What Progressivism Is (Updated)

Back in 2010, Paul Ryan told Glenn Beck:

…what I’ve been trying to do is indict the entire vision of progressivism because I see progressivism as the source, the intellectual source for the big government problems that are plaguing us today and so to me it’s really important to flush progressives out into the field of open debate.

(Beck responded: “I love you.” No, really.)

Ryan continued:

…those first progressives, they tried to use populism and popular ideas as a means to getting — detaching people from the Constitution and founding principles to pave the way for the centralized bureaucratic welfare state.

In his column yesterday, George Will parroted Ryan’s lines on progressives’ supposed anti-Americanism:

Four years ago, Barack Obama was America’s Rorschach test, upon whom voters could project their disparate yearnings. To govern, however, is to choose, and now his choices have clarified him. He is a conviction politician determined to complete the progressive project of emancipating government from the Founders’ constraining premises, a project Woodrow Wilson embarked on 100 Novembers ago…Progress, as progressives understand it, means advancing away from, up from, something. But from what? From the Constitution’s constricting anachronisms.

This progressives-as-un-American-transformers narrative is almost completely nonsense. The original progressives were almost entirely concerned with rehabilitating the American Founders’ ideals in a new political and economic era. For example, Woodrow Wilson revered Alexander Hamilton for his “deep and passionate love of liberty, and that steadfast purpose in the maintenance of it.” He argued that no one but Hamilton “could have done the great work of organization by which he established the national credit, and with the national credit the national government itself.” Wilson is hardly alone. Progressive intellectual John Dewey recognized and celebrated the permanently Jeffersonian core of the American political tradition. For Jefferson, Dewey wrote, “it was the ends of democracy, the rights of man—not of men in the plural—which are unchangeable.”

Dewey’s progressivism consisted in the next sentence: “It was not the forms and mechanisms through which inherent moral claims are realized that are to persist without change.” And that, by the way, is the small kernel of truth at the core of Ryan’s and Will’s attacks on progressivism old and new. Most progressives believed in the profound importance of the Founding’s ideals, but they realized that some of the Constitution’s rules were being used to perjure those very ideals. The ends of democracy are the key. Always have been. The specific means—can we elect our senators? Can presidents run for office interminably?—are considerably less important. Of course, that’s what most Americans (especially women and non-white citizens) believe, if you ask them about the details. 

(Dewey and Wilson are hardly the only examples of early progressives who loved the American tradition. Other than Charles Beard and a few other minor figures, almost everyone was on board with the line of argument that I’ve just sketched. Even Herbert Croly, in a strange way.)

Conservatives (then and now) will have none of this. They see progressivism as an attempt to transform and abandon the Founding’s principles (or a project aimed at “detaching people from the Constitution,” etc). For these folks, real Americans venerate the original Constitution in every aspect. They believe that America means limited government along precisely the original lines. Just don’t ask them anything about women’s suffrage or the direct election of senators or the “Three-Fifths Clause,” etc (usually).

Lamentably, Will and Ryan’s rhetoric forms the conservative rule, rather than the exception. As I’ve recently written (and also here), today’s Right leans heavily upon a narrow and shifting definition of who counts as American. This is part of a parallel concern—today’s conservatives are obsessed with maintaining semantic control over The American Idea: What sort of country are we? For the Right, we’re the Founders and Ronald Reagan and victorious armies and we’re certainly Christian and we all agree that the wealthy’s consumer choices drive prosperity both common and individual. We’re Austrian trickle-down economics and the Gilded Age and rugged individualism. Progressives have different policy goals, so they’re not just our opponents—they’re not our fellow citizens.

It’s a depressingly tribal approach to politics—especially for a political movement that supposedly prioritizes individualism so highly. Whence this concern with thick cultural definitions for the American political community? What of pluralism and freedom?

Maybe there’s something reassuring about seeing conservatives paint the whole of progressivism as un-American socialism—at least it’s not implicitly racist. Tea Party vitriol for our first African-American president has frequently crossed that line. No one’s accusing progressivism (or progressives) of being an Indo-Kenyan-born Black Nationalist Christian Islamofascist State Socialist Weak-kneed Pacifist Who Apologizes for America (though there IS some rhetorical overlap). There’s a least a bit of proof that ugly conservative attacks on the “American-ness” of various leftists isn’t always racist. So that’s something.

That’s still just the coldest of comfort. Conservative rhetoric depicting “liberals” as horrifying parasites was pretty much conclusive. The term’s dead in the water. Led by Beck, Ryan, and Will, they’re doing the same thing to “progressive.”

But if progressivism isn’t American, well, then, neither are our national parks. Or women voting. And so on and so forth…

AND:

(Note: You should really read Kyle Cupp’s post on notions of American identity.)

UPDATE:

Just saw this, from Mitt Romney’s No Apology:

Progressives, on the other hand, rejected the notion of universal truths, objective judgments, and, ironically, progress itself, embracing neutrality among competing belief sets and rejecting the primacy of Western civilization, the great thinkers of the ages, and the principles espoused by the Founding Parents of the nation. In their view, all cultures are of equal value.

Not sure that this means much of anything…except that the GOP ticket is rhetorically united on this point. They’d rather dismiss ideas than engage them.  (For the record, Romney’s only partially right on one of the historical claims he makes in that passage.)


Conor P. Williams on TwitterFacebook, and in much greater detail

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247 thoughts on “What Progressivism Is (Updated)

  1. What I find amusing is the conceit that the Founders – all fairly well educated men – wouldn’t recognize that there is a difference between mercantile capitalism and industrial capitalism.

    How they might have come down on all that is open to debate, surely. But if you yanked the Founders out of the 18th century and plopped them down into the 21st, they’d probably revise some of their thinking… after you got them out of the psychiatric ward, anyway.

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    • Well there is a school of thought that anybody who thinks they know what the Founders would have thought about every issue and theory we face today are sort of, you know, nuts. Who the hell even knows what the F’s would have thought about the Information Age and a truly global economy.

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      • This is why I am not an originalist.

        There is no way to determine how the Founders would have applied the Constitution to cars or the Internet. There is no way they would have predicted what the Internet is or a post-Industrial society with an Information economy.

        People are very bad at predicting how technology will change. Yes it is a cartoon but it is kind of interesting that the Jetsons had a robot maid but could not predict e-mail or a cellphone.

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        • It’s not a “school of thought,” it’s a dunghill. Of course you can get a decent idea of the Founders’ thought if you actually read it, just like you can get a pretty good idea of what the Bible says by cracking its covers. I’m sick of this ignorism passing as sophistication.

          “The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago.”

          That Ezra Klein wasn’t laughed back to the fry station at MickeyD’s permanently would be considered a miracle in any sane society.

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          • Mr. New Deal, I intended “one” in my rant above, not “you” as in you personally, that’s out of bounds.

            One can get a pretty good gist of it all reading the Founders or the Bible. James Madison put it very clearly:

            “As a guide in expounding and applying the provisions of the Constitution, the debates and incidental decisions of the Convention can have no authoritative character. However desirable it be that they should be preserved as a gratification to the laudable curiosity felt by every people to trace the origin and progress of their political Insitutions, & as a source parhaps of some lights on the Science of Govt. the legitimate meaning of the Instrument must be derived from the text itself; or if a key is to be sought elsewhere, it must be not in the opinions or intentions of the Body which planned & proposed the Constitution, but in the sense attached to it by the people in their respective State Conventions where it recd. all the authority which it possesses.”

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        • Originalism acknowledges the part of the Constitution that provides for amendments.

          That said, the problem with anti-originalists is not how you deal with the gray areas—it’s how you insist on interpretations of the black and white stuff that are plainly, incontrovertibly wrong. Like how a cashier at a Burger King in Houston is engaging in interstate commerce, and the federal government therefore has the authority to regulate his wages. That’s just BS.

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          • 1. I think you will find that Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan have better track records on the 4th Amendment than the “originalists” and Federalist Society of Roberts, Scalia, and company. Most 4th Amendment cases seem to be a 5-4 and the four dissenters who usually side with the defendant tend to be the Democratic-appointed Supreme Court Justices.

            2. That regulation of interstate commerce is not BS. It is only BS if you have a fetish for the Articles of Confederation and the strange Federalism which seems to infect certain parts of US politics and nowhere else in the developed world. Or the developed world. I find it absolutely shocking that the idea of decent or at least a reasonable minimum wage is still controversial in the United States. I find it shocking that so many people still worship the majority decision in Lochner and appalling work conditions under some false fantasy of Freedom of Contact. I find it revealing that many of the people who worship Freedom of Contract are absolutely silent when the contract is broken by CEOs when it comes to pension benefits or other employee rights.

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            • It’s not interstate commerce. When you say something is interstate commerce when it very clearly is not, that’s BS.

              I find it absolutely shocking that the idea of decent or at least a reasonable minimum wage is still controversial in the United States.

              The question of whether there should be a minimum wage is entirely independent of the question of whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to impose one on firms engaged in purely intrastate commerce.

              I find it shocking that so many people still worship the majority decision in Lochner and appalling work conditions under some false fantasy of Freedom of Contact.

              Lochner wasn’t an interstate commerce case. It was a challenge to a state law. Moreover, it was about hours, not wages. It has nothing to do with anything I said.

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              • I dunno, Brandon, if you’re incorporated in state A and you’re doing business in state B, that seems to me to be interstate commerce.

                I can see a legitimate argument, there, but I don’t think Burger King is your winning example.

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                • The Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate commerce between the states, not the authority to regulate all aspects of a business that engages in interstate commerce. The management of a particular branch is emphatically not interstate commerce.

                  If you look at the historical context and the commentary in the Federalist papers, it’s clear that the primary purpose of the commerce clause was to prevent things like North Carolina interfering with trade between Georgia and Virginia. There’s no support whatsoever for the idea that the intended purpose was to get the federal government’s regulatory foot into as many doors as possible.

                  More broadly, the enumeration of federal powers is such that the federal government was empowered to deal only with issues of national concern, with which the states were not competent to deal individually. A minimum wage clearly doesn’t fall into this category. The appeal of a federal minimum wage is not that it can’t be handled at the state level, but rather that some states, left to their own, might make the wrong policy choices. This is clearly contrary to the intent of the federal system, which was to leave as much power as practicable in the hands of the states.

                  And, as you allude to, this is something of a moot point anyway when it comes to businesses that are not multistate chains.

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                  • To be clear, I am an originalist, not a textualist, precisely because textualism leads to this sort of “How much can we get away with?” game.

                    If you really wanted to play the long game, you could actually change the meaning of the Constitution under textualist interpretation by creating and popularizing nonstandard usage of words.

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                  • “If you look at the historical context and the commentary in the Federalist papers, it’s clear that the primary purpose of the commerce clause…”

                    Okay, I like the Federalist papers, first disclaimer.

