The Real Progressives

In a comment at my home blog, and in related comments at her own blog, J.E. Dyer has ably encapsulated the negative responses of numerous conservatives to my post on “The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck.” J.E. concedes some of her own hesitations regarding Beck (as she did, implicitly, throughout “Beck and the Legacy“), but also expresses incomprehension regarding one of my main criticisms:

How is it dehumanizing invective to refer to progressivist political ideology as a cancer on the American polity? It would be one thing to say the metaphor is inapt. I don’t think it is, but one could argue the case dispassionately. Another criticism that wouldn’t necessarily be a reach would be that it’s hyperbolic. Again, I don’t think it is. I am convinced that progressivism is antithetical to limited, constitutional government. I think Beck is correct that progressivism and limited, constitutional government can’t coexist. One of them has to recede, be defeated, dissolve over time. They can’t occupy the same space.


I really don’t see what’s out-of-bounds about putting this in metaphorical terms as the operation of a “cancer.” Is it the metaphor, or the basic proposition, that you find so offensive…?

Well – both – except that I never expected anyone to care whether I personally was offended by GB and the to me unfortunate resonances of his rhetoric. My concerns initially were that Beck’s approach might be politically counterproductive and potentially dangerous, and that it would be rightly taken as offensive and extreme, or just plain nuts, by others. I see no gain in making Frank Rich and David Neiwert look relatively reasonable, however briefly. I am equally concerned, however, about how “the basic proposition” may be taken and acted upon by us – by conservatives.

Liberty - Under Construction

Liberty - Under Construction

Setting aside some important differences between J.E. and Beck, I fundamentally disagree with their characterization of the struggle before us – as a matter of theory, because I do not believe that progressivism, so broadly defined, could ever be completely eradicated; and, as a matter of practical politics, because I believe that total war with progressivism is neither practical nor desirable. I believe that such a war would fail, and, in failing, be highly destructive to those who fought it. Furthermore, as a missed opportunity, it would be tragic.

Contrary to Beck and J.E., I see little difficulty in “co-existing” with a conservative progressivism. J.E. defines progressivism as “antithetical” to constitutional conservatism, but even that definition suggests a relationship of mutual dependency, not a fight to the death – a dialectical yin and yang of the sort that the American system and the Constitution itself were designed to synthesize and re-synthesize, not to settle perfectly and forever. The Founders were not utopian fantasists.

Those who have lately been using the word “progressive” as a curse word, or who have been using “progressive,” “statist,” and “liberal” interconnectedly and even interchangeably, may refuse to believe that an authentically conservative progressivism could even exist except as some demon sheep in wolf’s clothing. Others may identify progressivism with the tedious nostrums of Barack Obama, the legislative misbirths of Reid and Pelosi, the musty interest group agenda of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, or the pretty vicious rants of sundry nutroots bloggers. Yet as I’ve participated in discussions inspired by the “War on Progressivism” – to use my co-blogger adam k’s term – I’ve increasingly seen a conservative progressivism, a radical reform conservatism, traced out as the course conservatives have been, will be, and in my opinion should be following in response to the challenges of our times.


A lifelong independent, I voted with enthusiasm, if in the end not much hope, for the conservative progressivism represented by the McCain-Palin ticket of ’08 – the “original mavericks” dynamic duo that briefly held the national polling lead before being overwhelmed by the politics of the financial crisis. Since that election, the Republican center has moved further to the right, allowing us to reverse the order of the two terms (just as many would have been happy to invert the ticket): I will therefore say that I was cheered by the recent progressive conservative victories of Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown, just as, earlier in 2009, I was cheered by the use that California voters made, in one of the first practical political expressions of Tea Party sentiment, of the ballot initiative process to reject tax proposals and instead require budget cuts.

Those who are unfamiliar with, or who have been too distracted to recall, the positive narrative of progressivism may not recognize that citizen referenda were a centerpiece of genuine Progressive Era reform. They may not realize that, when they support ballot initiatives to pass tax reform, restrict public services to illegal immigrants, defend traditional marriage, recall out-of-control liberal officials, and so on, they are walking down a path marked out by the original progressives – the real ones, from back when progressivism was progressive, before it was melded with statism in the cauldron of megalomania, world war, and global depression.

Rising figures in the national Republican Party, the leading New Republicans, fit neatly within this progressive conservative framework. Representative Paul Ryan comes from the ancestral home of progressivism, Wisconsin. His Roadmap is, among other things, a courageously ambitious yet pragmatic blueprint for reform, intended to bring government, including a longstanding societal commitment to care for the elderly and vulnerable, closer to the people, for the sake of greater efficiency and effectiveness, alongside the destruction of undemocratic and corrupting concentrations of power – all foundationally, capital-“P” Progressive goals.

