In a recent Wall Street Journal article on June 30, 2014, conservative theorist and researcher Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute writes:
“Wait, doesn’t ‘progressive’ today reflect the spirit of the Progressive Era a century ago, when the country benefited from the righteous efforts of muckrakers and others who fought big-city political bosses, attacked business monopolies and promoted Good Government? The era was partly about that. But philosophically, the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century had roots in German philosophy (Hegel and Nietzsche were big favorites) and German public administration (Woodrow Wilson’s open reverence for Bismarck was typical among progressives). To simplify, progressive intellectuals were passionate advocates of rule by disinterested experts led by a strong unifying leader. They were in favor of using the state to mold social institutions in the interests of the collective. They thought that individualism and the Constitution were both outmoded. That’s not a description that Woodrow Wilson or the other leading progressive intellectuals would have argued with. They openly said it themselves. It is that core philosophy extolling the urge to mold society that still animates progressives today — a mind-set that produces the shutdown of debate and growing intolerance that we are witnessing in today’s America. Such thinking on the left also is behind the rationales for indulging President Obama in his anti-Constitutional use of executive power. If you want substantiation for what I’m saying, read Jonah Goldberg’s 2008 book “Liberal Fascism,” an erudite and closely argued exposition of American progressivism and its subsequent effects on liberalism. The title is all too accurate.
Murray is right. The progressive movement, as envisioned by Woodrow Wilson and other intellectuals of the time, has reached full fruition in today’s post-modern leftist establishment. Barack Obama is their man. But regardless, their time had come. And Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and others stand ready to carry it on, and move it “forward.”
Perhaps the greatest irony about the term “progressive” is that Thomas Jefferson, a century before Woodrow Wilson and two centuries before Obama, wrote the following in a letter to Edward Carrington, in 1788: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”
Jefferson may have been more right than even he knew. No doubt, he feared that the United States would one day “progress” into a context where government gained enough ground to rival the oppression and tyranny of the British monarchy in the 18th century.
Clearly, we’re just about there. The federal government taxes the most productive in proportion, or even out of proportion, to their talent and ability. It punishes success for being success. It sends “researchers” into private newrooms via the FCC to inspect for “racism” or other politically incorrect violations that displease the regime. It micromanages every element of our daily lives in ways most of us don’t even realize — all in the name of “protecting” us, followed by a sigh of resignation on the part of citizens: “What can you do?” Or as the fictional characters said in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, “Who is John Galt?”
Progress toward a particular goal implies “progress” towards some unnamed standard. Perhaps the standard is taken for granted, or perhaps the advocates of those standards, for whatever reasons, do not want it named. When Obama and people like him label themselves “progressives,” they’re counting on you to take it for granted that of course all progress is good – at least if it’s progress determined by their standards. And if you start to question them about that, you’re greeted with the label of, “ideologue,” or, more likely, “right wing ideologue.”
All policies imply some underlying set of ideas. Take a simple, everyday example: You’re planning a trip for vacation. You make reservations, you develop an itinerary, you read up on the destination you plan to visit. All of these policies are based on an unspoken, taken-for-granted premise that the place you’re going to visit is a nice place and a desirable place you wish to see.
But with the progressives in politics and ethics, we’re told nothing other than that progress consists of letting them do what they know best to do. The classic example is the “affordable” Obamacare. Laws are put into place with all kinds of consequences. Early consequences have been millions of people losing their health insurance and being forced to go to a government website (that usually does not work) to ultimately purchase health insurance with fewer benefits and a higher premium. I hear about it every day. So much for “affordable.” Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll fall into the expanded definition of “poor,” and you’ll be eligible for Medicaid. How lucky is that?
Once you’re on Medicaid, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever the government has to offer. And Medicaid is funded by a combination of (1) resentful taxpayers who still have to purchase their own health insurance (most of whom are not millionaires), and (2) escalating government debt and deficits which all economists acknowledge are not sustainable and require continuous inflation of the currency (a potentially disastrous trend). How lucky is that?
“Progress” is also something that diseases or other toxic forces do. While I don’t agree with Alcoholics Anonymous that alcohol abuse is a medical disease, they are correct when they say that the syndrome of alcoholism is “progressive.” In other words, the more you abuse the substance, the more your body and psyche become dependent on it, and the worse your problems get, absent a significant course reversal.
The same applies to actual diseases. Diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease all “progress” over time. Successful medical treatment consists of arresting and reversing that progress. The point is: Smugly calling yourself a “progressive” provides no reference to, or objective validation for, whatever end point toward which you’re supposedly progressing.
In the hugely important arenas of politics and ethics, with ultimately life-or-death implications for us all, the onus is on the person making the point to prove why his policy leads to progress, and why the goal towards which his policy aims is actually good and right.
And therein lies the rub! In ethics, most people take it for granted that the ultimate good is service to others. Most of us don’t think of the ultimate standard of moral good to be survival, happiness and self-preservation. If we did, we’d all have rejected Obamaism long before it began as Woodrow Wilsonism a century ago. Notice how Obama never attempts to make a case for his premise (sometimes explicitly stated by him) that man is his brother’s keeper, and the purpose of government is to make sure that supposed ethical ideal occurs in practice. Instead, he complains about Republicans and the Tea Party “obstructing” progress and “failing to do what works.” What works — by whose standard? Or by what standard?
If people had not been so intimidated into believing that the central purpose of life is to give to others, you would not see the welfare-entitlement state – that is to say, the vast majority of the federal government that we see today. It wouldn’t be possible to induce guilt in people for “not wanting to help out the needy.” It would also not be possible to ignite envy and resentment in people, “for all those fat cat rich guys having more than their share of the pie.”
Envy and unearned guilt are stoked and stirred up in enough people, enough of the time, to ensure that the redistributionist state under which we now live stays where it is. And in fact, keeps growing all the time. Note that no Republican (including President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s) has ever made a dent in it. Until or unless these philosophical ideas and resulting psychological/emotional states are challenged and corrected by a majority of people — to say nothing of our “intellectuals” in academia and the media — we will continue sliding down the path to inevitable self-defeat and self-destruction.
Hope and change? Not until we start to define “progress” differently. This is why Obama’s presidency, like all the others, has failed miserably. It need not be so, and it need never have been so. So long as man can think, he can change his ideas and his policies and practices. Not a moment sooner.
Source: “The Trouble Isn’t Liberals. It’s Progressives.” By Charles Murray, The Wall Street Journal, 6/30/14