                    Getting that out of the way: the Federalists did not in fact get the Federalist papers ratified. They got the Constitution ratified. Not everyone who signed onto the Constitution agreed with everything in it; nor were they all Federalists. In fact, a bunch of them thought Hamilton was a jackass, right?

                    So you need to be very careful proclaiming that there’s “no support whatsoever for the idea that the intended purpose was to get the federal government’s regulatory foot into as many doors as possible”.

                    There’s *contestable* support for many different contextual observations of the Constitution.

                    Whatever Hamilton wrote in the Federalist papers gives us insight into what the Federalists thought. The Federalists were not the entirety of the Founders.

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                    • The reason the Federalist papers are important is not that they give us insight into the personal opinions of Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, but rather that they give us insight into how the Constitution was sold to the public, and thus how it was understood by the state governments when they chose to ratify it. If the Federalist papers advertised certain limits on the power of the federal government, then these should be seen as binding, as they were explicit promises made for the purpose of securing ratification.

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    • Or perhaps not. In some ways, “industrial policy” is just a reworking of mercantilism. Certainly our continuing concern about trade deficits is recognizably mercantilist. I can see Hamilton fervently agreeing that what’s good for General Motors is good for the country, and supporting tariffs on Japanese imports. (On the other hand, I can also imagine Hamilton having gotten around to reading Smith more carefully, as well as all the eminent economists since him; perhaps he’d be a staunch monetarist today, writing op-eds excoriating Paul Krugman!)

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      • Right.

        I’m sympathetic to Jason’s leanings towards textualism because “the thing has an amendment process and Jesus just make the changes and all”, but as the endless debates over some of the amendments show, that’s not exactly a cure-all. Not to mention the fact that the world changes faster than the amendment process.

        No easy answer, here.

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        • The problem is, when you ignore founding documents for the sake of expediency, you get fun stuff, like the war on drugs, or terror (i.e. if the government & the courts hadn’t been so eager to destroy drugs & terror, we might still actually have a 4th amendment)

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            • You brought this on us. You tore up the Constitution because it got in the way of your economic agenda. Now that you want protection from the federal government’s overreach, there’s nothing in its way.

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                  • I don’t really see much of an interesting correlation between people who abuse power and their political leanings.

                    People will abuse power for all sorts of reasons, including mistaken but honest attempts to fix what they see as critical problems.

                    When these discussions turn into “everything (they) did sucked” or “everything (they) want is bad” or “this guy who is one of those guys {and by extension totally a perfect exemplar of all of them… oh, but only when we talk about the bad stuff he did and ignore everything else}”, I have a tendency to want to start thrashing people with a cane.

                    People in the early 20th century did some bad things, in the name of trying to make things better. That just makes them people, not monsters.

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                    • The Espionage Act that “progressive” WWilson used against Debs is of a fabric w/ the Sedition Act that you cited, is all. [The Alien Act is still on the books, I think.]

                      As for thrashing miscreants with a cane, PatC, I prefer to think of these things as a creative competition to see who can distort the other fellow’s positions most egregiously. Everybody wins!

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                • There were unconstitutional laws before then, certainly, but not as a regular thing, the way we have now. The total annihilation of any jurisdictional restraints on federal power is very much something that can be attributed to the left.

                  It may also be worth noting that:
                  1. Adams was a Federalist, which meant then more or less the opposite of what it means now. Adams was in many ways a sort of proto-FDR, from his expansion of federal power and his support for central banking and industrial policy, right down to his persecution of foreign nationals.
                  2. Judicial review had not yet been established at the time. If it had, it’s likely that the Alien and Sedition Acts would have been struck down.

                  Remember also that in Gonzales v. Raich, it was the left-leaning members of the court who upheld the federal government’s power to regulate growth of marijuana for personal medical use. It was so important to them that there be no restrictions whatsoever on the federal government’s power under the commerce clause that they were willing to throw chronic pain patients under the bus to keep it that way.

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                  • > The total annihilation of any jurisdictional
                    > restraints on federal power is very much
                    > something that can be attributed to the left.

                    ORLY?

                    Let me look up the voting records on the last we-don’t-need-FISA bill or the Patriot Act and get back to you on that. I think I’ll start getting the response of, “Well, when *they* do it, it’s because they want to expand the gummit, but when *we* do it, you have to understand, there are important national security implications, or exceptions that must be carved out for some other reason…” but I’ll be charitable and give you reasonable doubt on that score.

                    > Remember also that in Gonzales v. Raich

                    Point for your side, making the case that their side is bad, too. You realize there’s at least two sides here, right?

                    Scalia and Thomas both dissented from Gonzales v. Oregon, does that count?

                    Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts all dissented from Georgia v. Randolph, does that count?

                    Board of Education vs. Earls?

                    Hey… an aside… do we get to say that Scalia is “against traditional marriage” because he concurred with Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health?

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          • MRS, that’s a point, but you’re going to get that anyway.

            That’s how the system is actually designed. There’s no code review for legislation, once the Congress passes it and the President signs it it’s the law of the land unless and until a challenge to it makes its way through the Court. This is not a 10 second process.

            There’s no objective measure at the end of the legislative process that forces you to check against the Constitution. The Constitution gave the legislative branch the authority to come up with their own rules.

            The document kinda has some holes, which isn’t terribly surprising.

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            • I understand, I’m just pointing on the unintended consequences of choosing to ignore the founding document.

              Also, it doesn’t help that the courts have, in many ways, short-circuited the process of judicial review through standing (i.e. if the courts decide you don’t have any, you can’t challenge a law). I can understand why they did it, it just strikes me as wrong that you have to be on the wrong end of a lawsuit or criminal proceeding before you can even hope to challenge a law.

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      • I dunno if “industrial capitalism” even is a real thing to be distinguished from what Hamilton was pursuing as treasury secretary. Certainly his policy prescriptions were essentially what the Chinese are doing today. He was if anything on the bleeding edge of industrial theory, and he was right that competing on even ground with the British would be a fool’s errand which would doom America to be a resource extraction state if they kept down trade barriers.

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    • “wouldn’t recognize that there is a difference between mercantile capitalism and industrial capitalism.”

      Yes, but they already had the beginnings of industrial capitalism, hence Hamilton’s advocacy of a protective tariff to nourish “infant industries” and Madison’s signing into law the tariff of 1816.

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  2. I think there are several things going on here. All sides (or almost all sides) of American (and possibly International) political debate use the language of defending freedom and liberty. The problem is that all sides have radically different notions of what liberty and freedom means and what it entails. Also what freedom and liberty allow the Government to do and not do.

    Certain parts of the right are basically hardcore believers in negative rights. They practice a kind of “Don’t tread on me” kind of liberty that is deeply rooted in a Jeffersonian agrarian utopia filled with self-sufficient yeoman farmers. Their version of liberty is largely or absolutely unworkable when combined with Industrial or post-Industrial nations where most people live in urban and suburban areas and are interdependent.

    This form of right-wing liberty also seems to think that any attempt at government to make better citizens (or make things better for citizens) is a deeply evil social engineering. This includes public health, education, environmental and labor regulations to make sure that the backs and souls of people are not broken, etc. The government is seen as an evil Leviathan that will just not let the people be.

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      • Left-wing liberty, as far as I can tell, is the freedom to force someone else to pay for your food, your shelter, and your health care. Also your Internet connection. That one’s new. Left-wing liberty is a rapidly evolving concept.

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          • Progressivism saw the Industrial Revolution recapitulate the problems of the feudal world. The feudal world had the decency to demand some measure of reciprocity between the lord and his serfs but the new Lords of the Industrial Revolution had no such obligations to their workers.

            So there was some pushback, as there was at the end of the feudal era in Europe. The Conservatives of those times were obliged to grant the ordinary people some rights. With the rise of the nation state and the rising power of central governments, the king took an increasingly dim view of manor lords trying to jack him. The king needed a working, money-based economy and the manor lord had no place in such a scheme.

            The Industrial Barons all came in for similar treatment with the rise of the Trust Busters, and for the same reasons. The federal government had tolerated the monopolistic enterprises long enough and broke them into pieces under Teddy Roosevelt, which had the curious and seemingly contradictory side-effects of making the Lords of the Gilded Age even richer and improving markets all round.

            The Conservative is bad for business. He’s doesn’t suck. He’s just living in the past.

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          • Does anyone find it interesting that so many people believe that liberalism/progressivism = conservatives suck, and so many people believe that conservativism = liberals/progressives suck? If they’re both right, then our entire political culture is comprised of an empty, pointless hatred of nothing, and if they’re wrong, then either neither side is paying close attention, or neither side is doing a good job of arguing for its position.

            Me, I think it’s the pointless tribalism of two groups who are so close together in virtually every way, from their heritage to the practical outcomes for which they hope to the methods they employ which, in the narrow, fucked up little system in which they operate, can’t possibly be that different. The tribes have names, so they have to go to war, and if we can’t see any substantial differences between us and them, then we have to make up differences, or begin to wonder whether the only difference between us and them is a petty desire to be different from each other.

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            • Yes, I find it interesting and you are right that this kind of triablism (while possibly being part of human nature) is a cancer to political union. However, I think that the Bi-Partisan moderate-liberal majority of the post-WWII era was kind of a freak event. Historically, politics has always been extremely partisan. In some ways we are better, there aren’t duels or beating in Congress anymore.

              However, I am not sure that I fully agree with you on the second paragraph. What practical outcomes do you think both liberals and conservatives are aiming for that are identical?

              I’m not sure that we have the same heritage. I look at the Republican Party and Conservatives and see them as being extremely Calvinist in their heritage and outlook. A belief in the elect and that worldly riches are a sign of God’s good favor and being a member of the elect. This is the opposite of my Jewish heritage. I am not a Calvinist and do not believe in the myth of rugged individualism and the Jeffersonian fantasy of everyone being a self-sufficient yeoman. Large parts of the right-wing movement still seem stuck in the idea that we can all be little farmers in an agarian utopia and work for ourselves.

              I also don’t see our goals as being similar or identical in the long or short term. When I hear conservatives talk about “liberty” and “freedom” it sounds to be like it is almost exclusively about the rights of business to conduct business as they please. They don’t talk about the liberty or freedom of being free from discrimination and bigotry, the right of non-conformity, the freedom from fear and economic insecurity, the liberty of a life of dignity and decency. I think a robust and governnment backed welfare state and social safety net can encourage more economic freedom and innovation because people would not be dependent on their employers for health care and pension. Maybe more people would feel free to go on their own if they had single-payer health care.

              When a conservative says freedom, they mean Lochner. They mean 16 hours in a bakery and not recognizing disparate bargaining power. They mean contracts of adhesion and binding arbitration between unequal parties. A conservative has no problem with the steamroller of authority.

