Monday, June 22, 2009

Peak Column #4: An Unanesthesized Dissection of Progressivism: Part II

Previously on R4R, we began a savage and merciless attack on the political ideology known as “Progressivism.” She was a cagey opponent however, so the smackdown has spilled over into this week’s column. Hopefully, loyal readers of Rules for Radicals are as patient as they are intelligent and open-minded, and can forgive the two-week delay.

The quality of open-mindedness will be particularly important to my Progressive readers this week, since we will be pulling no punches, barring no holds, and landing every cheap shot we can get away with in our cagematch against their flawed and dangerous ideology. It won’t be pretty, my dear Progressive friends, but I promise you: it’s necessary. As for my Conservative readers, prepare for a treat. Grab some popcorn, set the TiVo, and turn your phone off – in a few minutes, Progressivism will be nothing more than a tie-dyed stain on the heel of your host’s boot.

Let’s begin. Recall, in our earlier attack on the Right, we pointed out that Conservatism, by definition, opposes change. But, we said, change is often necessary and desirable. Therefore, Conservatives are idiots. This cuts both ways, however. Change is often good, but it is certainly not always good. Since Progressivism (by its literal definition) always favors change, Progressives must also be idiots.

Of course, I’m just fishing for hate mail right now. Neither Conservatives nor Progressives are, to a man, idiots. But my point, which I’m sure you’ll grant, is that an ideology that is reliably phobic of change is as philosophically bankrupt as an ideology that always and everywhere fetishizes it. Unless you believe that human societies are constantly changing for the better, literal Progressivism is logically untenable.

This is an excellent argument against my own straw-man definition of the Left. Perhaps I’ve convinced you that “Progressivism ” is a slightly inaccurate name for your beliefs, but I’m sure the beliefs themselves remain firmly entrenched; if you supported a comprehensive welfare state coming into this column, nothing I’ve written here should change your mind. But now that we’ve found a fundamental flaw with the ideological core of Progressivism, it’s worth asking some questions.

Such as: If Progressivism isn’t simply an unflinching love of change, what is it exactly? If we look at the policies proposed and implemented by people who call themselves Progressives, what is the common denominator? Consider a list of ideas any sane and reasonable person would have no trouble identifying as progressive: Publicly provided schools and health care; generous welfare programs; state ownership of major industries; increased regulation of business; and the liberal use of fiscal policy during recessions.

Note that each involves a transfer of power from individuals to a centralized governing authority. