We must face the fact that we are less free than when the Founders established the United States. But our decline in liberty didn’t occur in a mere generation or two. Rather, the slow erosion of individual liberty began in the early 1900s with the rise of the Progressive Era and its insistence on interpreting the Constitution, not according to the originators’ intent but according to our ever-changing culture.
As Progressives saw it, the Constitution must flex and bend with society’s twists and turns. No longer should the nation adapt to a fixed point in the political sky. The polar star must move with the turning of national circumstances. Or, as was popular in the language of the time, the Constitution must evolve.
The champion of this view was Woodrow Wilson. In his 1913 book, The New Freedom, Wilson compared the Founders’ writing and understanding of the Constitution to mechanical science—a completely wrongheaded view in Wilson’s opinion. Wilson favored a Darwinian approach to interpreting the Constitution, meaning that those in power can interpret and apply the Constitution any way they choose: evolving meaning for evolving times.