Thanks, Davis - I'd actually been thinking of bringing up Hamilton in a related context - in particular the tendency to portray the Founders as all of one mind about what they were doing, what they had done, and what it all meant in practice - but your knowledge of his life and acts far exceeds mine. I'll but Chernow and perhaps the other authors you mention on my ever-growing reading list.

TheUnrepentantGeek wrote:

Reading the Constitution and understanding what the Founders meant is more complex than rocket science. Well then.

Well then, indeed.

Determining the precise meaning and requirements of a treaty, compact, promise, or law under changing circumstances has in the past often proved not just difficult but impossible, despite - and crucially because of - the combined efforts of millions of people.

Politics on this level is much more complex than rocket science, because it concerns masses of human beings, each of whom is more complex than a rocket, and because it concerns language, which is infinitely extensible and malleable. Language is much more complex than mathematics - mathematics being a species of language. That's a main reason why there are no thinking and talking computers. They can solve equations, and handle the calculations more quickly and precisely than we can, but they can't (really) solve sentences.

Today's warhead weighs effectively the same as yesterday's and last year's. Today's word can mean something slightly different today than yesterday, or when I use it as compared to when you use it, depending on where we use it. Across hundred of years, a globe-spanning political economy representing of 300+ million, life expectancy ca. 75, vs a tiny post-colonial enterprise of 2.5 million people, life expectancy ca. 40 - it's not surprising if sometimes interpretation is indeed a consumingly complex enterprise, far beyond anything an engineer would dream of attempting.

@ JEM:
As I recall the history, the momentum toward war and the expectation of war was strong, in part because it wasn't the first time that the nation had previously almost come to open armed conflict over the underlying issues, and also because Buchanan had left such a mess behind. Also, although you're right that Lincoln stated that union was more fundamental and in the event more urgent than abolition, everyone knew that the danger to the union stemmed from the disagreement over slavery. The idea of suing for the right of secession isn't one I've seen examined anywhere. Don't know if there's a good reason for that.

@ JEM:
Does indeed read as pretty definitive. I'll have to accept your rendering, though I'm going to take a look at the book again one of these days and search for evidence of hedging. In the couple of years since I read it, I may have mentally massaged its major themes, in conjunction with the disavowals of "liberals = fascists," into a view I find more credible. I should add, however, that my own understanding of fascists is heavily influenced by my greater familiarity a) with the Nazis, and b) with the war. To the extent that fascism is identified with the Italian branch and its inception, I think it's a lot less important. To the extent it's more generalized, I think Goldberg's argument, as you provide it, becomes harder to maintain.

@ JEM:
Not how I read him. Don't have a copy of the book at hand. I recall him pointing out overlap, sometimes extensive, between fascist and progressive practice, interchanges and interaction between fascists and leftists, the early history of key fascists like Mussolini within socialist organizations, etc., but that's not the same thing as saying that fascism is of the left - especially since there was as much history of cross-pollination between the fascists and forces associated with the right. There are further complications because of the differences between fascist parties, and within given fascist movements at different points in their development.

@ JEM:
I took Goldberg's argument a little differently. You seem to see fascism as organic to leftism. I'm not sure that Goldberg, or for me, fascism itself is ideologically coherent beyond "power for its own sake and by whatever means or justifications" - social darwinism of the act, not the theory, though once in power it naturally gravitated back to the theory, in its most brutally vulgar forms. There's nothing inherently "left," and certainly nothing particularly "progressive," about much of Italian and German fascist ideology. The term itself is of course a reference to the ancient Roman symbol of political power.

adam wrote:

the fact of arguments and disagreements doesn’t preclude the possibility of one position being right, and our being able to discern that position–indeed, why would we be arguing otherwise?

But nothing ensures that the right position can always be detected and satisfactorily and irrevocably expressed. Whether the Founders prior to Marbury vs Madison actually anticipated the full scope of judicial review the court ended up adopting, much less the process that we've accustomed ourselves to in the 200+ years since, is to say the least debatable. Nowadays, we take it as a given that the Court will reach imperfect, politically distorted decisions, and that this session's 5-4 vote could be overturned next session or a few sessions from now.