The difference between Ryan’s progressivism and Obama-Pelosi-Reid’s is that it leads to less state, not more; greater individual freedom, not less. The Democrats, Progressives in Name Only, remain committed, as they have been since Professor-President Woodrow Wilson, to the latest and greatest intellectual fashions of the year 1900 – from the eugenics and “scientific” racism that live on in Planned Parenthood and obsessive race consciousness, to the illusory advantages of administrative giantism. Republicans like Ryan have assumed the liberating, decentralizing spirits of our age, understanding in a way that the first progressives couldn’t how choice and markets on the human scale organize themselves more efficiently, productively, creatively, and equitably than centralized bureaucratic structures can.

Not too long ago, a guy talking about major reform of entitlements along the Roadmap’s lines would have been laughed out of “serious” politics as a dreamer. That he’s instead the Republican people are listening to is, for lack of a better word, progress.

There are many other New Republicans who might deserve mention in this context, but it’s worth returning to Governor Palin, the focus of so much unhinged wrath from the progressive pretenders. The story of Palin’s rise reads like a classic fable of first wave progressivism, only more so, in that she represents in her person a dream that the Progressive Era Suffragettes could only dimly envision. To her credit, she has openly and gratefully acknowledged her debt to them – as in her speech at Dayton, accepting the VP nomination, “88 years almost to the day after the women of America first gained the right to vote.” She had earlier assumed the governorship as the tribune of a mass democratic demand for ethical reform and the defeat of deeply entrenched and just as deeply corrupt political forces – the “old boys network” and its very old-fashioned, very 19th Century patronage machine. One of her favorite words – though her coaches may yet get her to drop it – is “progress,” which, uniquely, she uses as a transitive verb.

It was in this mode that Governor Palin was introduced to the nation – the “Alaska Maverick” who bucked the system. Unlike any of her current rivals within the Republican Party, and very few outside of it, that Sarah Palin commanded majority support in national polls from an electorate desperate for change.

As governor and vice-presidential candidate (before the squalls hit), Palin embodied authentic, classic progressive politics at its revitalized best. Like Ryan, she shows that progressivism does not belong to one side. At its inception, progressivism was neither rightwing nor leftwing, neither elite nor popular, neither religious nor secular, neither statist nor libertarian. It was all of those things and more – and it has never been a single, coherent, fully self-contained political philosophy that could be isolated and safely extracted from the American body politic.

Progressivism simply stood for the determination on the part of countless people, most of whose names have been forgotten, to address the great ills of the age – conditions of life, work, and political affairs that few reading this essay can realistically imagine. It was propelled among other things by crusading journalists – some of them a bit reminiscent of certain contemporary talk-jocks and TV hosts exposing the gross inequities and hypocrisies of our times. It was spread by deeply patriotic citizen activists, many of them involved in politics and insisting on their right to be counted for the first time, ignoring ridicule from the elites of their day: I can’t help but be reminded of the Tea Partiers.

As noted in regard to ballot initiatives, the original progressives believed in direct democracy. Some, like T.R. in his failed third party bid to re-take the presidency, even called for national referenda and recall of federal officials as a check on misgovernment. Today’s self-styled progressives, by contrast, call upon a partisan congressional delegation to ignore popular sentiment and pass a massive Health Care Bill negotiated with a raft of special interests. It’s fallen to conservatives to respond with a cry of “Here, the People rule!”

Freedom - Under Repair

Freedom - Under Repair

Modern American liberalism can be defined as “statist progressivism,” “elitist progressivism.” Its end point isn’t the freely expressed popular will, but the ossified bureaucratic state – or worse. This line of development now having run its course into profound exhaustion, liberalism has turned its version of progressivism into its own opposite, a contradiction in terms: reactionary progressivism, progressive stasis – Obamaism.

Radical reform conservatism on the rise – as in 1994, as in 1980 – drives leftwing reactionaries out of their minds. It doesn’t depend on enemy conspiracies and caricatured scapegoats, but instead unites people from the center to the right around a pragmatic and desperately necessary, yet innovative and even visionary, agenda – rescuing the progressive spirit from those who have turned it into a mere statist prop. It could triumph in 2010 and beyond. We can know that, because we can see it already winning.

41 comments on “The Real Progressives

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  1. With each post I think we are getting closer to understanding one another – at least I hope.

    I do not dispute that as we live in the age where what I might call liberal-statist progressivism (LSP) has reigned almost supreme, that there will be a requirement for an activist attack on it which acknowledges politcal reality. If you are equating that action as some different form of progressivism, I guess I understand, although I would love to coin a different term. The dems are running from liberal and using progressive, remember how they absconded liberal when progressive became a dirty word many years ago. We need to make progressive a bad word, for then the LSP’s have no where else to go.

