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How did progressivism and imperialism reflect similar notions about America's global role?

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Progressivism and imperialism shared similar assumptions about the mutability of human beings. Progressivists and imperialists alike believed that people could be radically changed by social engineering, molded into something better, stronger, and morally superior.

They both operated on the prejudice that white, Protestant middle America offered the template for how people should think, act, and behave. Progressivists were at the forefront of well-meaning attempts to turn immigrants into "real" Americans through citizenship education. This condescending attitude towards The Other was replicated overseas, where colonial administrators saw themselves as part of a civilizing mission to bring the cultural and economic benefits of the West to the natives.

Though Progressivists and imperialists both stressed the importance of environmental factors in determining character, they also, paradoxically, believed that certain races and social groups were inherently more likely to display negative character traits, such as a tendency to commit crime. It is no accident that Progressivism and imperialism both showed an alarming faith in the ability of science to create a distinct hierarchy based on race and social class, with white Protestant Americans occupying a special place at the top. Such unfortunate excursions into pseudoscience as phrenology served to provide a scholarly veneer to what was little more than prejudice.

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The differences between progressivism and imperialism are vast, but their similarities are striking. Progressivism, as Americans know it, was popularized early in the twentieth century. It was an ideology that emphasized that society could be perfected and that, in order to do this, the self-appointed elite and educated among the population needed to run society in order to perfect it.

Imperialism, in the US and elsewhere, also looked on "foreign" societies as inherently "backward." Thus, first by American military intervention and second by societal intervention, these societies could be perfected and, thus, fit into the American model of what perfection should look like.

The biggest problem with both of these ideological movements is that in order to perfect society, domestically or otherwise, the starting point must be perfect. In other words, it is difficult to perfect or civilize a society if the people doing the perfecting are not perfect. Both imperialism and progressivism had a flawed starting point—the belief that the population could become civilized or perfected by the virtue of imperfect people.

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They did this to a great extent.  Both progressivism and imperialism held that mainstream American culture was in some way special and superior to other ways of life.  The progressives manifested this by trying to "improve" people like immigrants and make them more like mainstream, middle class Americans.  The imperialists manifested this by doing things like taking the Philippines with the intention of "civilizing" the Filipinos.

There were ways in which progressivism and imperialism were not necessarily similar.  Progressivism did not necessarily have a militaristic aspect like that of Alfred Thayer Mahan.  However, because they both saw mainstream America as superior to other countries and other ways of life, the two were closely connected.

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