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              • I suppose we differ on this, but that’s OK: while in practice, it’s big business that both liberals and conservatives work to benefit, I’m willing to stipulate that in theory, or at least in rhetoric, one is more business-focused and the other more people focused. However, that “focus” remains a certain type of thriving, namely economic, in a certain type of system, namely whatever the hell sort of late capitalism this is, and they’re both willing to exert state power — both against the very people they’re trying to help, and against anyone over there who might be getting in the way — to achieve it. And all of it within the same modernly pre-modern ethos.

                It’s all America first, yay military!, ewww… scary criminals, we need to make more money (everyone needs to make more money!), let’s give more money to the police, homeless people? what homeless people? freedom is just another word for what’s mine is mine, war!

                I hope Democrats win because I want abortion to stay legal and gay people to be able to get married. I hope that Democrats will one day wake up on health care. Other than that, I see very little difference between the two groups, or the people who vote for them.

                Don’t get me wrong, I think there are people on the left, and people on the right, who differ from each other, but they’re not in the real conversation. But hey, the debt ceiling gets raised, and look how well GM is doing.

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                • I agree that certain parts of the Democratic Party are too scared to argue for the rights of Criminal Defendants. Other parts of the Democratic Party and Left have a more schizophrenic and confused approach to the rights of criminal defendants. However, I think this is a general problem of crime and criminal law. It takes a lot of patience and willpower to create a Justice system that is fair to both the victim and the defendant. And out of all civil liberties, criminal defense oriented ones are the easiest to describe in the abstract but hardest when connected to facts. There is truth in the saying of “Bad facts equal Bad Law”

                  When it comes to military spending, I think there is a huge disconnect between the elites in both parties and the American public. IIRC polls show that a majority of Americans support significant cuts to the Defense budget whether they are Democratic, Republican, or Independent. Sadly the elites of both parties benefit more from military spending than not.

                  Perhaps super-urban districts are the only ones that benefit from military budget cuts or are at least neutral.

                  I also the Democratic Party would love to enact universal healthcare if they could. To me, Obamacare is merely a stop-gap until we can achieve true single-payer.

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            • The OP is a lot of conservative-bash and light on what progressivism is. Progressivism spends a lot of time glorifying itself while hiding its true nature and intentions.

              “Progressivism” is a catchall for all good things since the cavemen, “conservatism” for all that is and what was wrong with the world and will ever be.

              However, one cannot say what “progressivism” is without debiting it with every crappy idea that is modern Europe, all its crappy ideas that were stopped, and of course “anti-Soviet progressivism” was an oxymoron for decades. To this day it’s anti-Stalinism at best, the breaking of tens of millions of eggs not being “progress” upon further review.

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                • Not only that, but progressivism’s argument is usually polemical, and often ad hom: As long as there’s an injustice or a scarcity on earth, as long as man himself remains imperfect, if the progressive is permitted to frame the debate where he is the only alternative, he must surely win.

                  As we see in the very OP here, which is not an affirmative argument for “progressivism” atall, it’s an attack on progressivism’s opponents. When progressivism is forced to go on the record with an affirmative argument for itself and not an attack on a caricature of its opponents, well, that would be interesting.

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    • This form of right-wing liberty also seems to think that any attempt at government to make better citizens (or make things better for citizens) is a deeply evil social engineering.

      That’s a strawman, of course. It’s like saying that you think any attempt to solve the organ shortage is evil just because you’re not on board with harvesting organs from random healthy individuals drawn by lot.

      First, the left-wing agenda doesn’t “make better citizens.” It makes worse citizens—citizens who expect the government to provide for them from cradle to grave, and who resent it for not giving still more. And insofar as it makes things better for some citizens, it does so only by making it worse for others through coercive, negative-sum redistribution.

      Libertarians are all about making better citizens, through a system that rewards work and punishes sloth, rather than the reverse. And of course we support making things better for citizens—through a system that facilitates and rewards productivity rather than impeding and taxing it.

      The problem with “Progressivism” is that it’s anything but.

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      • So, its a strawman to accuse conservatives of thinking that any attempt by government to make better citizens is evil social engineering.

        But of course, as you so clearly point out, any attempt by government to make better citizens IS, in fact, evil social engineering.

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        • That would be an interesting discussion, Lib60, if we cooled the jets on it. “Soft” paternalism, I think they call it per Cass Sunstein [recently left the Obama admin].

          There’s also a very interesting riff that the Puritans of the 1600s mutated into today’s New England liberals!

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          • The Puritans would have fit right in with liberals, of course.

            They were well known for their emphasis on feminism and marriage equality.

            The prospect of abortion restrictions and prayer in schools would have horrified them, to be sure.

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          • But you aren’t out of the park entirely.

            There IS a religious aspect to contemporary liberalism, in that we see government as being about a shared moral vision, as opposed to a secular individualism shorn of any larger moral precept.

            Because once you get beyond the GOP fixation with abortion and sexuality, the modern conservative is actually pretty ok with the idea of everyone making up their own morality.

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              • “…everyone making up their own morality.”

                No, no, no & no, fellas. Can’t letcha slip that one through. Natural law is an objective morality, albeit tested and proven by trial and error.

                The just man sleeps well and the tyrant can’t sleep. A kid grows up better with a mother and father. Stuff like that.

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            • “There IS a religious aspect to contemporary liberalism” It’s not even my theory, Lib60. I got it from a feminist years ago. I think WRM did a riff on it recently. I passed it along because I thought you might enjoy it.

              Me, I’m not even a Puritan fan. By the time the Founding hit 100+ years later, they were into unitarianism like John & Abigail Adams and by the time Ralph Waldo and Theodore Parker took that over, you couldn’t tell the difference between that and the floor vote on God at the Democrat[ic]s’ convention the other day!

              It’s an interesting story.

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              • But isn’t the very essence of market freedom, the idea that there is no central unifying morality?

                Of the two parties, which one is more conducive to the libertarian concept of individualism, of each person deciding for themselves how to be moral?
                I’m sorry that the the libertarians have taken over the GOP, I really am- its one of the reasons I left.

                But it is pretty clear to me that the Dems are the party of a unifying moral vision now.

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                • Yeesh liberty60,

                  The problem with thick moral visions is that in a pluralistic society, not everyone shares them. But if you try advance terms of cooperation on others that rely on reasons that they cannot accept, you have to be prepared for others to do the same to you. But the latter is clearly unacceptable. Terms of cooperation that are not based on any reasons that are comprehensible to you are not only terms that you wil have to be coerced into accepting, you will think such coercion tyrannical. Therefore, you can only advance terms of cooperation on each other based on reasons that everyone can accept. But the reasons that fit such a bill will be little more than the minimalist individualism that you decry. Any justification of the welfare state or any other coercive institution will have to be made on the basis of such minimalist assumptions.

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                  • Its is always a problem of how narrow or broad the moral vision of society can or should be; but all societies enact laws based on moral visions, always have, always will.

                    Yes, you are right in that the terms of cooperation must be comprehensible. There has to be some aspect that is worth compelling the minority to comply, other than “We think its right.”

                    But these “minimalist assumptions” you speak of- do they need to be unanimous, or can they merely be by majority vote?

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                    • As far as we can, it has to be assumptions that everyone except the psychopath and the Nazi accept. The issue is about who we treat as reasonable persons. It is all about whether we treat people as full members of society. Wen you treat someone as a full member of society, you presume that the person can respond to reasons that you give. and the reason you think he can respond to reasons that you give is because the reasons in principle are accessible to him and that on understanding those reasons, it is possible for him to be moved by those reasons. People who are simply perverse, or who are somehow broken inside are the only people for whom no moral reaons of any kind would suffice.

                      The basic idea is that anyone who endorse some kind of reciprocity norm (maybe the categorical imperative, maybe the golden rule, mybe scanlon’s reasonable rejection principle) and who is averse to having social rules which are completely unsupported by any reasons that they recognise on them should be treated as a full and reasonable member of society.

                      Note that not everyone has to agree with the rule. People may believe that that there are other over-riding reasons. But at least nearly everyone will be able to see that there is a recognisable (and acceptable) rationale for the rule.

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                • I’m sorry that the the libertarians have taken over the GOP

                  I can’t think of a snarky comment worthy of how wrong-headed this sentence is. Alternate universes, translation problems, even performance art.

                  Nothing seemed up to the task.

                  I have failed.

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                  • Given that Ron Paul made a pretty good showing of delegates, and Paul Ryan is the absolute man-crush of the party base, I think its pretty undeniable that the market fundamentalism of libertarian thinking has taken over the GOP.

                    The socons still hold the whip handle on portions of the party platform, but they are the tail, not the dog.

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                    • Don’t find those observations entirely accurate, Lib60.

                      Ron Paul is the man-crush of a vocal minority faction whose members differ with key elements of the Reagan coalition that, though never entirely coherent and subject to erosion as are all things, still defines the party. It’s especially true for defense and foreign policy, and also for selected civil liberties issues. Many righties, especially “hard” or “true” conservatives, are very attracted to the liberty discourse and, in recent years, to libertarian economic theories, but they’d rather threaten to bomb Iran than fight with the self-styled libertarians over use of the word.

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                    • You have a party that fights the war on drug with gusto, is eagerly looking forward to its third foreign invasion of the young century, opposes equal rights for gay folks, wants to give your tax dollars to religious organizations, and hands out favors to corporations, and you think it’s libertarian?

                      Do you actually bother to read this blog that you comment on?

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                    • If you haven’t noticed, the Republican presidential candidate is the guy who built the prototype for Obamacare. Paul Ryan is a vaguely libertarianish bone thrown to the libertarian wing of the party to keep them from staying home or voting third party, and neither Gary Johnson nor Ron Paul came anywhere close to winning.

                      You don’t get bones thrown to you when you’ve taken over a party. You’re the one throwing the bones.

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                    • The GOP talks a lot of shit, James H. But the likes of Paul Ryan have the old GOP bulls by the Short ‘n Curlies and when you have them by those Short Hairs their hearts and minds are sure to follow.

                      Now as with the Marxists, if all the world’s self-described Libertarians were confined to three counties in the USA, there wouldn’t be ten of them alive in two weeks. They would have murdered each other off in a bloodbath which would make the Balkans look like a Sunday school picnic.

                      Who are you guys, exactly, beyond what you don’t believe? The way you carry on is simultaneously horrifying and amusing, like Holy Grail peasants or the People’s Judean Front from Life of Brian. There’s no consensus on anything Libertarians believe and for this reason, nobody else believes anything you have to say, either.

                      The GOP has been on a roll, deregulating the living hell out of this nation in accordance with Libertarian best practices. They’re people of theory, not application. Their world view is remarkably similar to yours: notice how they scoff at the notion of big government. Where could they have gotten that idea to Starve the Beast?

                      Immigration policy? Cato, check.
                      Or AGW? Cato, check.
                      Tax policy? Cato, check.
                      Health care? Cato, check.
                      Social Security? Cato, check.