    I think Ryan is trying that. I know that my preferred manner to get rid of LSP legislation is not politically viable – end Medicare and SS today. Neither the politicians or the population are ready for that. Of course we didn’t get here in a day either, so some time is necessary, where politicians can present opportunities for rollback that have the chance to pass. If your fear is that Beck could eliminate the space these reform (anti-LSP) politicians will need to do this, I share some of those concerns. Yet, these politicians will also need someone or group to hold them accountable for making some progress – we have enough issues with politicians saying one thing and doing another.

    As to whether or not progressivism, statism, modern day liberalism, fascism, socialism, nazism and communism are all similar though distinct terms; sharing the same political underpinnings, I will remain your ever faithful stubborn advocate for the affirmative position.

    I am finding this all rather fascinating. Here’s to keeping this discussion going, with the generous application of respectful debate.

  2. JEM,What Real Country,in the entire world,is anywhere close to the society that you favor? What nation of the past,do you greatly admire?

  3. It’s hard for me to give up my notion that progressivism is a kind of Caesarism for intellectuals, so the idea that it could be inherently small-government conservative sticks in my craw. Caesarism of course isn’t always or simply fascistic – Rome had a pretty good bureaucracy for a while and Robert Moses gave us Jones Beach. As for Palin, I think it’s fair to discern in her some progressive tics but I wouldn’t torture myself to validate them. She might slice away a good deal of pork with that knife of hers as well as inspire a more self-reliant bent in the populace but I wouldn’t count on a fad for powdered whigs.

  4. @ JEM:
    Darn, that’s getting pretty close to agreement at least in the broad outlines. You feeling ok?

    Though I don’t think it’s essential that “activist conservatives” (“activist” has been a naughty word at various time as well) refer to themselves as progressive, I do like the idea of throwing the term “progressive” back at the “progressives.” Think of it as a (fair) Alinsky-ism, making them try to live up to their own standards, in the confidence that they can’t succeed.

    When you consider also all of the good press that the Progressive Era has gotten, and also how deeply embedded many features of progressivism are in American politics and society, overturning it completely and turning “progressive” into a dirty word – like Beck is trying to do – is a bridge too far and a formula for confusion and division. (Viewing Beck’s show and his distasteful tactics today, I honestly believe he’s going to wreck himself if he doesn’t check himself.) If the discussion ever gets serious, you’ll be left trying to explain why you hate women’s suffrage and love the robber barons. Why not instead concede that the Progressive Era represented something that any American can profit from studying, for both the good and the bad of it, and for an understanding of where it went wrong?

    In addition to pre-empting and disarming the PINOs, I think such a stance has the further advantage of being accurate – and of being sane.

  5. Honestly, you perplex me, Rex, what world do you think you are striving for, Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged, writing from the perspective
    of 1957, didn’t want this to come about, yet we have come dangerously close to the world of Wesley Mouch and the Dog Eat Dog Laws, and the Peoples States

  6. Rex – I haven’t seen it yet in person. I imagine it is here and now just because the technological progress and ease of life compared to earlier times. I do see a great miscarriage of justice and intrusion on liberty the further along the 20th century progressed. We finally saw a great deal of prosperity which numbed the masses, but I look at the New Deal, the Great Society, and the current bunch as on balance unfortunate. I believe there is more greatness to find that is snuffed out by the govt. I knew of the New Deal issues for some time, but I am only now learning more about the heyday of early progressive thought. I don’t like it at all.

    Once again, I don’t accept woman’s suffrage as progressive or not – it was a decision to confer voting rights on another class of citizens who before that had none. To suggest that it is somewhat progressive or not is false. It is neither. I am currently looking into more background on the anti-trust legislative era. I studied it like everyone else in school and remember all the robber baron stuff. It is only recently that I came to understand the property right side of the equation.

    I guess my biggest problem is that all these supposed reasons for passing these laws was not based upon the righting of a specific problem. It was done on a broader more insidious rationale, that once breeched couldn’t stop itself. Whatever goodness big government programs bring they more than make up for it in badness and misery. I know that directly for the new deal politics – and the great society is awful. I am trying to learn more about earlier days. Perhaps, CK, there is a reasonable chance for some good to come from laws consistent with this philosophy but that it quickly eats itself and creates a reaction which makes it all worse. So far everything I have investigated (a progressive based legislative act) has fit that mold.

