In principle, progressivism was (is) a "total rejection... of the principles and policies on which America had been founded and on the basis of which the Civil War had been fought and won only a few years earlier," according to Thomas G. West.
Progressives sought a larger government was necessary to protect the working class and the poor, to improve conditions in the workplace and protect consumers. And, to pay for this, progressive taxes are necessary. They justified this by the theory that the well off must pay for progressive programs to help the poor. We must all do our fair share.
One of the key views of progressivism is that a central government is key. As noted by West:
"(Some) argue that once government gets involved in providing extensive services for the public, politicians see that growth in government programs enables them to win elections. The more government does, the easier it is for Congressmen to do favors for voters or donors."
This explains why so many politicians over the years, both republican and democrat, have accepted the progressive movement. Recent politicians are McCain and Obama.
In creating programs, in increasing regulations, in a progressive tax, in targeted tax increases and cuts, the progressives are intentionally rejecting and ignoring the Constitution, and the principles "of the American founding."
As West writes, "Although few outside of the academy openly attack the Founders, I know of no prominent politician, and only the tiniest minority of scholars, who altogether support the Founder's principles."
West notes the founders believed all men are created equal and that they have certain unalienable rights that they are born with. The progressives reject that claim as "naive and unhistorical. In their view, human beings are not 'something that individuals have as a ready-made possession.' It is 'something to be achieved.' In this view, freedom is not a gift from God or nature. It is a product of human making, a gift of the state."
In other words, progressives believe the Constitution, or better, the government gives us our freedoms. "Since human beings are not naturally free," West says, "there can be no natural rights or natural law."
The founders believed government must be limited, and yet efficiently run. It must do a few things and do them well. They believed the main purpose of government is to protect our freedom. It did this by "enforcement of criminal and civil law, abroad through a strong national defense. The protection of life and liberty is achieved through vigorous prosecutions of crime against person and property or through civil suits for recovery of damages, these cases being decided by a jury of one's peers." The founders, like conservatives, want tough criminal laws, and tough enforcement of laws, to protect against evil people, such as rapists, murderers, thiefs, and so forth.
West describes the progressives view of "politics is freedom, now understood as freedom from the limits imposed by nature and necessity. They rejected the Founders' conception of freedom as useful for self preservation for the sake of the individual pursuit of happiness. For progressives, freedom is redefined as the fulfillment of human capacities, which becomes the primary task of the state."
This explains why it is okay for Bill Clinton to have sexual relations with Monica Lewinski, because he was just practicing the rights and freedoms he is given by the Constitution. And that explains why his wife stood by him. Conservatives believe our freedoms are limited by our God, not the Constitution, and are held to a higher standard.
Conservatives believe in local government run by common folks, while Progressives believe in a large central government, and a large bureaucracy run by well educated people. They would create "neutral" experts to tell local people and industries how to go about their work most fairly (as we see today by the Czars).
The Progressives believe in an ideal world, and that by making sacrifices today, we will have our ideal world in the future. That some day we will have world peace. Conservatives are realists, who understand that there will never be world peace because there will always be evil people, and the closest way we will get to world peace is to have a strong national defense, by being proactive when it comes to catching or killing those pent on destroying individual rights, and strong punishments for those who do wrong
Ideal Progressives believe there will some day be a world without poverty, and the way to do this is by Americans who succeed doing their part in helping the poor. Realist Conservatives understand that the best way to help the poor is to get government out of the way of the people who create jobs, and to provide opportunities for all to succeed via personal accountability and responsibility.
Progressives believe that the way to progress is via the government. They believed a private sector left to it's own devices is the key to selfishness, greed and oppression. They believe the government's purpose is to protect the poor through redistribution of wealth, anti-trust laws, regulation, and government control. That a corporation unregulated left people at the mercy, as Woodrow Wilson said, of predatory corporations. Wilson believed businesses needed to be regulated to prevent victimization of the poor by the wealthy and powerful.
According to West, Wilson believed "previous limits on government must be abolished.
Conservatives believe in an ideal world, and that only through a limited government can progress be made, and only government can take away the freedoms we have. Government was not supposed to provide for the highest things in life, those things were supposed to be achieved through personal effort and responsibility.
Progressives want to change history. Conservatives want us to remember history so we do not repeat the failures and do repeat the successes.
Progressives govern by the future. They have an ideal view of the future that they think is achievable govern today with the goal of obtaining those ideals, such as social justice, world peace, and equal justice for all. Conservatives govern based on the past. This is what worked in the past, so let's repeat it. This didn't, so let's not repeat it.
The goal of progressivism is to change the world through government edict. The goal of conservatives is to not do anything too hasty, and to use common sense.
To end the progressive movement, West notes Conservatives champion the Founder's Constitution. He writes, "I would argue that linking the conservative resurgence to a recovery of the Constitution was in fact a critical part of its ability to flourish in a way that conservatism had not otherwise managed earlier in the 20th century."
Thus, he notes that the restraint of a moral justice, belief in the same God mentioned by the Founders, is the key to success of the conservative movement. He notes this restraint is what prevents the movement from moving too far to the left, and from catering too far over into the realm of libertarianism.