The principles and policies of America’s original progressives have received renewed attention over the last decade, both in academia and in public discourse. Today’s progressive politicians and intellectuals have pointed to their roots in the original progressive movement; moreover, the connections between the original progressive calls for reform and the language and shape of our politics today have become increasingly obvious. In what follows, the relevance of original progressivism to government today will be more fully explored. There is no better place to begin than with our administrative state. This essay deals with the general principles of the administrative state and its roots in the original progressive movement.
The term “administrative state” has come to have a variety of meanings, but at its core it points to the situation in contemporary American government, created largely although not entirely by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, whereby a large, unelected bureaucracy is empowered with significant governing authority. The fundamental question for many of those making reference to an “administrative state” is how it can be squared with government by consent and with the constitutional separation-of-powers system.