    I do not see pure democracy as a good thing as I am sure you know. I have looked more deeply into the early referenced article you linked to, and while I understand the argument, I don’t for one minute believe the proponents of the philosophy or their ability to stop it from turning ugly.
    Once the masses realize they can concentrate power and dictate terms to everyone else who disagrees, it is tyranny. I like the diffusing of power and see great advantage in the Founders having done so. Perhaps that is why we have been more resistant to socialism than western Europe, although two world wars on your continent can make you easy prey for anything, albeit progressive thought was implicit in creating the conditions for both of them.

  7. I don’t accept woman’s suffrage as progressive or not – it was a decision to confer voting rights on another class of citizens who before that had none. To suggest that it is somewhat progressive or not is false.

    See my response on the other thread. I think that position is untenable – ahistorical, and also reflective of an overall approach to the discussion that tilts the board arbitrarily.

    I really don’t get why you persist in this argument that Women’s Suffrage was some kind of trivial matter that just happened to be taking place offstage somewhere during the Progressive Era. It was one of the major, typical political struggles of the age.

  8. albeit progressive thought was implicit in creating the conditions for both of them

    That’s a real stretch, especially considering the prominence of pacifists and war resisters in the ranks of the 1st wave progressives. Part of the idealism of the age was the notion that science and reason would cure humanity of war. It’s easy to forget also that Wilson was re-elected on a “he kept us out of war” peace platform, and he reverted to a version of the same idealism as soon the war was over. Anti-war idealism was also one of the progressives’ justifications for extending the franchise to women – they would vote against war… I don’t see much of this as being particularly in the progressives’ favor, but I really wonder what you have in mind when you blame them for somehow setting up WWI. I think your argument for WWII is flawed in other ways, but WWI? Is there any bad thing progressives aren’t responsible for?

  9. Nah – they are actually to blame for everything!!

    What came with progressive thought to my mind was the inflaming of nationalist tendencies, and the idea that the nation state must be enhanced and protected against all enemies, real and imagined. I do not deny that there was a pacifist bent to the progressives, though much more prevalant here than in Europe, which leads me to believe that the pacifism in the US was more attuned to the long standing isolationist bent in our nation’s history. The pacifism which existed in Europe particularly between the World Wars was a reaction in France and Britain over the slaughter of so many of the nations’ youth, the introduction of the notion that war was no longer heroic. But this reaction was not evident in Italy and Japan (part of the allies in WWI), nor Germany (which lost), nor Russia (which bowed out). With the exception of Japan and maybe Italy, the losses were equally awful yet in these countries where the progressives were dominant, they created the next fight.

    WWI is a little more complicated and I would like to re-consider my argument. WWI is often times called a reaction to an assassination, or the triggering of defense treaties meant to keep the peace. While that is all true, I believe there was more there than meets the eye. That Britain and France felt it was a call to arms and the heroic response to another war, I am not so sure about the others.

    I am curious how you can call women’s suffrage progressive. It doesn’t meet the definition in any form. How is the granting of voting privileges either progressive or non-progressive. It isn’t an expansion of the states powers, it was a legal change to voting rules. Under your definition of progressivism, any legal change you like is progressive. The direct election of Senators I do see as a progressive doctrine, and I am not sure it has been for the better, because this changed a fundamental structure of the body. Women’s suffrage just added voters.

  10. I am curious how you can call women’s suffrage progressive.

    It’s progressive in the sense that it disavows/discredits the arguments that agreed with keeping women voteless.

  11. Well there was the Washington Treaty, but there was no wide spread
    pacifist movement in the 20s. it was only after the Depression, and in part the efforts of the Comintern, that chestnut got underway. The USretreated to normalcy under Harding, but that didn’t stop the Nicaraguan expedition, under Coolidge

  12. JEM, I also think that Demographics aided Progressivism big time. No economic systen,unaided,could keep up with our population growth. So when the economy contracted from time to time,population didn’t contract,and you had a populist “overhang” to inspire politicians to become creative in their socio-economic promises.

  13. The robber barons have not gone undefended. They rationalized production or resource exploitation in valuable ways, paid highly competitive wages, established foundations and built libraries. I wonder how many people know that the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics were both favorite charities of the Rockefellers. There’s irony for you.
    If women’s suffrage – the largest virtually unqualified extension of mass democracy in American history – wasn’t progressive I don’t know what was. But women voters were credited at the time with handing the presidency to … Warren Harding – and denying the vice presidency to FDR, who, accordingly, contracted polio and had to wait for the Great Depression to make his presence felt. But I’m getting too religious.

