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Comments by CK MacLeod

On “Paul Ryan on Real Progressivism

@ JEM:
Goldberg's full of it, JEM. He has some interesting ideas, but his approach is badly flawed and highly parochial. If he's your only source - he seems to be the only one you've named - then you're being misled.

@ Zoltan P. Newberry:
It's not about the word, Z. To the extent it is about the word, it's because people like Beck and secondarily Goldberg have gone far, far beyond political combat with today's progressives and have instead propagated a dishonest, self-destructive, dead-end, incipiently extremist view of the national political discussion. The radical, fantasy constitutionalism, the namecalling, the proud declarations of hatred for Ameircan political leaders, the willful and defamatory distortions of history - it's potentially extremely destructive. Even in the best of circumstances, nothing good will come of it.

It's about what conservatives are really after and what this country is really about. It's about thinking clearly and dealing with the implications of one's words, and it's also about why a guy like Ryan and gal like Palin are as appealing as they are - and also about why the original Sarah (pre-trashing) was attractive to a significant majority.


narciso wrote:

Fascism was the accomodation of the left impulse to total power with capital,

The fascists claimed to reach much further back, and to a much deeper level, than the left. Mussolini was explicitly pre-Enlightenment. The Hitlerites imagined themselves as new, improved versions of the Teutonic Knights and the heroes of legend. The left did not invent the will to power.


You're still making assertions, JEM, based on no apparent evidence - possibly on a reading of Liberal Fascism (which on your suggestion I've been re-reading). Where do you get the definition of progressivism as "directly based upon the idea that intelligent men sitting in positions of power can use the power of government to improve the situation of men." I'm not even sure what you're getting at with this statement - which either implies that all belief in government for any purpose is "progressive," or perhaps suggests that progressivism strictly reduces to the a cult of expertise. The former is too broad to be useful, the latter obviously reductive, and directly contradicted in the discussion undertaken in the main post, following Ryan's remarks.

And how are we supposed to interpret a statement like "from the progressive’s loins sprung communism, socialism, fascism, modern liberalism?" Apparently, you're here using an extremely broad definition of progressivism that, for no reason I can see, stops at Rousseau and excludes all his Enlightened brethren and sistren, and just happens to include the things you dislike intensely. Why precisely are the Founders and Framers excluded from the big fat contentious family? And if progressivism - whatever you mean by progressivism - was the mommy, who was the daddy, and why are communism and fascism more the fault of the former?

The differences between communism, socialism, fascism, and progressivism and other political philosophies may be at least as significant as any similarities. Goldberg and those before him take liberties with the subject matter in the hope of striking a balance: Tired of being called a fascist, Goldberg produced the popular literary equivalent of "I know what you are, but what am I!" He ignores the key difference between progressivism and the schools of violent revolution: It's neither violent nor revolutionary. At the moment that it becomes so, it ceases being progressive and turns into something else.

I'm leaning toward a definition of progressivism as the the politics of expedient reform. All of the other additions and historical burdens with which people like Goldberg, and yourself, seek to weigh it down with are daddy's work, or, more often, features of the age, no more uniquely or essentially "progressive" than the clothes the progressive activists wore as they went about their business.

There is a gray area of legalized coercion that borders on violence or has the character of implicit threat, but that's not uniquely progressive either. One thing that was uniquely progressive in the American historical sense was the embrace of the tools of direct democracy - transparency, referendum, recall, etc. - as an additional check on governmental power and excess. Though we can imagine situations in which direct democracy might amount to mob rule, that's an abstraction: Primary elections, initiatives, recall, etc., have in the U.S. tended to function largely as intended - which isn't to say that they solve all of our problems, but they haven't turned us into an Athenian mobocracy either.

Such progressive reforms answered or helped to answer a strongly felt need at the time they were put in place. Your equation of direct democracy with "centralized fascism" is so absurd it's Orwellian, frankly. The rigged plebiscite has long been a favored tool of the dictator. It's the progressive's nightmare. There were no sunshine laws in Nazi Germany. Nazi officials were not subject to recall. There was no referendum on the Holocaust.

I likewise have no idea where you get the idea that constitutional amendment is "non-progressive," unless it's just more Goldbergism. Again and again, you put his exaggerated and highly questionable cart before the historical horse. The progressives liked constitutional amendments and, generally speaking, proceeded by lawful means. They sought to reform and improve the law. Goldberg ignores this critical difference between them and the villains of history with whom he wants to associate them.

BTW - Wilson thought women's suffrage should be handled by the states and only gave in on it when it was virtually a fait accompli and he thought it might bolster the war effort. He had always opposed Prohibition, and vetoed the Volstead Act (through his wife and personal secretary - it occurred soon after his stroke - the veto was overriden, of course).

I'll get to Joe's post at a later time. These are two fairly heavy comments to try to reply to all at once, and when I began this one I was already feeling pretty burnt out from a long day's journey into a rather beautiful, already getting Summer-y So Cal evening..


@ Lotus Feet:
The ads were, I believe, placed before he was diagnosed.


