aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,
aefenglommung
aefenglommung

The Problem with Progressivism

The Progressive movement is now just over a hundred years old. It's gotten mixed up with Modernism, and now Post-Modernism, and all kinds of things. No doubt some of those who were proud to be Progressives in the early 20th Century -- Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes -- might be wondering what movement they were part of if they were brought back to life and plunked down amongst today's Progressives. Not that today's Progressives would have a problem with that: the essence of Progressivism is change.

If you sit down and really talk with Progressives -- I mean, once you get past the slogans and causes of today -- this becomes apparent. I've heard progressive clergy say, "I don't know what we'll believe tomorrow. I only know what we believe today." And what we believe today, of course, is different from what we believed yesterday, and those of us who still believe it are, in the progressive view, "on the wrong side of history."

But think about that for a moment. Today's fight is not for some everlastingly important bit of ideological real estate. It'll be old hat -- reactionary, even -- within a person's lifetime. The fight goes on. There is new territory to win, and always, where we are now is bad, where the progressive vanguard wants to go next is good. It is no wonder that Barack Obama has adopted the old Socialist slogan, "Forward" for his campaign.

Now, Conservatives are very different. We, too, are on a journey. We understand that there are things that are bad in our current situation. We would like to amend them. But we have a sense of somewhere we're trying to get TO -- rather than just someplace we want to leave behind. Some conservatives (the Classicist types) think that over time, humanity has already achieved -- or at least, articulated, the best in human society, and that is the goal toward which they strive. Other conservatives (the Idealist types) have a vision of the good society which we can never quite achieve, but toward which we can approach ever more closely.

But all kinds of Conservatives agree that we should be going somewhere -- we have a vision of the eschaton that motivates us. Progressives have no eschaton. There is no ultimate goal; there is only the next stage beyond this one. If you were to compare us to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness under Moses, the Conservatives would be those who are clinging to the vision of the Promised Land (even if, like the ancient Israelites, we fail to make it what we were told we should when we get there); the Progressives are those who only know that it is good to have left Egypt, and now we can make ourselves some new gods who will lead us someplace else (which, alas, will be much like the place we left, however much we change the details, for there is no vision, no heavenly pattern, to follow).

Now, time was that the Progressives were a very small group. They had to engage the larger society on its own terms, which meant making a case for the reforms they wanted to accomplish, one at a time. They were great debaters back then. Today's Progressives are in the ascendancy, and it has made them lazy. Many of them use hateful speech to castigate the Conservatives for their supposed bigotry. (Irony is lost on Progressives, I'm afraid.) It turns out that if you want reasoned arguments, if you want pro and con, if you want to work out all the angles on a suggested change in society, the real discussion is over on the Conservative side. The Progressives have become the party of "The debate is over"; the party of No Compromise, of decision-making by Those Who Know Best. Under the guise of promoting the people's interest, they have ceased listening to the people at all, and have become seduced by sheer power.

I think that Progressivism is intellectually and morally bankrupt. Which is not to say that Conservatism has made its case. Conservatism is not all of a piece. There are competing visions on offer, choices you can invest yourself in, which makes Conservatism more dynamic and inclusive than Progressivism. But just because the Progressives get routed at the ballot box, that doesn't mean the eschaton has arrived. That is still to be achieved, and the argument over how to get there and by what means continues. God bless it.
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