  14. @ JEM:
    As generally, you seem to use a highly flexible defintion of “progressive” – narrow when it comes to denying credit to the real progressives for anything neutral to positive (while minimizing whatever accomplishments or good intentions), incredibly expansive when it comes to implicating them in events with which no one or hardly anyone who ever called himself progressive ever had anything to do. Progressivism is not the same as leftism. It’s certainly not the same as nationalism. There was something of a progressive attitude outside the United States, associated with the rise of science and industry, but you seem to be using of such a broad definition that you can no longer distinguish between anyone who favored any kind of advance on any front from a progressive.

    I’ve been trying to avoid getting into this discussion, but there’s also something downright weird about assigning the word “progressive” to a political movement that replaced Christmas with the more ancient rite of solstice celebration, because that’s what Siegfried and Wotan would have liked, and who attacked and outlawed “decadent” (modern) art, and replaced it with tributes to ancient Aryan virtue rigorously pruned of any “cosmopolitan” (and of course Jewish) elements.

    Nazism combined numerous heterogeneous, often contradictory elements. Attributing political-philosophical coherence to their ideas gives them credit for intellectual operations well beyond their capacities or, for the most part, their interests. They were madmen, thugs, cranks, occultists, and obscurantists who happened to take over a technically advanced society. They adopted some progressive-looking measures and adopted some progressive-sounding justifications for them, and fundamentally rejected others – or would have if they had even been interested in them.

  15. I am curious how you can call women’s suffrage progressive. It doesn’t meet the definition in any form. How is the granting of voting privileges either progressive or non-progressive. It isn’t an expansion of the states powers, it was a legal change to voting rules.

    What’s curious is that you would continue to make this weirdly ahistorical argument.

    Women in the Progressive Era

    …progressivism was not a single movement but a collection of coalitions agitating for changes that often seemed to contradict each other. For instance, many progressive reforms aimed to increase democracy in America. These included women’s suffrage, the direct election of senators, the availability of the referendum, and the right to recall representatives whose behavior in office did not satisfy their constituents. On the other hand, many progressives hoped to increase efficiency in government and believed that they could do so by diminishing the power of elected officials and installing “experts” in their stead. This impulse found expression, for example, in progressive campaigns to hire city managers in the place of elected mayors or city councils. Government by un elected “experts,” of course, undermined democracy and thus set one set of progressive reforms at odds with another.

    You’re the one who equates progressivism with “expansion of the state’s powers.” Many of the original progressives were quite willing to expand or empower the state, but not as an end in itself. They supported Women’s Suffrage and numerous other democratic reforms because they believed in democracy and supported the participation of women in politics, for a whole raft of reasons – some holding greater importance for some progressives than for others.

  16. Abe Greenwald added his two cents to our discussion:

    “This is not a surprise. Progressivism is nothing if not the natural consequence of outsized prosperity. As Irving Kristol put it, “Those who benefit most from capitalism — and their children, especially — experience a withering away of the acquisitive impulse.”

    My question to Abe,(oops he doesn’t take questions),IS WHY?* And also,it seems like a closed loop process.

    *I think the answer is that the Acquisitive Impulse is such a miserable,degraded process that it takes poverty to overcome the unpleasantness of the whole deal. Think Faulkner’s Snopes family.

  17. The Rebelious Children of Revolutionaries are Conservatives.


    We know that the inverse is commonplace

  18. Progressivism is nothing if not the natural consequence of outsized prosperity.

    It’s unfortunate that AG can’t be taken on a tour of a late 19th Century tenement or meat-packing plant. The closest we can come is to read THE JUNGLE and forget for a moment that the author is a hero to the “bad guys.”

    There’s a certain condescending cynicism in such cliche observations as the one you cite that AG would almost certainly reject if applied to one of his favored causes. It goes without saying that all human actions and passions can be explained according to some combination of materialism and self-interest. I think it was Nietzsche, while declaring that “pity lames the soul,” who argued most insistently that all spiritual attainments were the product of luxury.

    It’s undeniably a luxury to care at all about people – or to compose symphonies or post to a blog. Concern about your next meal tends to focus the attention elsewhere.

  19. Ah yes, Upton Sinclair who along with Lincoln Steffens saw the brave new world in the Soviet Union, along with George Bernard Shaw, as
    well as H.G. Wells (the originator of Liberal Fascism)WEB Dubois, saw good things in the likes of Mussolini for a time.

  20. @ narciso:
    Good thing all the people free of error exist on the right, and that no one associated with the American right ever had a good thing to say about any of history’s great villains.

    Really, this kind of 20/20 hindsight attack is suggestive up to a point, but quickly turns into the obliteration of all distinctions and a poor substitute for thinking.

  21. You’ve read Paul Hollander, the late Jean Jacques Revel I take it, most of these people have made excuses for the GULAGs, the Cultural Revolution, UMAP, Year Zero, the Sandinista turbas yet they seem to have seem our country as Amerika, long before Gitmo became ‘the
    21st Century analog for Devil’s Island.