                      In short, the GOP has been paying heed to almost everything Cato has to say about anything, up to and including nominating Paul Ryan for VP, and don’t say he’s not a Libertarian, he’s an Objectivist and Cato’s been cuddling up to Atlas Society. The ghost of Ayn Rand is still up there on the battlements. True, the GOP don’t adhere to everything Cato has to say, but I’m only using Cato because I can check what they have to say and they do call themselves Libertarians.

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                    • But they HAVE deeply infected GOP thinking- Paul Ryan and his love of Ayn Rand is not an outlier or odd crank; he is front and center of GOP thinking. And Ron Paul DID win an awfully lot of delegates. This never would or could have happened even a decade ago.

                      “But they aren’t Real Libertarians!” is true; its ALWAYS true. It can never be anything but true.

                      Pure Libertarianism- that form of Libertarianism that you would certify as being the Real Stuff- cannot exist in any politcal party here in America.
                      As evidence, can anyone name a state legislature, city council, or condominium homeowner’s association that is run by libertarians?

                      So libertarianism can exist only as a theory that influences politics.

                      Paul Ryan/ Rand Paul/ Ron Paul are influenced by the theories, but govern as Republicans.

                      So I will stand corrected; the GOP is not “taken over”, but merely influenced heavily by libertarian thought.

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                    • Hey, Blaise, before you wrote that I went through several drafts of a reply to your prior comment minus one. Then I thought, what the hell, why do I waste time arguing libertarianism with that ignorant [expletive deleted], when he’s evidently committed to making false claims about it, so that any attempt to talk seriously with him is just casting pearls before swine? And I couldn’t come up with a good answer to that question. So I may chat with you about one issues here and there, things on which you aren’t an ignorant [expletive deleted], but when it comes to libertarianism, I’m just too worn down by your ignorance and false representations to want to bother anymore. You’re a waste of my time.

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                    • Liberty,

                      Influenced, sure, a little bit. But ultimately not really very much. Ron Paul has never come close to getting the nomination, and the day a majority of Republicans in Congress vote to end farm subsidies, or slash military spending, I’ll eat my dirty socks.

                      Why the hell is it that people keep insisting on identifying libertarians only with cutting taxes and deregulating markets? As I asked before, don’t you read this blog? Do you just tune out when we talk about other things? Don’t you think it behooves you to actually understand libertarianism if you’re going to talk about it?

                      You’re right about one thing–real libertarianism s incompatible with either of our major political parties, even the Republicans. I’d ask you to hang onto that insight.

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                    • Because, to be blunt James, outside of this blog and random posts by Radley Balko, the vast majority self-described libertarians I run into on other places on the Internet are only worried about cutting taxes and getting rid of regulations. Or they mention the Drug War and the Patriot Act, but 90% of their posts are about the evils of a slightly higher marginal tax rate.

                      I mean, I know, don’t judge you by your worst. But, let’s take the Koch Brothers, who I’m told are for gay marriage, repealing the PATRIOT Act, and all for the shiny things us progressives are supposedly for. But, what are they doing with their billions? Helping Gary Johnson? Hell, helping Ron Paul in the primaries? Nope. They’re trying to take out Obama and elect Romney, somebody who wants to double Gitmo, enshrime bigotry in the Constitution, and make the very idea of immigration reform a dead letter.

                      As I’ve said before, if the average libertarian was actually as measured and rational as the people on this blog, that’d be fine. But, the truth is, your average libertarian is closer to the FYIGM than you really want to think about.

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                    • To head off the, “there are dumb liberals who think everything should be free so you can’t complain about idiotic libertarians making bad arguments” retort from someone, I’m also going to note that I’m not talking about idiots here when I’m talking about people who only seem to care about tax rates and deregulation.

                      These are self-described libertarians who made long, cogent, and informed arguments about tax rates and deregulation and other economic matters, but when say, other libertarian-friendly things popped up, they didn’t put the same work into it if they showed up to the thread at all.

                      Again, this is another reason why I want somebody to do an actual poll of self-described libertarians. We know largely what conservative and liberals are for and what they prioritize.

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                    • When you put a bunch of leftists and libertarians in a room, there’s not going to be a lot of disagreement on social issues. This is not interesting:

                      Leftist A: I think we should legalize marijuana.
                      Libertarian A: So do I!

                      Leftist N: Me too!
                      Libertarian N: Definitely!

                      Economics is where the disagreements are going to be, and those are the threads that are going to attract the most comments (besides for meatloaf threads), because disagreement is much more interesting than agreement.

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                    • But, the truth is, your average libertarian is closer to the FYIGM than you really want to think about.

                      Again, the FYIGM smear is absolutely precious coming from a supporter of a party whose platform is “Make the top 2% give a bunch of free stuff to the bottom 90%.” I just can’t find it in my heart to be as generous with other people’s money as you are.

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                    • I do think that “this is what you people believe!” is a fair place to start an argument with someone who disagrees with you but it’s not a particularly fair place to end it if they still disagree with you.

                      “Well, you’re one of the good ones” is, I suppose, a fair enough thing to point out but, after a while, it’s bad form to go back to “this is what you people believe!” as if the “well, you are one of the good ones!” conversation never happened.

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                    • The right-libertarian alliance is strong and operationally effective, the left-libertarian alliance isn’t.

                      Yes, I understand completely that libertarians want to end farm subsidies; but not nearly as much as they want to lower taxes, so they occasionally vote Libertarian, oftentimes Republican, but never ever Democrat.

                      Flat out, I think that for the majority of libertarians, taxes are decisive, farm subsidies are not.

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                    • I’ve met people who argue that Paul McCartney *REALLY DIED* during the Abbey Road sessions.

                      They point out all of this evidence to me.

                      You can only point out that he’s still alive so many times before you realize that something else entirely is going on and it has nothing to do with Paul McCartney being alive or not.

                      (Note regarding license used in the above: Though I’ve met people who have presented the evidence that Paul McCartney died, I’ve never met one who wasn’t swayed by the whole “he’s still alive” piece of evidence.)

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                    • Again, the FYIGM smear is absolutely precious coming from a supporter of a party whose platform is “Make the top 2% give a bunch of free stuff to the bottom 90%.”

                      But there’s no teleology involved; it’s purely an efficiency argument.

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                    • the truth is, your average libertarian is closer to the FYIGM than you really want to think about.

                      Oh, for god’s sake, Jesse, I expect better from you.

                      I’ve said this many times, but I’ll say it again. When libertarians argue for lower taxes and less regulation and redistribution, they don’t believe it will reinforce and rigidify existing distributions. They think it will promote economic growth in ways that create more opportunity for all.

                      You may disagree with them about what the outcome will really be. You may even be right and libertarians wrong. But believing that will be the outcome and advocating for what they think will lead to it is not reasonably called an FYIGM attitude.

                      Perhaps it’s more emotionally satisfying to define your opponents as evil. It certainly helps reinforce that all important feeling of tribalism. But it doesn’t say anything good about the person who does it–it suggests they have either some real intellectual limitations or some real emotional ones; they either can’t understand what their opponent’s real beliefs are, or they don’t want to understand them.

                      You’re capable of understaning what your opponents relly believe. It’s your choice whether you’re willing to.

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                    • When libertarians argue for lower taxes and less regulation and redistribution, they don’t believe it will reinforce and rigidify existing distributions. They think it will promote economic growth in ways that create more opportunity for all.

                      Everyone else in the world argues for their self-interest, but not libertarians. The fact that what they argue for might be in their interest in the immediate term is irrelevant. Their only motive is a tough, but genuine, love for their fellow man. “Moocher” and “looter” are meant as encouragement..

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                    • JB – not that I have seen, but ever since your new gravatar, I have been toying with creating an objectivist superhero called Randman.

                      His billionaire alter-ego, a la Bruce Wayne, (let’s call him…oh, Boward Woark) seeds the clouds above Gotham with highly reflective nanoparticles, so that when the frightened populace send the Rand signal into the sky, it shines right back in their faces, with unmistakable political implications!

                      (Please note, this is only a joke and is not intended to accurately reflect the political views of Glyph, Jaybird, or any libertarian or objectivist on the boards; though I suspect the liberals may like it).

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                    • “Terrible news, O’Hara! There’s been a massive explosion in the RandCave!”

                      “Holy Smokes! Was it Moochman? The Looter? One of his girlfriends’ fathers? Or …. Oh, hell, not again.”

                      “Yeah. Something about the color of the new paneling.”

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                    • Republicans are decidedly anti-immigration. Cato, AFAIK is more pro immigraation than most democrats

                      Not the Bush43 administration. For all eight years, they worked to create the Temporary Workers’ Program. Pay no attention to their jingo post-9/11 rhetoric, Bush43 had no better friends than the Mexican government.

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                    • Schilling,

                      Who says they’re not arguing for their own self-interest? They think they would benefit from such a world; they just think others would benefit from such a world as well.

                      Liberals are similar. The world they argue for they think is one that would benefit others, but they also see how it would benefit them. Neither group is selfless, but neither is either group entirely selfless.

                      A common tendency is to see others as we want to see them, not as they see themselves. But true understanding requires that we go beyond that easy path.

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        • But of course, as you so clearly point out, any attempt by government to make better citizens IS, in fact, evil social engineering.

          Which part of this was unclear?

          Libertarians are all about making better citizens, through a system that rewards work and punishes sloth, rather than the reverse. And of course we support making things better for citizens—through a system that facilitates and rewards productivity rather than impeding and taxing it.

          The first step towards making better citizens is to stop making worse citizens.

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  3. I wouldn’t claim Woodrow Wilson as a progressive, as he was probably the last president upset that the Civil War freed the slaves. He banned blacks from federal jobs – because they were blacks, and set them back decades.

    Women’s suffrage may have been progressive, but what got Susan B. Anthony arrested was that she bragged too loudly about voting the straight Republican ticket.

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    • I wouldn’t claim Woodrow Wilson as a progressive, as he was probably the last president upset that the Civil War freed the slaves. He banned blacks from federal jobs – because they were blacks, and set them back decades.

      This arguably makes him the archetypal Progressive president.

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      • Mr. Berg, overplaying Woodrow Wilson’s patent racism neuters the valid critique of progressivism. IMO. Today’s progressives are not racist in any indictable form; it’s a junky riff to go there.

        “Justly revered as our great Constitution is, it could be stripped off and … the nation would still stand forth in the living vestment of flesh and sinew, warm with the heart-blood of one people, ready to recreate constitutions and laws…”

        A liberal is someone who thinks he’s smarter than anyone ever born, and history starts with the morning paper.

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        • Modern “progressives” are for the most part not racist—at least not in the classical sense—but nevertheless they chose to name themselves for a historical movement that was. Given the standards they apply to the opposition when it comes to issues of race, they deserve to be called out for that.