As for the specific cases, I think there are others here who can discuss them much more cogently than I can, so I'll skip ahead to your further point.

After you describe the process of narrowing down disagreements and addressing them through rules and procedures, you say the following:

if the basic dogma of human equality slips out of those discussions, it’s the conservative’s job to point out that those discussions will consequentially lose their mooring and become increasingly arbitrary–they will, increasingly overtly, start to depend upon extraneous considerations, like the latest social theory, popular trends, international law, etc.

I'm not saying it's impossible, but I'm not sure how the dogma impacts upon many controversial, unsettled, or arguably wrongly settled areas of Constitutional law - for instance, war powers, as mentioned above.

As for those cases where questions of human equality or the definition of humanity seem clearly to be in play, the human equality argument seems to break down precisely over different definitions of the human and over the role of the state in defining, protecting, and limiting human rights. Are you familiar with Roberto Unger's writings perhaps? It's been several millenia since I read him, and I believe he may have been a lot more popular on the left than on the right, so I hesitate to bring him up out of reluctance to wear yet another heretic's brand, but he wrote very interestingly on the conflict of worldviews underlying legal disputes - not just the differences over, say, the definitions of human being and human life in Roe v Wade, but the differences in multiple dimensions between assignments of priority and meaning of all of the diverse terms brought into play.

(Translating very roughly here.) As a result, conventional legal or political language sometimes appears to suggest more overlap or potential agreement between opposing sides than there actually is. Both sides may use the same vocabularies, but they understand the words they're using differently.


Do we still share that basic dogma, though? And if we don’t, can it be restored? Have a lot of the disagreements come out of a basic human resistance to accepting even the most liberating dogmas?

...Even if we did, we might not. Even if it could be, it might not really be, or might not (as we may have seen) last very long. It might be more like an exotic particle produced by the legal super-collider, vanishing from existence as soon as the proceedings are over, though not without grave lasting real world effects.

On the last point, though, yes, absolutely. The Grand Inquisitor.

Incidentally, as to the origin of the phrase "liberal fascist," there's some confusion about where exactly Goldberg got it, but it's usually attributed to HG Wells 1932 - discussion here. I'm not disputing that Reich may have used it first or separately. The author of the just-linked post has the impression that Goldberg got it from Wells via his own work, though Goldberg himself has spoken of a "rich history" behind the phrase.

I think it's relevant to the discussion of progressivism in part because Goldberg, throughout the book and ever since, has been at pains to distinguish between "liberal fascists" and "fascist fascists," and to assert that he never meant to suggest that they were the same thing, or for that matter that contemporary liberals deserved to be thought of as fascists. His objective throughout the book, to me, seems more to be to defend against the assumption held on the left that fascism is a phenomenon chiefly or essentially of the right. He never gets to the point of suggesting that historical fascist movements were chiefly or essentially phenomena of the left. Beck is much less cautious, and I think Golderg could be faulted for allowing himself to be made use of by Beck at times, if Goldberg really meant what he said about avoiding false equivalences.

TheUnrepentantGeek wrote:

I’ll try and provide you with a more convenient stereotype with which to brand me the next time.

Got nothing to do with stereotypes. Has everything to do with anti-intellectual poses that shift without transition to snidely superior ones.

As for people having fits on the HA thread, I'll live. There are a lot of intelligent people at HA - I seem to recall that, oddly enough, you have occasionally been among them - but they tend to pull back if a thread is turning into food fight, and that's what I was hoping to avoid or at least keep to a minimum when addressing BECK! It doesn't affect my thinking to know that x commenters responded by saying they loved Glenn Beck and hate people who accuse him of encouraging hatred.

Unfortunately, the idea that the ready availability of "writings by Jefferson and the like" answers all questions is you back in the caveman mode. Anything further on this particular subject I'll reserve, as I think over adam's comments and walk the dogs.

TheUnrepentantGeek wrote:

What, exactly, am I supposed to think you mean here?

How am I supposed to answer that question when you keep on bouncing between caveman conservative and smartass.