  22. He was probably dead by then, but I’m sure he would have approved, it’s the pattern with all these figures like Wallace supporters like
    Mailer and Vidal and McGovern (who wrote his dissertation on the great
    Ludlow massacre of 1916)

  23. …and Lindbergh and Hearst found excuses for the Nazis, to say nothing of all of the right, centrists, and merely pro-German apologists all around the world. Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul busily search for reasons that we should have stayed out of WW2 altogether. You yourself attacked Judge Napolitano the other day for blaming the Civil War on Lincoln. We could go on and on with this game.

    It’s well-known that the Western intelligentsia and sub-intelligentsia is full of ludicrous blowhards and useful idiots – always has been, always will be.

    I began with Upton Sinclair. Do you doubt that his depictions of the lives of immigrant workers and conditions at American factories had some truth to them? What’s the point of bringing his and others’ poor judgment on other subjects into the discussion?

  24. So where do good intentions, in part defined by anecdote, stop being the source for public policy. That was the contrast at the health care
    summit, on the debates on SCHIP, for illegal immigration, campaign finance, gun control, if there is no underlying principle, rights can be swept away, like so much shattered glass.

  25. @ narciso:
    agreed, but it’s an intellectual error – also known as paranoia, sometimes just reasoning from the converse – to assume a counter-principle in any superficial similarity of effects. That the Dems made fools of themselves at the HCR summit doesn’t mean that you or I could have survived conditions in many American cities in the late 19th Century for a day. It doesn’t even mean that they’re wrong that the current health care system wouldn’t benefit from government action. Tort reform, for instance, the near universal and consensual demand of Republicans and most conservatives, would clearly require positive government action, however conceived and implemented, even if it could be strictly in the language of repeal and de-regulation (I doubt it, but I guess anything’s possible).

    The question still remains what type of action would really represent positive “progress” from where we are now.

  26. I began with Upton Sinclair. Do you doubt that his depictions of the lives of immigrant workers and conditions at American factories had some truth to them? What’s the point of bringing his and others’ poor judgment on other subjects into the discussion

    Because,CK,those who are Exceptionalist Fundamentalists believe that the “Pure,unadulterated,pre-progressivist America is sacroscant in the sense that its faults are actually its strengths,for example Slavery wasn’t a defect,it strongly demonstrated our fervid committment to property rights.

  27. CK – Sorry for my absence, I actually had to do some work for a change. To your response that I am changing the definition of progressive, I am not. We are still working under different definitions I am afraid.

    Under your definition you are fixating on progress. By your definition, any exercise of supposedly enlightened legislative action is progress. I do not accept that as a marker for Progressivism – which is leftist to the core and talks about the intrusion of the state in the private affairs of the governed. Voting is a public political act. I fail to see how the expansion or contraction of this right is either progressive or not. It certainly fails to meet the very basic definition of progressivism that I have consistently used since this argument got going. I didn’t say giving women the right to vote was a bad thing, or that it wasn’t a good thing. I am not even going to suggest those in the progressive movement didn’t support it, I know they did.

  28. @ CK MacLeod:

    In my studies, I am finding more and more that the historians understanding of progressivism is no more correct than what I thought when I was in HS and college. I believe that in some time mine will be the predominant thought. I do not find it ahistorical at all. It actually is quite interesting to see the fight during Washinginton’s adminstration over what was true republicanism and what was monarchy lite. This fight has been going on almost since the ratification of the constitution.

    I don’t trust the masses. Occasionally, they come around, but often times are led by well intentioned – or not – individuals with an agenda, for instance the global warming scam, which only could have been fanned by progressive govt power determining certain energy use was immoral. Look at ObamaCare. The desire for speed of passage was so that they could use the initial public support before they caught on. I know some people love direct democracy. I don’t, and as I have stated, love the diffussion of power all throughout the system. That is a check well placed. Direct democracy is at odds with the US Constitution.

    Was direct election of Senators a progressive act? Yes, because it changed the structure and composition of the body and increased the opportunity for tyranny of the masses. The House was for the tyranny of the masses, the Senate for the tyranny of the states. Now power is less diffused.

  29. Reconciling mass democracy with the rule of experts isn’t easy, but it may have been easier for those influenced by Wilhelmine Germany, as many Americans during the Progressive Era were. The motto on the old Reichstag was I believe, “To the German People,” ie democracy as a gift to the governed. Popular assembly was perceived by the Kaisers and their ministers and generals as a sounding board and a safety valve, not the sovereign or source of legitimacy, which, if anything, derived from idealist theory or perhaps traditional monarchical rationales.
    Americans of course feel ill at ease with such transparent elitism but a halfway house might be the notion of an educable citizenry freely relinquishing their prerogatives to experts. Thus, maximum freedom enables a kind of Jeffersonian meritocracy, where the natural aristocrats are sifted from the rabble and freely vested with stewardship over the latter.