          Can you imagine what a field day they would have if conservatives decided to start calling themselves “Confederates” with the stipulation that they admired the Confederates only for their opposition to the centralization of power in the federal government, and not at all for their racism or defense of slavery?

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          • I hear that, BB. That’s what helped get Brother Cheeks the bum’s rush, his Confederacy riff. But I also thought that was a junky riff, too, FTR: Same as Goldwater’s “federalism” and freedom of association in opposition to the Civil Rights act of 1964. Technically/legally/constitutionally correct, but a violation of our Founding principle, that all men are created equal.

            There is a link between darwinism, eugenics, progressivism and today’s abortion regime, though. People whose only knowledge of the Scopes Monkey Trial is from the lying-ass play and movie “Inherit the Wind” don’t know jack.

            They think it was about the Bible, but it was about man.

            http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/monkeytrial/peopleevents/p_bryan.html

            Now THERE was a Democrat worth a damn.

            “The Darwinian theory represents man as reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate,” Bryan said, “Evolution is the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak.” He believed that the Bible countered this merciless law with “the law of love.”

            That’s what this discussion is about to me, Brandon, and most of what I write here. Mebbe you can hear me on this.

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        • You know, is it possible for you to write a comment that isn’t dripping with condescension? Can you just make a point without trying to show how superior you are to everyone else? ‘Cause it gets old real fast, I have to tell you. And it makes you sound kind of….boring.

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        • Society in general was really racist during Wilson’s time. Pointing to Wilson as some sort of evidence that those Progressives were racist misses the entire context of the time. Racism was rampant across the political spectrum. It proves nothing except that those times sucked in terms of racism.

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          • Actually, Wilson was notably racist compared to both his predecessors and his successors,as was Cleveland. Wilson established official segregation in the federal government, including areas that been been integrated wince the Civil War. The first post-war Democratic president without that taint was FDR. Of course, one of the presidents that Wilson was much worse than on race is Teddy Roosevelt, so it’s inaccurate to tar all progressives with the same brush.

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            • . Of course, one of the presidents that Wilson was much worse than on race is Teddy Roosevelt, so it’s inaccurate to tar all progressives with the same brush.

              Are you serious? How can anyone call Teddy Roosevelt a “progressive” when he established the National Park system, forever condemning large tracts of America to the stone age?! I can’t think of anything more regressive than trying to take us back to the pre-civilization era, if not the pre-Clovis era, or perhaps the previous interglacial before humans even set foot in the Americas. At least Wilson was content with advancing to the antebellum South.

              Oh wait. Perhaps I’m not serious, either. But still, it’s an argument that someone needs to make!

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            • I agree that Wilson was a horrible racist against Black-Americans. Though he did appoint Brandeis as the first Jewish person for the Supreme Court.

              Though he did also appoint McReynolds who was so anti-Semitic that he refused to sit next to Brandeis or eventually Cardozo. It is also interesting to note that William Howard Taft was opposed to putting Brandeis on the Supreme Court and part of his reasoning was anti-Semitic. Despite the fact that Taft’s father represented Jews in a famous case arguing that Cincinnati Public Schools should not teach the Bible or have prayer.

              It is very problematic talking about past Presidents because they always get tagged with the prejudices of their era despite the good they did. Usually by the other side. Conservatives seem especially gleeful in saying “Wilson was a Progressive. Wilson was a Racist. Hence, all Progressives/Liberals are really racist.”

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  4. Conor, I appreciate the college try here. Self-definitions of “progressivism” lay claim to the center, Reaganism treated as though it doesn’t exist.

    It’s the lack of clarity that I mind. I’m a “conservative,” whatever that means—and pretty much everybody does know what that means—and I don’t mind saying so.

    As for Woodrow Wilson, all you cool guys have a laugh at Glenn Beck for his apparent obsession with him.

    [Briefly, I must interpose that his radio show is very funny, and very loose—not the daily manifestos those who sampled his Fox News TV show saw. Point being, he accused one of his radio co-hosts of not paying attention, and he replied “Yeah, yeah, blahblahblah Woodrow Wilson, whatever.”]

    But WW IS a real thing, and call Beck the blind squirrel or the stopped clock, but Wilson said

    Justly revered as our great Constitution is, it could be stripped off and … the nation would still stand forth in the living vestment of flesh and sinew, warm with the heart-blood of one people, ready to recreate constitutions and laws.

    That’s an argument that’s flying around here in one form or another, and the hell you say.

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  5. The late 19th century/early 20th century Progressive movement is a fascinating one – so many single issues all bound up together that later splintered off into different directions. It would be great to have a wide-ranging, intelligent discussion about that, especially since the same impulses were also making themselves apparent in other countries around the same time.

    Anyone know where that kind of a discussion can be found?

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    • There’s a train in Geneology of Morals (or maybe it’s Beyond Good and Evil) that talks about Christianity sowing the seeds of its own destruction given that its search for Truth will lead it to places it never intended to go.

      Been thinking about that lately.

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      • Jay, it’s both BGE and GM. It’s actually a strain that runs through most of the post-Zarathustra work (and it’s all over the Nachlass too). Though I suspect you’re thinking of the passage here (scroll down to 27). There you’ll find,

        That’s the way Christianity was destroyed as dogma by its own morality; that’s the way Christendom as morality must now also be destroyed. We stand on the threshold of this event. After Christian truthfulness has come to a series of conclusions, it will draw its strongest conclusion, its conclusion against itself.

        This is also a strain you’ll find in the (admittedly rather Nietzschean, in spirit if nothing else, and it’s the spirit that matters when we’re talking about Nietzsche anyway) work of Adorno and Horkheimer, who argue (much as Tom might) that Christianity’s ethos gives us the scientific and political ethos of the Enlightenment, which then (and this is where they go beyond Tom) does to itself what Christianity has done to itself through it, which is to say, it wrecks itself on its own morality, precisely because it’s still based on a pre-Enlightenment mode of thinking.

        Or as the madman put it,

        “I come too early,” he said then; “my time hasn’t come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still traveling — it has not yet reached human ears. Lightning and thunder need time, deeds need time after they have been done before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars — and yet we have done it ourselves.”

        The cult of the American founding is the cult of the last man.

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        • Yes, exactly.

          I know I say this every year but I really think that we’re on the cusp of the shit hitting the fan. I don’t think Overman ever got here with his new/improved morality to replace the tattered Christian one.

          I worry what “naked” will look like.

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          • The American is the next-to-last man, of course.

            In the 1920s, the lingering specter of World War I and austere German reparations battered Europe’s market-based economy, giving rise to class tension and stark inequality. For worn-down workers, socialism and communism started sounding like pretty good ideas. A world revolution — indeed, the rise of the proletariat — seemed possible, and the Communist International was stoked.

            But the Americans just wouldn’t fall into line. The United States had long since passed the United Kingdom as the world’s largest industrial power, but hadn’t yet plunged into the Great Depression. To members of the U.S. Communist Party, it was a paradox. Why, in the what appeared to be the purest capitalist Western economy wasn’t there any desire for egalitarianism? Had Marx been wrong when he wrote socialism would, inexorably and universally, emerge from the ruins of capitalism?

            America’s radical left considered the national condition, contrasted it with Europe, and concluded leftism would be a hard sell stateside thanks to characteristics forged along the frontier. Americans were different: individualistic, profit-crazed, broadly middle class, and as tolerant of inequality as they were reverent of economic freedom. The nation had “unlimited reserves of American imperialism,” lamented Communist propaganda at the time.

            In 1929, Communist leader Jay Lovestone informed Stalin in Moscow that the American proletariat wasn’t interested in revolution. Stalin responded by demanding that he end this “heresy of American exceptionalism.” And just like that, this expression was born.

            http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/03/how-joseph-stalin-invented-american-exceptionalism/254534/

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          • I think we are too. I’ve thought so for a while. In the end, I think the system was sustaining itself through illusion and sleight of hand until the Cold War ended, at which point the illusion could no longer sustain anything. Now the whole thing’s slowly crumbling. I’d feel good about it, except that I’ve read Under Western Eyes.

            The Overman is never coming. In the 3rd book of Zarathustra, Zarathustra (Nietzsche, or Jesus, or both), the Eternal Return is at first an incredibly horrifying idea, because it says that everything that will be has been, but the Overman has never been, so if the Eternal Return is true, the Overman will never be. By the end of book 3, Zarathustra has accepted the truth of the Eternal Return and is dancing around and writing poetry and shit.

            Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens. (Another smart dude.)

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            • Chris, did you ever read that Gopal Balakrishnan essay I linked at this site a few weeks ago? “The whole thing’s slowly crumbling” could mean a lot of different things concretely – a few generations plus or minus on the timeline, and greatly different material and political circumstances.

              My impression from reading a recent biography of Nietzsche is that he never read Hegel at all, much less engage with his work, but instead accepted Schopenhauer’s derisive commentaries. I say this because in my view there are resources in Hegel, including in his widely deprecated philosophy of world history, for coping with questions of this type, as applied to the American Idea, which to me we must be associate with “progress” as well as with the still open question of whether a true progress beyond it, rather than a simple falling away from, can and will be attempted. The problem is partly that referring to Hegel requires us to revive or work to re-interpret and re-explain a style of cultural history that passes through outdated or supposedly outdated cultural typologies. On the other hand, you guys seem to be going to a fairly uncomfortable place already.

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  6. Progressivism is one of those loaded terms that often backfire on conservatives, so easy that it is to point out that they both involve imposing values on society. It was conservative values, actually, that gave Progressivism its start. It was only later, when the success of the project was established, that liberals largely took over the project. But there’s a fundamental difference between the ways conservatives and “progressives” go about their respective values projects. For conservatives, values arise from and are tested in society, and only later make their way into our political and legal institutions. That is, government is meant to play a supporting role in the underlying society’s culture and norms; it is not meant to conceive and advance and foist them on society who otherwise would not go along with it.

    For Progressives, on the other hand, this is exactly what government does. Through either minority factions or temporary populist flare-ups, most Progressive laws are political or factional phenomena that in large part do not reflect the values of the underlying society. Minimum wage or maximum hours laws, for example, are not even the sorts of laws that are traditionally harbored by an underlying society. That is, a conservative society might adopt laws forbidding work on Sunday, in expression of its Christian beliefs and rituals. However, that same society would search its underlying values in vain for anything compelling it to adopt laws forbidding a worker to labor more than 10 hours in a given day. Birth control and “family planning” programs are another easy example: the goal of eliminating children born to poor families is one felt more strongly by government planners than by the society itself.

    Progressivism, I think, was borne of two new presumptions: that the federal government should make society “nice” (a justifiable presumption in the example of bringing emancipated blacks “up” from slavery, for example); and, due to technological and intellectual innovations, that government could make society “nice.” But I’m having trouble coming up with many examples (other than, perhaps, federal education mandates and the “war on drugs”) of how conservatives embraced the Progressive movement for the purpose of expressing any other of its values and beliefs in the law that it hadn’t already grown accustomed to doing prior to the 20th century.