@ Lotus Feet:
since you insist, "milky loads" was the term Sullivan apparently used as an expression for the semen that he liked to distribute liberally, or have distributed liberally, I forget which. Couldn't dig up the original post referring to same on an initial search. Would likely have been late Aug/early Sept '08 at the Ace of Spades blog.


@ fuster:
C'mon fussy. Can't we advance the discussion even by a tad? I'm thinking less and less that you'll have Palin to kick around as a candidate in '12, If I'm not just overreacting to that American Stories show, and Palin isn't running, then that would make dealing with what she represents rather than with her personal pluses and minuses more important.


@ Lotus Feet:
It's a reference to a mini-scandal or maybe a better word is an embarrassment connected to the publication of some very sexually explicit personal ads Sullivan apparently placed some years ago. Apparently, they were well known to a circle of cognoscenti. I believe it was when Sullivan first started getting gynecological in re Palin that the blogger Ace O'Spades declared them fair game.


@ Joe NS:
He's more a wonk than a speechifier. You raise an interesting question tho for anyone musing about Ryan's future. All I really know about him is that he's a man with a plan, that he's quite articulate regarding his main areas of interest, and that he's a workout obsessive (from a recent puff piece). His legislative history is minimal.


Seth Halpern wrote:

You are already on the slippery slope.

We are always already slipping around. The system is always already being encroached upon and is vulnerable to encroachment.

The main justification for political progressivism was the perception that the "conventional machinery" had been or was in the process of being circumvented, superseded, or rendered dysfunctional. It's also worth keeping in mind that the progressives were, overall, quite idealistic about the law: They sought to utilize the system's own capacities for self-repair, not to overthrow or replace the system, though in the process the more visionary progressives and crypto-progressives, like Wilson, did assert their right to think beyond the system.

As for why "ur-Progressivism morphed into its alleged opposite," why, as an observer of human nature and human history, would you expect anything else? The first progressives were closer in time to the Founding than we are to them.

My narrative would be that multiplicitous movements for change arising out of the Reconstruction period had already achieved many of their most important political goals - not the same as policy goals, but in some cases those as well - by the time that the political intellectuals of the day started seeking to codify and systematize the movement. Their results were inevitably reductive and parochial. By the time the 2nd wave or generation of progressivism got under way in the 1920s, progressivism was already a different movement, organized around new issues as well as old, unfinished business, and being driven by new forces in new directions. By the time we reach our period, the nominal progressives have lost all touch with the spirit of progress, other than perhaps some remnant faith, not to be entirely discounted, in the "progress" of social justice and a very retrograde set of notions about how the state can go about achieving it.


@ billd:
The terms we use should suit the points we're trying to make, I think. Some people, for instance, like to point out that there was an unsuccessful Canadian party that went under the name "progressive conservative." I'm not really sure why that should matter to us.

That use of the word "progressive" and combining it with its supposed antonym may cause confusion is fine. The idea is to undermine the left's false claim to the word "progress," and to emphasize the left's betrayal of aspects of progressivism that deserve to be safeguarded, revived, or extended - and that also happen to be quite popular. The idea is also to remind conservatives of their own assumptions - since there's a tendency to latch onto impressively fierce-sounding rhetoric whose implications very few real, existing voters will ever embrace, and for good reason.

The brand of radical constitutionalism in fashion on the far right may serve a purpose, but reduced to a dogma it becomes a dead end, and exposes its proponents to embarrassment, either directly or in relation to some of the other political elements it tends to attract.



@ Scientific Socialist:
The destruction of the "political machines," zactly whachu talkin bout dere, was one of the few virtually unanimous, defining aims of the original progressives.


@ Scientific Socialist:
We'll find out how they vote, but the cynicism about democracy expressed in those arguments may itself be debilitating.

We used to take it on faith that, if given a chance to vote, the citizens of the Communist dictatorships would overthrow their leaders in the ballot box. That's certainly what the Communists themselves believed - thus their refusal to allow free and fair elections, and their insistence on rigged votes.

It's possible - I would guess likely - that "pure democracy" would result in a society more "socialistic" than preferred by radical constitutionalists, at least in the short term, but what Madison was warning against and what we'd need to guard against are two different things. Consulting the people, utilizing modern means to do so that Madison couldn't have dreamt of, isn't or wouldn't have to be the same thing as instituting unchecked mob rule.

As for Fuller's visionary ideas, he anticipated the Madisonian argument, and responded with praise of the American public, whom he at the time (1940) observed as being virtually immune to the war fervor sweeping the globe. We don't know what kind of evolutions, feedback responses, and synergies (Fuller's word, of course) an electrified democracy would discover. I'd love to see some modern American city give it a whirl, just to see!


@ Lotus Feet:
It means I think we should attack 'em just like I've been saying we should attack 'em - not let them pose as the defenders of "progress" when they are the enemies of progress. Hit 'em where it hurts - and in the meantime not miss the chance to recuperate what once made progressivism a deeply American and broadly popular approach to politics, and what still makes it an appealing idea to large numbers of Americans who should be on our side.


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