    Kind of like Klondike gold nuggets.

  30. @ Seth Halpern:

    Except that Jefferson publicly fought that notion to some degree as he tangled with Hamilton’s drive to put the early republic’s financing on a sounder footing. Jefferson (and Madison, who broke from his Federalist Papers co-conspirator) increasingly pushed for real mass democracy – a country of rural propertied farmers who excercised more and more control directly of the country – a furthering of the original delcaration of independence along the lines of France. Now how much he really believed that is up for debate, his real concern was what he saw as the consolidation of power in the monied class in New England at the expense of his region.

  31. Lissen up, you pantywaists!

    Now that I have your attention, I would very much wish you to observe my considerable wonder at y’all’s sheer volume of verbiage regarding the simplest of ideological circumstances.

    Look here, now … a little simple wisdom from a very simple sort of fellow (that’d be me): Is there some sort of purpose, some defining action, some THING or things to which you are all aspiring with all this hoo-hah and fol-de-rol?

    If that be the case, how’s about y’all just shut the dickens up and GO GET IT?!?!?!

    Honest-to Pete, I’m certain that were it to be incumbent upon me to compel y’all to go cut the grass, y’all’d take two weeks debating the gol-danged virtues of 1) Grass, 2) Soil, 3) Air, 4) Plain water, 5) 748 variants of air/soil/water combinations, 6) Lawn Mowers, 7) Lawn Mower Blades, 8) Sharpening Lawn Mower Blades, 9) The effects of sharpening upon high-carbon steel, 10) The effects of varied degrees of “sharp” upon grass, 11) ad infinitum, ad nausaem, ad …..welll …. just ad.

    And the lawn could have been cut 4 times by a one-armed, one-legged man using a dull scissors!!!!!


    Will you QUIT that incessant …. incessant …. BLEATING?!?!?!?!

    Get yer happy butts out there and GO GET WHAT YOU WANT!!!!

    There. I DO feel better. This stuff drives me nutz, and I simply (!) had to share it with you.

    Just a simple man’s view from a simple perspective.

    Here’s how it works: See. Want. Get.

    Got it?

    GOOD for you!

    I’ll be back later to see how bad the fallout is.


  32. @ fuster:

    Obviously I disagree. Being an Official Simpleton, I jes’ call ’em as I see ’em. And I ain’t indelicate. Forthright, maybe … but not indelicate.

    If’n he hadn’t’a wanted underwear trouble, then he should’nt’a worn those frilly ones.

    Those folks’re so busy crushing word-grapes, they’ve done forgot that the whole idea in the first place was to make wine.

    If more people would do that which needs being done we’d prob’ly have a much better place in which to live, don’tcha think?

  33. Luther Tompkins wrote:

    If more people would do that which needs being done we’d prob’ly have a much better place in which to live, don’tcha think?

    Well, Mr T, I pity the fool don’t realize that bout that there cogito ergo sumbitchin something or d’other.

    Now , these old boys don’t prolly have had all then them years lost in the wilderness of being dockteral cannidates in philosophistry so’s they just doing what happens to them that never learned that them German Idea lists is gonna lead ya out the barndoor and onto a frozen lake fulla big piles of pucks left over from horsehockey.

    When they get around to realizing they’s just gotta avoid them ice-holes, they’ll be okay.

    And you should give the Tsar another look, there’re some say he’s quite fetching in his own way, despite being a bit ample in the hips.

  34. @ JEM:
    Regarding the “robber barons” and anti-trust, an interesting book to read is The Triumph of Conservatism by Gabriel Kolko. He is a leftist revisionist historian. His thesis is that the anti-trust laws were the robber baron’s way to thwart their competitors and maintain economic power. Contrary to popular opinion, the trusts were not very economically competitive. Being unable to stave off competitors via voluntary price-fixing arrangements or mergers, businessmen turned to the government to enact anti-trust laws to benefit existing firms at the expense of new entrants.

  35. @ CK MacLeod:
    Regarding Progressives and women’s suffrage — based on my reading of history it was the Populists not the Progressives who supported women’s right to vote. The Populists of the Midwest and West believed their platform as appealing to women and thus saw granting women the right to vote as a means for Populists to gain power. The power of the Populists, not the Progressives, is why women were granted the right to vote in Western and Midwestern states sooner than in the Eastern states

  36. @ Tortz R Us:

    Welllll now …. lookee hyah! A genyoowyne dollar-sniffer has done deigned to stoop to the earth of his forebears and make his presence known.