    Another way of putting it might be that conservatism is a political theory whereas progressivism is a political movement or strategy.

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    • To bring it back around to address the OP more directly, if there’s anything to that distinction, there’s an argument to be made that progressivism is un-American — a very different chapter, maybe even a different volume, of the self-governance book.

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      • You have an incredibly narrow view of Progressivism and of progressivism, Mr. Kowal. The Progressive Era was not the first American progressive era, and the Constitution was not even the first American progressive legislation. The colonization of the New World was the first American progressive program. The “City on a Hill” is a pure progressivist image. To call progressivism un-American is utterly backwards. To admit that progressivism is problematic is something else again, though it’s also to admit that America is problematic, as modernity is problematic, as Christianity is problematic, and as the Old Testament prophecies are problematic.

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        • Thank you for actually bringing some history into the mix. The rise of Progressivism in the early 20th century didn’t occur in a vacuum. It was a response to political corruption (Tamany Hall, the spoils system), monopolistic business enterprises, and the excesses and cruelties of the industrial system ( unsafe working conditions, child labor, slave wages). It had both religious and non-religious components and a wide variety of goals. To lump it altogether and label it “unAmerican” as that ignoramus Beck does is a selective and blinkered reading of history, as the spirit of “reform” has been around since, as CK points out, before the Revolution.

          Progressivism, or some variant thereof, is as American as apple pie.

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          • Yeah, I agree. See with my comments above and how I am mystified that many on the right or libertarians still seem to put Freedom of Contract above all despite the evils and wrongs of the Freedom of Contract era.

            I know a lot of economic types who like to make the counterintuitive argument that sweatshops are good because it means lower prices in the West and even though there are long hours under brutal conditions, the pay is still good for the area where the factory is like rural China or the Philippines. This seems to completely ignore the Ghandian creed of “No economy without morality.” I think we can design and have a system that encourages dignity and decency for people all over the world and you can have competitive factories in the developing world without brutal hours or working conditions.

            There are concerns beyond Freedom of Contract and Macroeconomics.

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        • Likewise, the view that political factions and parties are forever static is foolish.
          In the Progressive Era, both the parties and political battlelines were drawn very differently than today- the issues were different, the alliances were different, the interests were different.

          Fundamentalist Christian rural farmers were not allied with Wall Street as they are now, but were bitter enemies; they were allied politically with labor unions, in the Democratic camp.
          Republican Teddy Roosevelt was an implacable foe of corporations; Main Street businesses were opposed to the big corporations like the railroads and banks, so neither party was the party of business.

          As with the Founders, if a Progressive were to be transported to 2012, they would be astonished and probably appalled at how we conduct politics.
          Once they got over “Holy shit, time travel!”

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          • Idunno, some of the Progs might have handled the move fairly well. When I was going through my Spring and Summer of arguing with conservatives about Progressives, I was fond of observing the changes that Americans had observed in the period from the mid-19th C to the Wilson Administration (Wilson’s lifetime): Population: More than quadrupled, 50% of the increase through immigration. Proportion receiving wages and living in urban settings: From small minority to vast majority. Communication: speed of horse to speed of light. And so on. Internationally, it was the moment that the U.S. stepped into the world-historical position that we are still struggling to understand 100 years later. Obviously, they didn’t envision “this,” but they envisioned an onrushing this-ness. They were experiencing its eruption all around them.

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        • The “Progressivism” that people generally talk about began in 1870. I wrote pretty extensively about that era a while back:

          http://notesfrombabel.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/the-conservative-contribution-to-progressivism-part-1/

          http://notesfrombabel.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/the-conservative-contribution-to-progressivism-part-2/

          I’m not aware there is any meaningful understanding of a progressivism that began with “colonization of the New World.” If there is such a thing, then all of history is “progressive,” which would be, like I suggested, not a meaningful description of anything in the context of the history of ideas.

          Again, my point is that big-P Progressivism (I was not careful about cases in my previous comment) is about remaking society and propagating values through the law. The law would not be an anchor but a sail. This aspect of the Progressive agenda was clear by the time of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, who stated: “Our problem is not merely to help the students to adjust themselves to world life. . . . Our problem is to make them as unlike their fathers as we can.”

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          • then all of history is “progressive,” which would be, like I suggested, not a meaningful description of anything in the context of the history of ideas.

            Again, you’ve got it completely backwards. History is progressive, or it’s just a recitation of random facts. There is no “history of ideas,” or historically meaningful description of an idea, except under some notion of progress. It’s here that I part company with the historicists and post-modernists who believe they’ve progressed beyond progress rather than merely beyond a certain set of concepts of progress.

            Formerly “Western” civilization, now globalized under the regime of instrumental reason and liberal international law, originates in two alternative progressivisms, that of Athens and that of Jerusalem, each pre-figuring the world state of states, the former constituted via universal reason, the latter via universal faith. Whether the union of the two, or the overcoming of one by the other, is desirable, dangerous, possible, necessary, avoidable, etc., isn’t just a complex discussion, it is all discussion, but it takes either insensate ignorance or phenomenal levels of educated blindness to miss the place that the New World has taken in extending and accelerating the material and spiritual process that Americans generally understand, and approve of, as progress.

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              • No, when you proceed to the odious and in my view ridiculous charge of “un-American”-ness, you force us to articulate the meaning of capital-p Progressivism in relation to the an idea of American-ness, i.e, the American Idea. Progressivism was not an “entirely different concept,” it was a self-conscious realization of and under the greater concept. This concept, of the American idea as an idea of progress, not only preceded the formation of the political movement, or movement of movements, under the particular label and party, but, having crystallized an effective national consensus during the first decades of the 20th Century, continued to inform American culture, politics, and society long after the form no longer was needed: The Progressive States of America, one cancer under God, progressive Democrats and progressive Republicans, if with some normal backsliding and backfilling along the way that never altered the general course of events, but occasionally displaced it into non-governmental sectors, as during the ’20s. To “be Progressive” was to identify oneself with a march of world history also understood prophetically. That the Progressives were often motivated by expressly religious precepts is not an odd detail or coincidence, but a critical aspect of the larger movement’s messianic self-understanding.

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                • It is widely, widely accepted that America was founded on an idea, and that that idea survives today, in some form, such that America means something. What might it mean? Something to do with self-governance, certainly. Also something to the effect that self-governance does not legitimize itself, that there are some higher principles that even self-governance cannot touch, and among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Progressivism as I’ve described it–as being a movement fundamentally defined by its process rather than its substance–is at odds with these ideas. Seeking change in the courts, generally speaking, is the opposite of self-governance. Thus, it is, in at least this limited way, un-American.

                  We can litigate the facts, but I submit that the argument is well-pleaded.

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                  • What leads you to conclude ideology drove America into existence? The one abiding truth about wars is this: wars don’t start for only one reason. They develop because the politicians stop doing their jobs and they end when the politicians start doing their goddamn jobs again.

                    The New World had been a useful parking lot for troublemakers and dissidents. As the colonies developed, the European powers extracted resources from them but wouldn’t treat the colonists as equal citizens. All the colonists had asked for was representation in Parliament, much as Ireland had been treated in the era of Cromwell.

                    In the Orthodox churches, you can see the ikons of the saints. But they’re so encrusted with gilding, it detracts from the original ikons. The Hindus do the same. That’s what the Federalists have done with the Founders, built up preposterous hagiographies around these men (and there were no women) that they can no longer be seen.

                    America doesn’t mean anything beyond what meaning we give it. Progressivism attempts to rectify codified injustice. How dare you call this un-American? Yours is not the only interpretation of the Constitution. You cannot gainsay the half-measures of the Founders and their failure to address the rights of man. The Constitution was forged on the anvil of a rich planter society, well-content that slavery should be the law of the land though they knew it was wrong. They established the United States to preserve their own privilege and only their wisdom in creating an amendable Constitution would give us the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

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                    • I’m the guy who wrote this, not Barack Obama. Got a problem with any of the assertions I’m making? Federalism is a cargo cult, putting bananas on the pilot’s seat of a wrecked C-47 in the jungles of Borneo, in hopes John Frum will return. Well he goddamn well won’t. America’s what we say it is in present times. All this bullshit about “What would the Founders think?” can be safely dismissed. Their stupidity and aversion to solutions to tough problems would lead inevitably to Antietam and the burning of Atlanta.

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                    • The Founding was exactly as I say it was and little more. The individual states wanted to keep as much authority as they could. Read the Constitution: it’s a document mostly concerned with putting up a fence around the president and limiting the powers of the federal government.

                      Self-interest, not high-minded ideals, was the motivating force behind the Constitution as drafted. The Bill of Rights was an afterthought, clumsily tacked on. Nobody knows what half this stuff means, as written. But now, mirabile dictu all these years later, here come the Federalists (though in truth they are no such thing) to dispense their own brand of hermeneutics as if it was Gospel Truth.

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                    • The Right continues to dance in the twilight around the wreckage of that C-47, deep in that jungle. It’s tragic, that they’ll worship long-dead heroes and won’t live in present times.

                      But that’s a good thing, in their minds. They don’t have to justify what they do these days. It’s all justified from the distant past. It’s intellectual laziness, that’s what it is. First as tragedy, then as farce: the Founders whose failures to address the United part of the United States are now sainted figures, worshipped by those who now call themselves Federalists, only to argue for States’ Rights.

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                    • What passes for Conservatism today does suck. Yes it bloody well does suck. It’s not Conservative by anyone’s definition, any more than the Taliban or the Wahhabis are Conservative.

                      Conservatives used be be interesting people, much concerned with not upsetting the apple cart. They were the Heckle to the Liberals’ Jeykll: the Liberals would say “This law needs reforming” and the Conservatives would say “But think about why it was passed in the first place, be careful you don’t lose sight of those reasons.”

                      To which the Liberals would say “Okay, but my point still stands, this law has created some blowback and the Executive are getting around the law as passed. Look at this Fourth Amendment case. It’s a shocker, I tell you.”

                      The Conservative would grab the sheaf of evidence, read it for a few hours. Then he’d ring up Senator Liberal and yell “Dammit, you’re right. Okay, here’s what we’ll do, we’ll close up these loopholes. We granted these powers to the Executive in good faith, but we need to prune them back. They can’t be trusted with this sort of power any more: just look what they’ve done with the authority we granted ’em.”

                      The job of the Liberal is to question existing assertions and it’s the job of the Conservative to validate them. But that’s not what’s going on these days. It’s the Conservatives tearing out existing regulation and de-funding the regulators. What kind of Conservatism is that? It’s not.

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                    • After the Revolution, there was considerable sentiment in favor of crowning Washington as King George I of America; there was even a sculpture made of him dressed as a Roman Emperor.