If you can “reinterpret” a work in any meaningful way – given the weight of scholarly evidence we’ve got about exactly what the founders thought

And given the weight of scholarly and historical evidence that the Founders and the immediately succeeding generations disagreed to the point of breaking off with each other, threatening to abandon the project, preparing and then finally engaging in civil war, there has been and always will be - it's the nature of human beings, the human condition, and most fundamentally of all, language - room for disagreement over interepretation, including disagreement about how "meaningful" that disagreement is, and whether a given adjustment for changes in circumstance and unanticipated questions is a novel re-interpretation or an obviously justified translation.

– how in the world can you claim to support authorial intent? This ain’t exactly rocket science.

It's actually a lot more complex the rocket science. It's like trying to calculate rocket trajectories with actual rockets instead of numbers, since every word is defined by another word, and every text by another text. We're left to adopt pragmatic approximations of intent, which in some instances are obviously much less subject to disagreement than others, and trust that, over time, overall, the determination of the people to do what's right will overwhelm the determination of factions and individuals to serve themselves.

In addition to the mechanisms for interpretation and improvement that strangelet rightly points out are part of the Constitution, there are numerous matters of some great note - action of separation of powers, war powers, etc. - that were left vague, and the text itself also includes artifacts of compromise and other imperfections.

So, yes, the Constitution is alive, alive, and was designed to be that way, but, no, that doesn't mean that we're in the United States of Wonderland and it says whatever we want it to say.

I don't accept you as a spokeperson for HA, or even for Beck supporters, but you and those arguing like you don't seem to have any consistent idea of what you're talking about when you talk about progressives - like Beck and like Alice, you seem to believe that the term can mean whatever you want it to mean depending on whatever purpose you choose for it at any given time. I guess you believe in a kind of living progressivism.

Rex Caruthers wrote:

How does Bismark fit into this group?

Probly social security.

@ TheUnrepentantGeek:
Thanks for coming here rather than leaving your disagreement buried in an HA thread, though I won't pretend that I appreciate your insulting tone or your willful misreading of what I wrote. If you're capable of conducting a civil discussion, I'd be happy to defend what I wrote about the "living" Constitution. My perspective - what I wrote, not what you project - doesn't contradict original intent, and I don't have any idea what your point about the definition of progressive is supposed to be.

@ Scientific Socialist:
Read the definition of "progressive" at the link above, and tell me how much of it you agree with Beck cannot "co-exist" with freedom and must be eradicated like a cancer.

Your recitation suggests that Beck isn't really attacking all of progressivism, merely attacking a current swindle, but that would leave him with about 59 minutes of dead air every day.

That progressivism may exist on some continuum on the way to totalitarianism isn't a good excuse, in my view, for pretending that there's no distance between the two terms. That's the way of paranoia and madness, and most likely toward what you most fear, perhaps under a different name.

@ fuster:
Stop being so nice. People will talk.

Plus Liberal Fascism is a very good book. You'd enjoy it. And Goldberg didn't make up the term: He took it from a self-avowed liberal fascist.

JEM wrote:

A question for you that would perhaps help me. How do you define progressivism?

Good question! I'll go with this:

Then, in response to Beck and Goldberg, and the statements of such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and the continued existence of magazines like The Progressive magazine, extend it to include the broad labor-oriented left, eventually including everyone who believes in government as an agent of social reform and change, which in turn forces us to broaden the view of progressivism beyond the history of the term itself and to consider the fundamental outlook. So the other day I described it as The Enlightenment for the Industrial Era, but I'm willing to consider its root in the very basic idea of "progress," which goes back to the very beginning of the beginning., and may be another name for civilization.

Hope that helps. ;)

JEM wrote:

@ CK MacLeod:
I am going to study the last half of your last comment for awhile before jumping in, but it strikes me as missing something significant.

Please do tell!

JEM wrote:

Much of the progressive legislation of the past does great damage today – farm price supports, wage and price controls at various times, TVA, social security, food stamps, welfare pre-Cinton reform, CRA, I could keep typing but you get the point. The only thing really sparing us a further descent into nanny statism is that we ran out of money.

Well, then we're largely in agreement - except that I don't think we can call "child labor etc." a straw man. That "Etc." includes a lot of stuff that I suspect a majority of Americans strongly support, that a large number would defend quite fiercely - and includes other things that the vast majority would be mystified about anyone seeking to overturn. Beck's rhetoric - and sometimes J.E.'s, as I noted at her blog today - appears to make no exception even for straw.