    Howdy-do Mr./Ms/Mrs./ Lawyer-Person? I trust you’re doing well these days?

    I do cogitate a little bit myse’f from time t’ time. I find it to be most lubricious upon my sum parts.

    However, even having spent several moments contemplating your communication about “philosophisterizing dockeral cannidates, German Idea Lists, frozen lakes, an’ ice-holes” I must in all candor, admit that yer verbage is somewhat obfuscating and would therefore ask you to elucidate fu’ther, if you wouldn’t mind, sir/ms/ma’am.

    The horse-hockey is something with which I am extraordinarily familiar, since I personally shovel over 200 lbs. of it every morning of every day, it having been manufa’tured the previous night by the personal equines of our somewhat miniscule (but adequate) rural Southern home.

    I am, I’m sorry to admit, also familiar with the other version of horse-hockey. That’d be the one which also involves a decided skill in obfuscation as well as intransigence and a distinct lack of elucidation. Said horse-hockey also prob’ly being a familiar of your own, no doubt.

    Which brings to mind the purpose of this missive, not to be denied, as it were, which is, in the lyric-words of the immortal Elvis Presley: “A li’l less talk and a LOT more action!” is what we-uns here in America have been needing since the Great Divide of Lyndon Johnson and the death of Tip O’Neil.

    Talk is fine, the study of history is not only necessary, but demanded of the citizenry; packing knowledge is an important weapon, but dadgum it, we jes’ plain gotta get off that rostrum, that podium, an’ hie ourselves out there an’ USE that knowledge-weapon an’ stop the destruction of the U-nited States as it was meant to be, according to our Constitution an’ all.

    I’d guess I’m hearing the call to defense. The one that comes before the dreaded (and hopefully unneeded) call to arms to defend our country.

    Oh … yeah … I nearly forgot … about that Czar feller you had mentioned … if’n you’re findin’ him fetchin’, well … good fer you. I ain’t havin’ any.

  37. @ CBDenver:
    There wasn’t a strict dividing line between Populists and Progressives. On a national level, William Jennings Bryan was a leading figure in both movements, for example, and Women’s Suffrage figured prominently in progressive ideas about democratic reform – as well as in the platform of the Progressive Party under TR. As for which factors were most important in bringing the idea to fruition, your analysis may be correct regarding the states – I don’t know – but I don’t think there’s really much controversy around the conventional designation of Women’s Suffrage as a typical Progressive Era movement. Progressives like Jane Addams – the first woman to give an American presidential nominating speech – embraced the notion that greater empowerment and involvement of women in politics would help advance the progressive agenda, and the evidence (women tending to vote for the welfare state and against the military) suggests that Addams and her friends, for good or ill, may have been right about that.

  38. @ CK MacLeod:
    Agreed that Populists and Progressives blurred together as both wanted to use the power of the state to enforce their views. As for women voting for the “nanny state” — I am sad to say that was and continues to be true.

7 Pings/Trackbacks for "The Real Progressives"
  1. […] cross-posted at Zombie Contentions […]

  2. […] Today, one decade into the 21st Century, more than 100 years since politicians in both parties and new parties first started marching under the banner of Progress,  we have every right, we need perhaps even more than Reagan did, to ask this question:  Where and what is the real source of progress?  Who, today, deserves to be considered “progressive”? Who really is ready, who really has the courage and foresight, to embrace the future?  Who are the real progressives? […]

  3. […] Today, one decade into the 21st Century, more than 100 years since politicians in both parties and new parties first started marching under the banner of Progress,  we have every right, we need perhaps even more than Reagan did, to ask this question:  Where and what is the real source of progress?  Who, today, deserves to be considered “progressive”? Who really is ready, who really has the courage, imagination, and foresight, to embrace the future?  Who are the real progressives? […]

  4. […] Today, one decade into the 21st Century, more than 100 years since politicians in both parties and new parties first started marching under the banner of Progress,  we have every right, we need perhaps even more than Reagan did, to ask this question:  Where and what is the real source of progress?  Who, today, deserves to be considered “progressive”? Who really is ready, who really has the courage, imagination, and foresight, to embrace the future?  Who are the real progressives? […]

  5. […] I’ve discussed at greater length before (both at HotAir and at my home blog), in my view the “conservative progressive” running […]

  6. […] volunteer conservative left deviationist progressive apologist, I have previously composed my own lists of to me less obviously bad progressivisms, seeking to highlight those Progressive Era reforms that […]

  7. […] volunteer conservative left deviationist progressive apologist, I have previously composed my own lists of to me less obviously bad progressivisms, seeking to highlight those Progressive Era reforms that […]

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