                      Then, as now, there are those who toss aside the republican ideals in favor of an aristocracy and prefer to deify the man who, to his everlasting credit, declined the invitation.

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                  • America was founded on multiple ideals and the Constitution is a document born of compromise between those ideals. Not a unification of a singular ideal.

                    Yes there were Founding Fathers who had the ideals that are supported by today’s conservatives probably. But those Founding Fathers had dissenters then just like conservatives have dissenters now. Some of those dissenters were equally important to the founding of the United States. For every Jefferson there is a Hamilton and vice-versa. For every Cotton Mather or John “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Edwards, there is a William Penn, Anne Hathaway, or Roger Williams.

                    Before Lincoln was a Republican, he was a Whig and the Whigs were firm proponents in spending money on “internal improvements” even though it is not mentioned in the Constitution.

                    Conservatives do not get to claim Monopoly on the Founding Fathers or being the real Americans or the Constitution.

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        • You’re conflating progressivism in the literal sense of the term with Progressivism™, the self-congratulatory label which leftists apply to themselves. The two share a common root but otherwise have very little to do with one another.

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    • Every law imposes values on society. Conservatism didn’t give the Progressive movement its start. That’s simply not true. The Gilded Age was the triumph of Conservatism and the Progressives were absolutely opposed to what called itself Conservatism at the time. Every aspect of Progressive thought was geared to improving the lot of women, children and the working man.

      In those days, the Gilded Age had come crashing down with the panics of the early 1890s. Then as now, the policies of laissez-faire had broken the economy. These society-tested values of which you speak, all nonsense. The country had seen what society had become under the Conservatives and rejected it in favour of policies which might give them and their children a chance at participating in a working society, not bowing and scraping and sweeping out the mansions of the wealthy. The Progressivesx wormed the hogs of state and municipal governments and it wasn’t a pretty picture.

      The very idea, that the Progressives didn’t reflect the values of the underlying society, more nonsense. You might have saved your argument by pruning out the word “underlying” and replaced with “overlying”, for the Progressives did reflect the values of the vast majority of American citizens, if not the Lords of the Gilded Age.

      Progressivism began not with the assertion that government should make society nice, but that society was nice for everyone but women and children and the working man.

      And for the record, every time I hear “un-American” I smell a fascist. America is defined by every American, not by some external yardstick wielded by those who would define us by their own standards.

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      • Blaise,

        You’re referring more specifically to the New Deal. By that time, however, the term “Progressive” had already begun to fall into disfavor, even though its general thrust was carried forward. In fact, the Progressive Era is regarded to span the period 1870 to 1920. See Michael McGerr’s excellent book on the subject, A Fierce Discontent : The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920.

        http://www.amazon.com/Fierce-Discontent-Progressive-Movement-1870-1920/dp/0684859750

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        • I am not referring to the New Deal. The Progressive Era had been making headway since the 1870s and came into its own after the Crash of 1893, a point I did make and you’ve ignored.

          The Progressives were not one thing: they were the equivalent of Occupy today. And like Occupy, they were mocked and treated as idiots. The word never fell into disfavour, it lived on as a synonym for reformist policies of many sorts, none of them Conservative.

          And that’s where your critique goes completely bass-ackwards. The Conservative values of the time were dead set against the Progressives and the trade unionists. Any other interpretation is just so much Newspeak and we both know it.

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      • If we’re making a clear record, Progressivism, like any other political movement, was polluted with special interests. Lochner v. New York was not about protecting workers but about protecting union turf. West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish wasn’t about giving women more money but about giving men more jobs at the expense of women. “Making society nice” is just a pithy shorthand for the “rational basis” Progressives give for their agenda. With some exceptions (e.g., 19th amendment), Progressivism was a reckless project. McGerr:

        Ironically, reform could destroy what it was intended to preserve. Crusading in the name of the home, reformers were supplanting the very thing they wanted to protect. As outside agencies supervised children in and out of school, ordered the material environment of tenements and parks, and regulated adult behavior, the family and the home became less important. “As in the human organism, when one organ fails, its functions are often undertaken and more or less imperfectly performed by some other organ,” Josiah Strong noted; “so in the great social organism of the city, when the home fails, the church sometimes undertakes the functions of the home.” A host of other “organs”—settlements, playgrounds, Boys’ Clubs, schools, courts, municipalities, state governments, the federal government—were undertaking those functions as well. But even the most reflective progressive activists appeared oblivious to the actual impact of their reforms on many homes.

        Which brings us back to one of my favorite themes, process versus substance. Even if you like many of the results of Progressivism, it is hard to argue that our political process suffered much injury in the 20th century because of it: The Court became an engine of social change, putting it in the crosshairs of partisan capture, suspicion, and bickering, and splintered the conception of the relationship of man, society, and government. We are a significantly hobbled nation because of the Progressive movement. Again, it is fair and necessary to weigh the pros against those cons, but the cons are devastating, in my view.

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        • To head off objections, I want to emphasize that my criticism of Progressivism is directed at the manner in which it carried out its agenda. It is because of my affinity for pluralism, not in spite of it, that I levy these charges against Progressivism: Pluralism cannot survive if one group is willing to “break the rules” (e.g., by using the law as the agent of vast social change) to gain an advantage over another.

          I’d also make an exception for the movement against Jim Crow laws and advancing racial equality. Obviously, racial injustice nearly did this country in, and thus we must recognize that different rules and a higher law apply when it comes to this subject. There is less room for pluralism when it comes to equality among the races.

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          • ROFL. Progressivism was many things in those days. Farmers, industrial workers, women’s rights advocates, civil rights advocates, children’s rights advocates, slum reformers, government reformers — you don’t like how the Progressives carried out their agenda? Which Progressives? Coming around here with patently unhistorical tales of Progressive Bogeymen, puh-leeze. The Progressives were more sinned-against than sinners and pulling the Jim Crow laws off the table, lest anyone point out that’s exactly how the Conservatives worked against the trade unionists and work against them to this day — no, you don’t get that mulligan.

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            • Blaise,

              CK is accusing me of treating Progressivism too narrowly while you accuse me of treating it too broadly. Your point is well taken — any political idea seeks to form coalitions, and those coalitions almost inevitably contain great ironies to the amusement of their detractors. But again, I am levying my charge on process, not substance, and in my view, what unifies the various groups loosely lumped together as part of the “Progressive Movement” have in common that they were sought and achieved change through political and legal institutions rather than through society, to an unprecedented degree, and that this trend continues to this day.

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              • You said I was referring more specifically to the New Deal. I wasn’t. Again, what’s your problem with the Process here? The Trust Busters and the Good Government crowds were entirely salutary movements. So were the slum reformers. Likewise the public school movement. And the woman’s suffrage movement.

                I’ve said it before, but feel I must say it again. You tried to take the Jim Crow laws off the table because you know they’re indefensible these days. No sooner does some reform pass into the axioms of good society, lo, now comes the plaintiff pro se, his case long since dismissed with extreme prejudice in an actual court, before the court of public opinion, usually with a half-empty mug of beer before him, to complain about how he was treated to anyone who will listen.

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          • After the creation of juvenile courts, youths were regarded as “victims of environment,” and thus reformers turned their eye on the home:

            To lessen the influence of unfit parents and a troubling urban environment, juvenile courts frequently prohibited young people from drinking, going to dance halls, and staying out late. To maximize progressive influences, the courts prescribed enrollment in an industrial school, participation in settlement-house programs, and, especially for sexually delinquent girls, placement in foster homes. “The old process is changed,” Lindsey concluded. “Instead of coming to destroy we come to rescue. Instead of coming to punish we come to uplift. Instead of coming to hate we come to love.”

            Most of these reforms were at the state and local level, so they were numerous and varied. I was not able to quickly find a list or summary of these reforms, but McGerr cites Josiah Strong, Religious Movements for Social Betterment (New York, 1900), 47-48 in support of the quote in my comment above.

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        • Right, our “significantly hobbled nation” that won the War of the World, became by incalculable orders of magnitude the materially wealthiest and most powerful empire ever sustained, that has in its grasp the power to destroy humanity and thus holds it and its future hostage… It’s just laughable.

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            • In broad terms, certainly in material terms, quite arguably on other levels, and pending tomorrow’s headlines, post-Progressive America seems to have “functioned” adequately well. Anyway, I thought American conservatives were the ones who were against a government-centric national self-understanding. I rather strongly suspect that what you and I might differ about areas of greatest dysfunction in the broad picture, but to have a friend of today’s political conservatives complaining about “political and constitutional dysfunction” is almost as risible as the complaint about our “significantly hobbled nation.”

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            • Admitting it’s neither of the last two, which are more objectively measured than the first two, I think makes it much less clear that what you see as a devastating pro-con balance for progressivism is actually quite so devastating from any reasonable, mainstream, and good-faith American perspective, rather than merely being that from one which additionally brings the particular set of analytics, values, and ideological pre-commitments to the assessment that you & conservatives happen to bring to it. Would you disagree?

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        • So you are demanding a purity of progressive politics and not of any other political ideology?

          I don’t see why there is any contradiction between supporting decent workplaces in terms of health, safety, wage, and reasonable hours and supporting unions. Many unions formed as a way of getting those.

          Unions are a way for employees to bargain with more equity from an employeer especially those with low or moderate skills. Sometimes those with highly specialized skills. No business can exist without its employees or consumers. I see no reason why employers should be given all the leverage.

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          • Because if an employer out there is forced via collective bargaining to pay one more penny than that person may be worth, it is literally the end of freedom. OTOH, if an employer lowers wages farther than they should be, that’s just good business sense.

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          • NewDealer,

            I’m not sure what you mean by “purity of progressive politics,” but what I am proposing is that Progressivism might be best identified and criticized by its willingness and tendency to use extra-democratic means to achieve its objectives. Public employee unions are one example. Private employee unions, on the other hand, don’t have this problem.

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  7. I think the defense of progressivism needs some historical context. Modern ‘progressivism’ in just a code word for liberalism. Real progressivism is non-partisan and it exists on both sides of the aisle.

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    • For me, the problem with most self-proclaimed constitutional originalists is that they place neither the founders or the Constitution into historical context. It’s no big surprise to me that there’s a big overlap between constitutional originalists and Christian fundamentalists.

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      • Speaking very generally, both types of fundamentalist tend to encourage a naive approach to the sacralized text, and in that find much in common, but the will to believe also connects them to realms of political-religious experience and commitment that more historicist (or materialist, or political-scientific, etc.) approaches have difficulty comprehending. For better or for worse, it’s not clear that a nation can survive without a sense of the sacred.

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        • Perhaps it is naive. The deconstruction of America’s beginning was necessary, and Albert Jay Nock did a good job of showing how Hamilton succeeded in the development of a Merchant State. The problem is education. If Americans had been educated properly to understand the reality of the beginning, the good and the bad, then they could take the principles which are virtuous without closing the door on the racist and sexist and statist elements that still existed at the time. Then when limited proponents discussed the merits of limited government, they would understand the full context, easily acknowledge the contradictions inherent in the beginning and make their case much better.