Gallup '04 is out of date on Labor Unions:

I agree with you, however, that what many people, including some of the voices here, mean by "conservative" includes "conserving" what was in its own day "progressive" or, if you will, crypto-progressive. That's part of my larger point, and it's also one of the main things that makes American conservatism difficult for some to grasp, including many conservatives as well as many liberals, who tend to associate conservatism with diverse non-American "rightwing" traditions or with past rightwing stances. American conservatism conserves a moving target - conservatively. In that respect it's Burkean, but while Burke's conservatives were conserving parliamentary monarchism, Americans are conserving a revolutionary tradition and, by now, a way of things and sets of social and economic expectations informed by generations of our progressivism - it's almost our own royalism.

(I'm gonna get killed when I post this to HA, I suspect - just waiting to see if someone else comes up with a way to protect me from myself.)

Scientific Socialist wrote:

I wonder how well you understand the brothers and sisters who are the bedrock of the progressive movement who really love Che, Mao, and Alinsky, who long for a heaven on earth here and who feel entitled to get what they want by any means necessary.

Knew 'em pretty well, I think. Admission possibly against interest in this discussion: Was one of them (like, I hasten to add, good conservative comrades like David Horowitz as well as Norman Podhoretz). Beck doesn't restrict himself to attacks on supposed Che-Alinsky-worshippers. He spends a substantial portion of his time trying to turn the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham into the functional equivalents of Che and Alinsky, or worse, into Che Alinsky demon sheep.

The progressive movement consists of many millions of people, and goes back generations. Many of them are kind and thoughtful people who will argue from today to next month non-stop about why they're just as good Americans as you or me, why their beliefs and history are integral to the US of A and in a good way, and many of them can be persuaded to think logically and act creatively and cooperatively

I have yet to disagree with your or JED's assessments of Beck's contributions to the national discussion. I've conceded them and have even expanded on them. You have yet to address my specific criticisms of Beck's political positioning and excessive rhetoric, except to suggest, I guess, that we decline to take them seriously. That's, as I said, trying to have your Beck and eat him, too. If we must agree not to take him too seriously, then, considering his audience and the uses we at the same time wish to make of it, it's all the more important to be aware of our own ideological hygiene and make sure that his non-serious, dangerous-if-serious views don't infect us.

@ fuster:
That's just silly, in poll after poll for many years, self-identified American conservatives have outnumbered liberals by around 2 to 1.

@ fuster:
Adam spoke the other day about the "lingering sympathy for the Confederacy" (I hope he'll forgive me if I've mangled the quotation) still visible among some conservatives and libertarians. You will, indeed, run into "Lincoln was evil" commentary on the fringes at places like HA. To be confronted directly, in my view, but the funhouse mirror reverse can be found all over leftwing and mainstream sites and events as well. Arguably, the modern conservative movement has policed itself rather better than liberalism has. I think the difference may be that fewer mainstream conservatives actually like and admire the rightwing lunatic fringe as compared to liberals in relationg to their revolutionary prophets and saints.


As noted, I've amended the post to hold open the idea that Beck himself might "learn to drop such demagogic rhetoric."

You then ask us to consider some questions about the nature of progressivism, and I can't give an unqualified "yes" to them before proceeding to merely contingent aspects of the treatment of Beck as a political commodity. As in my reply to JEM, I still see progressivism as having a mixed legacy, and I don't see it as merely a slow-motion version of Nazism or Communism foisted on our body politic in the dead of historical night. I also doubt whether there is truly a "coherent body of political thought and practice" that we could define as progressivism and successfully exclude from our national life. I accept that there will always be aspects of our political life that, from one point of view or another, will seem contradictory to any strict view of the Constitution. I suppose I accept the sinful heresy that, like any other text - sacred, legal, contractual, political, or literary - it is subject interpretation, re-interpretation, and is in that sense a "living" document. I believe that the Constitution itself and the Founders as great realists accepted and embedded this understanding within the Constitution and exemplified it in their conduct.

In the rest of your reply, you enunciate positions with which I agree, including the idea that Beck has opened issues up to discussion that deserve to be discussed, and has helped move the national conversation into new territory, and that Beck himself might be salvageable, and at least deserves to be treated as such - just like all of those virtual Nazi-Commies in the US government.

Thanks for the thoughtful replies. I have amended the post in one I think significant respect, adding a provision to my thesis statement on "the point" on the possibility that Beck might respond positively to criticism.

@ Sully;@ Zoltan Newberry:
I can agree with your views, but they bypass the arguments that the big names and I have made. It's not a question of destroying Beck, but of preventing critical aspects of his approach and his rhetoric from destroying us. We're not obligated to take him seriously, but you can't have your Beck and eat him, too: If he's going to be influential, a worthy keynote speaker at movement events, a commodity to be distributed to the knowledge-hungry masses, then he and to some extent we have to take responsibility for his rhetoric.

@ JEM:
My concerns are the same as Bennett's, Wehner's, Rubin's, Levin's, and Limbaugh's, and, yes, I also question his critique of progressivism. No one yet has answered the question I posed the other day: Exactly how far are we supposed to go dismantling the progressive legacy, which pervades society and government, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of practical politics? Is everything the progressives believed in wrong? Even if it is, don't they have the right to be wrong, and isn't it completely in order within the Constitution and the American system for them to seek to advance and implement their bad ideas? And if large majorities of our fellow citizens agree with the progressives, even to the point of either amending or circumventing the Constitution, aren't we obligated, and wouldn't we be wise, to seek common ground with them?

Regarding your remarks and Rex's on Wilson, I am against bringing the language of hatred and social hygiene into political discussion - period. It makes civil disagreement and discussion, including democratic compromise, difficult if not impossible, and, once implanted, can lead anywhere... and it may not be up to the speaker to provide the exclamation points, gestures, and throngs, but rather time and social conditions. It's also the ultimate "Big Government" idea, in my view: That we can create a perfect government free of "social diease" down to the last cell.

Isn't it one of Beck's main points that by a similar process what he calls progressivism turns into the great 20th Century Corpse Grinder?

So, no, I don't think it's sensible or sane to pour invective on Woodrow Wilson. He's dead and gone, and we can disagree about his legacy and his policies. I'm not a fan, but we don't need scapegoats. We don't need to legitimize hatred in stages, beginning with hatred of an historical figure, then tying him to contemporary figures in similar positions and without differentiation, using him as a proxy in an obvious equation, and speaking about him and everyone like him as "cancers" that cannot be tolerated.

Americans are free to be communists and progressives, to believe that the Constitution is a defective or obsolete document, or even to hate Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama. And we have the right to feel the opposite way, if we do, but in the end we're stuck in the same country and have to work something out together. In the meantime, it's true that our government and national life are pervaded by progressivism, and it's in my view delusive to suggest that it was all done in secret, by conspiracy, as a great historical swindle.

Rex brings up WWI, and it's a good example in this context. Without trying to re-litigate the entirety of American and world history, it's worth recalling that. by the time Wilson reversed his peace pledge and brought us into the war, it was a very popular position - as indeed the war was for most of its duration in most of the countries fighting it, that being a main reason why the politicians were unable to extricate their forces from the bloodbath.

Rex then blames Wilson for the GD, or, as he prefers, GD1. That to me seems a stretch, and leaves out a range of actors all of whom had the advantage over Wilson of being alive and active throughout the generally highly prosperous decade that directly followed his presidency, and that preceded GD1, and that also saw the U.S. continuing its rise to global economic and eventually political and military pre-eminence. Unless you imagine, as I never do, that utopia was there for the taking all along, Wilson's legacy looks mixed to me.

But the popular political discussion will never get into those weeds. Beck can point to his stack of books - truly a pathetically pseudo-intellectual gesture - but his rap reduces to Wilson=evil, Obama=Wilson, therefore Obama=evil - a cancer, that can't be tolerated, etc. If that's the way conservatism is heading, we should pray it's a dead end, and soon. Otherwise, bad luck and new personalities may provide those exclamation points and throngs I referred to, to the complete overthrow of everything Beck, I think, wants to stand for.