Monday, June 1, 2009

Peak Column #3: Progressivism: Not Your Parent’s Radical Ideology

Welcome to another thrilling installment of Rules for Radicals. Last week, I did my best to alienate the Right-leaning half of my readership with a no-holds-barred smackdown of modern Conservatism. It wasn’t pretty. Any Conservatives who have returned – please congratulate yourself. It is a rare person who willingly reads something they disagree with, and your continued patronage of Rules for Radicals speaks highly of your open-mindedness.

As promised, today’s fare is something you’ll feel much more comfortable with - a savage and merciless thrashing of modern Progressivism. In our best impersonations of Ann Coulter, Michele Malkin and Bill O’Reilly, we’re going to hack away at the Progressive movement, until nothing remains but a smoldering pile of patchouli-scented ash and bones. Excited? I certainly am.

Progressivism is ideologically undesirable because it is, quite simply, out of gas. This is not to say it is dead, like Conservatism. Quite the opposite. Progressivism has been the dominant political ideology of the Western world for half a century and counting, and in that time it has achieved near-total control of the levers of power in our world.

Bold claims such as these require some explanation. So says my hate mail, anyways. What’s all this business about the Intergalactic Progressive Empire? Don’t, like, the Corporations and the IMF run the world? Surely Naomi Klein and Michael Moore wouldn’t mislead us on this crucial point. The planet is firmly controlled by a secretive brotherhood of fat, white, Republican men. Barack Obama himself may be one of their cleverly-disguised agents, such is the power of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.

A common narrative, perhaps. But it doesn’t survive close inspection. What is “power” really, in a democratic system such as ours? It seems to rest in the hands of the voters. The people! How noble. But as anyone who has ever met a person knows, they are irrational, whimsical, selfish and unpredictable. Hardly the sort of creatures to be trusted with power. Unfortunately, history has been quite instructive in teaching us that the tyranny of the masses has been considerably less dangerous than the tyranny of the few. Usually, anyways. So we’re stuck with democracy, for lack of a better alternative.

But voters, unlike loyal readers of Rules for Radicals, are not the reasonable, intelligent, open-minded altruists we would like them to be. They are easily led, persuadable, and prone to flights of whimsy. As a consequence, true power is located securely with the people and institutions who can most effectively shape public opinion. Chief among these would be the public schools, Universities, and the media – each of which is a staffed and managed by men and women of an overwhelmingly Progressive disposition. I realize I’m sounding more than a bit like Rush Limbaugh with this, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. We can quibble over the extent to which each is dominated by the Left (exceptions abound, particularly in the print media) but it is hard to argue with the conclusion that North Americans receive their information about the world primarily through Progressive-approved channels.

If further proof is necessary, consider the overall trend in public opinion over the past half-century. The increasing power and popularity of Progressivism has been the overwhelming narrative of Western politics since the Second World War. Even if you disagree with my Coulter-like claims of Progressive domination of the information organs of our society, you still can’t escape the fact that something is happening to guide the North American and European citizenry in a Progressive direction. The beliefs of a man who passes for a Conservative today would have been called liberal in 1980, radical in 1950, and treasonous in 1900. Very rarely is a winning team forced to repeatedly lower their standards for what it calls a victory.

So you’ll excuse me for rolling my eyes at the suggestion that the Left is anything but a 100:1 favorite in its perennial showdown with the Right. Of course, demonstrating that a particular ideology has been successful is not sufficient to condemn it. All we have shown today is that modern Progressivism is powerful – hardly a damning claim, though still one that most Progressives would argue against with almost suspicious vehemence. Next week, we’ll continue the case against Conservatism’s longtime rival. As we’ll see, neither belongs anywhere but the ash heap of history.