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    • I generally refer to myself as a liberal over being a progressive. I think there was a time (that still sort of goes on) when many liberals called themselves progressive because the GOP turned liberal into a dirty word.

      There seems to be a shift back to taking pride in being liberal. This is all done through a very anecdotal study of my facebook page and the existence of groups like “Being Liberal” on facebook. The icon for the Being Liberal group is FDR. There does seem to be attempt to revive the mantle of Roosevelt and make him a Reagan type figure for the Democratic Party.

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      • That’s a wise idea, Mr. Deal. See also Harry T’s famous defense of lib/New Dealism [1952]. Hell, it even gets this conservative’s juices flowing.

        “The first rule in my book is that we have to stick by the liberal principles of the Democratic Party. We are not going to get anywhere by trimming or appeasing. And we don’t need to try it.

        The record the Democratic Party has made in the last 20 years is the greatest political asset any party ever had in the history of the world. We would be foolish to throw it away. There is nothing our enemies would like better and nothing that would do more to help them win an election.

        I’ve seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.

        But when a Democratic candidate goes out and explains what the New Deal and fair Deal really are–when he stands up like a man and puts the issues before the people–then Democrats can win, even in places where they have never won before. It has been proven time and again.

        We are getting a lot of suggestions to the effect that we ought to water down our platform and abandon parts of our program. These, my friends, are Trojan horse suggestions. I have been in politics for over 30 years, and I know what I am talking about, and I believe I know something about the business. One thing I am sure of: never, never throw away a winning program. This is so elementary that I suspect the people handing out this advice are not really well-wishers of the Democratic Party.

        More than that, I don’t believe they have the best interests of the American people at heart. There is something more important involved in our program than simply the success of a political party.

        The rights and the welfare of millions of Americans are involved in the pledges made in the Democratic platform of 1948 and in the program of this administration. And those rights and interests must not be betrayed.

        &c.

        http://www.trumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/index.php?pid=1296

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      • Newdealer,

        I wish more people would defend their beliefs and the history of the beliefs. Several Democratic speakers at their Convention attempted to frame Obama and the Democratic Party as the Centrist Party which pleases both sides, but if you believe in redistribution and a strong, comprehensive welfare State, you can’t also praise free enterprise, because as honest social democrats bravely claimed long ago, the purpose from their perspective is to control and manage capitalism in order to utilize the wealth generating power to achieve social justice. Utilizing capitalism for social purposes was against Kautsky’s vision of socialism, but it’s the direction that Keynes and others took socialism, away from orthodoxy to a new understanding of social goals.

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          • Germany – The Social Market Economy
            The Germans proudly label their economy a “soziale Marktwirtschaft ,” or “social market economy,” to show that the system as it has developed after World War II has both a material and a social–or human–dimension. They stress the importance of the term “market” because after the Nazi experience they wanted an economy free of state intervention and domination. The only state role in the new West German economy was to protect the competitive environment from monopolistic or oligopolistic tendencies–including its own. The term “social” is stressed because West Germans wanted an economy that would not only help the wealthy but also care for the workers and others who might not prove able to cope with the strenuous competitive demands of a market economy. The term “social” was chosen rather than “socialist” to distinguish their system from those in which the state claimed the right to direct the economy or to intervene in it.

            Beyond these principles of the social market economy, but linked to it, comes a more traditional German concept, that of Ordnung , which can be directly translated to mean order but which really means an economy, society, and polity that are structured but not dictatorial. The founders of the social market economy insisted that Denken in Ordnungen –to think in terms of systems of order–was essential. They also spoke of Ordo-Liberalismus because the essence of the concept is that this must be a freely chosen order, not a command order.

            Over time, the term “social” in the social market economy began to take on a life of its own. It moved the West German economy toward an extensive social welfare system that has become one of the most expensive in the world. Moreover, the West German federal government and the states (Länder ; sing., Land ) began to compensate for irregularities in economic cycles and for shifts in world production by beginning to shelter and support some sectors and industries. In an even greater departure from the Erhard tradition, the government became an instrument for the preservation of existing industries rather than a force for renewal. In the 1970s, the state assumed an ever more important role in the economy. During the 1980s, Chancellor Helmut Kohl tried to reduce that state role, and he succeeded in part, but German unification again compelled the German government to assume a stronger role in the economy. Thus, the contradiction between the terms “social” and “market” has remained an element for debate in Germany.

            Given the internal contradiction in its philosophy, the German economy is both conservative and dynamic. It is conservative in the sense that it draws on the part of the German tradition that envisages some state role in the economy and a cautious attitude toward investment and risk-taking. It is dynamic in the sense that it is directed toward growth–even if that growth may be slow and steady rather than spectacular. It tries to combine the virtues of a market system with the virtues of a social welfare system.

            from – http://www.mongabay.com/reference/country_studies/germany/ECONOMY.html

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  8. Oh, by the way, I feel it would be appropriate for me to take credit/blame here publicly for the Ryan-Beck exchange that begins the post. The two were brought together in response to a blog post I had written in which I had observed public comments of Ryan’s that compared the “real” progressives and “real progressivism” favorably to the current Democratic variety. The post was brought to Beck’s attention, and Ryan scrambled to defend his lunatic-right flank, completely disavowing in his typical weasel-y way his public remarks. Was very illuminating for me, and played a key role in terminating my own attempt to find a place in “conservatism” for myself.

    I explain it here: http://zombiecontentions.com/2012/08/14/when-paul-ryan-left-me-for-another-lover/

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  9. Whiskey tango foxtrot? Hamilton and Jefferson are not interchangable, Hamilton was basically a fascist for his day (though he had the right vision for America and jefferson didn’t) and Wilson was absolutely attrocious in his beliefs and actions towards civil rights – both for African americans & anyone else that didn’t tow the party lion

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  10. James Hanley @https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2012/09/what-progressivism-is#comment-355462 and others:

    To the extent that libertarianism is to be understood as political, then what it stands for will be contested politically. What it “really” is, how the movement is defined and characterized, will always be different from what it “really” is in the minds of its proponents and true believers, just as with every other ideology. Is Christianity what some Christians feel in their hearts, or some alteration in the relationship of human beings and the deity of monotheism, or the judged-typical acts of Christians in the world? No has a final say. Same for progressivism, same for conservatism, same for liberalism, and so on. Yet every ideology is as much an ideology about the relationship of ideology and action as it is a description of the world (and a description of descriptions, etc.). As I’ve suggested before, the libertarian concept of libertarianism is particularly problematic: Libertarianism seems to be a discourse without a praxis – or, to same almost the same thing, as soon as libertarianism becomes conventional political practice, it turns into something else. It’s not clear to me that a truly self-consistent libertarianism has anything to offer conventional political practice, and vice versa. If that’s not true, then what do the counterexamples consist of?

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    • Eh, as usual I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say. But your “self consistent libertarian” line sounds to like once again someone who’s not a libertarian is saying “you either take the absolutist version of libertarianism or you’re not really a libertarian…you’re self-inconsistent.”

      But who gives a fig if I’m not perfectly self-consistent? As the old saying goes, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. The same, I think, must apply to those who insist that others must be foolishly consistent.

      But to answer your question about praxis (which, by the way, is a perfectly hideous word overused also by those damned Austrian economists), and what libertarians have to offer conventional political practice, it’s a warning to always be cautious and skeptical about the prospects for government solving problems. Sure, it’s easy to overdo that, ending up with a foolishly consistent belief that government never can solve problems (but as noted, only a fool is either foolishly consistent or insists that others be so), but it’s far too easy to go too far the other direction and be too sanguine about government solutions–whether that’s liberals thinking all we have to do is write some more regulations and we’ll keep bad economic outcomes from happening, or conservatives thinking we can just ban all the bad activities we don’t like and keep them from happening. What libertarians have to offer is the prospect that both sides are too sanguine about some things.

      But I guess that’s nothing worthwhile, in your view.

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      • Don’t know why you assume that I believe conventional political practice is the only worthwhile thing. I don’t have any investment one way or the other whether you personally feel a need to be particularly consistent. You’ve criticized in rather harsh and uncongenial terms for having defined libertarianism incorrectly. The question of self-consistency isn’t a question about whether given libertarians ought to be consistently or perfectly libertarian. It’s just a question about how we go about correctly enough defining and understanding libertarianism, distinguishing the authentic libertarians from the phonies, to avoid incurring your wrath. If there is no authentically libertarian political practice or project, then that makes things easy.

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      • Uh-huh. Liberals just want more regulations. May I interest you in a wider selection of tarbrushes, Mr. Hanley?

        When Ideology trumps History, there’s no point in learning, for reality has a well-known liberal bias. If facts don’t fit the ideology, surely there must be some problem with the facts, as with Dr. Greenspan.

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        • Nice misreading, Blaise, transmuting “too sanguine about regulations” into “just want more regulations ” (emphasis added). I suppose it’s a lot easier to argue against something I didn’t actually say.

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      • But who gives a fig if I’m not perfectly self-consistent? As the old saying goes, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. The same, I think, must apply to those who insist that others must be foolishly consistent.

        I think CK was using the term in a technical sense rather than the psychological one.

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      • “[Libertarians offer] a warning to always be cautious and skeptical about the prospects for government solving problems. Sure, it’s easy to overdo that, ending up with a foolishly consistent belief that government never can solve problems[…]”

        That isn’t the worst thing about libertarianism. What’s worse is the libertarian tendency to delimit discourse to that which serves individualist-liberal political presumptions.

        I realize you’re trying to be magnanimous when you say that both libertarians and Democrats can disturb the government/market balance, but by saying that you’re already assuming a liberal subject and are therefore evicting communitarian conservatives, Marxists, and traditionalists from of the conversation. Insofar as contemporary American liberalism draws from these sources, your formulation is not friendly but is instead insidiously aggressive. Everything Jonathan Haidt and Tom Van Dyke say about liberals — that the considerations on which their judgments are based are dimensionally limited — applies to libertarians threefold.

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        • What’s worse is the libertarian tendency to delimit discourse to that which serves individualist-liberal political presumptions

          Actually, I think that’s the best thing about them. And it doesn’t bar communitarianism at all; it only requires that the community be voluntary, instead of coerced. It recognizes the essential truth that–to paraphrase Jesus–communities are made for people, not people for communities.

          Your last paragraph makes no sense to me.

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          • And it doesn’t bar communitarianism at all; it only requires that the community be voluntary, instead of coerced.

            There’s a certain element of cargo-cult thinking to the left-wing conception of community. In a community, people help each other out. So all we have to do is confiscate money from some people and give it to others, and then we’ll have community. Anyone who thinks this is a bad idea must be anti-communitarian.

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