Richard T. Ely’s Social Gospel of “Progressivism”: Socialism, Fascism, Racism, Eugenics and Militarism

In a recent podcast interview (please see below) of the economist Clifford F. Thies at Econ Journal Watch (EJW), he discusses the ideas and impact of Richard T. Ely (1854–1943), the highly influential “Progressive.” Ely was co-founder, first Secretary, and subsequent President of the American Economic Association (AEA), that continues to take great pride in celebrating him through its annual Richard T. Ely Lecture. This pride is both disturbing and deceptive, given the actual character of Ely’s proto-Nazi thought, which is revealed in The Independent Review article (Fall 2010) “The Shaping of a Future President’s Economic Thought: Richard T. Ely and Woodrow Wilson at ‘The Hopkins’” by Gary M. Pecquet and Professor Thies, as well as the EJW article “Richard T. Ely: The Confederate Flag of the AEA?” by Professor Thies and Ryan Daza. Also noteworthy is the article, “Richard T. Ely: Paladin of the Welfare-Warfare State,” by Murray N. Rothbard (The Independent Review, Spring 2002).

The mentor of the then young Woodrow Wilson at Johns Hopkins University, Ely was a dedicated opponent of individual liberty, personal responsibility, free markets and classical liberal principles of limited government. Indeed, he was a moral relativist who believed that “the end justifies the means” and championed socialism, fascism, racism, eugenics, colonialism, imperialism, historicism and militarism. As in his converting Wilson to “Progressivism,” Ely was highly influential in developing the “social gospel movement” of many liberal Protestant denominations in the U.S. in deifying the State as the agent of God. The essential tenets of the “social gospel” were to abandon the orthodox Christian teachings of natural law and the divinity of and salvation through Jesus as the Christ for a secularized “social salvation” of “social justice” achieved by regimenting society into a statist “heaven on earth.” Ely championed racial supremacy, war, and government control of schools, health care, employment, business, immigration, marriage and the family, housing, food, welfare, security, energy, and all other aspects of human life. His books became the key textbooks for the teaching of countless students across the country including many, many Protestant clergy, and to this day, the Episcopal Church (USA) honors him as a “saint” in their liturgical calendar with a feast day on October 8th.

In this podcast, Professor Thies is interviewed by the economist Lawrence H. White and explores Ely’s actual ideas, values, and impact, stripped of the whitewashing found at the AEA and elsewhere.

[audio:2011_11_28_thies_aea.mp3] (28:51 minutes)
Download audio file

HT: Daniel Klein

David J. Theroux is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute and Publisher of the quarterly journal, The Independent Review.
Full biography and recent publications
Beacon Posts by David Theroux
  • Catalyst