edition of Wisconsin Public Research Institute’s magazine. He quotes Edward A. Ross, UW sociologist from 1906-’37:
“One man, one vote does not make Sambo equal to Socrates.”
Richard T. Ely, UW professor and director of the School of Economics, Political Science and History from 1892-1925, pronounced:
“Negroes are for the most part grownup children, and should be treated as such.”
Since Madison’s mayor is a student of the Civil War, the sainted UW economist John R. Commons (1904-’33) had this to say about that conflict:
“By the cataclysm of a war in which it took no part, this race (blacks), after many thousand years of savagery, was suddenly let loose into the liberty of citizenship and the electoral suffrage.”
Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, for another, was an early eugenicist so as “to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.” She promoted her book, Woman and the New Race, to the Ku Klux Klan’s auxiliary.
“Inspired by the slogan ‘sterilization or racial disaster,’” Leonard writes, “Wisconsin passed a forcible sterilization law in 1913 with the support of the University of Wisconsin’s most influential scholars, including President Charles Van Hise and Edward A. Ross. The WPRI article is excerpted from Leonard’s book, Illiberal Reformers, published by Princeton University Press.
“The Wisconsin men were not egalitarians. They were frank elitists who applauded the Progressive Era plunge in voter participation and openly advocated voter quality over voter quantity. So long as the United States was plagued with inferior races and classes, Commons said, it could not be a democracy at all, only an oligarchy disguised as one. It was high time, Ely said, to abandon the outmoded 18th-century doctrine that all men were equal as a false and pernicious doctrine. Ross, likewise, granted that democracy had once made sense, but no more. The new industrial economy demanded the leadership of “superior men,” he said.
Progressives exalted social engineering, they believed in Rule by Experts. Social scientists like themselves would replace political parties. In that they gave birth to today’s Nanny State. They were the intellectual cousins of Marxists, idealistic and arrogant and — to be charitable — prisoners of their times.
Sort of like the 140 sleeping at Confederates Rest.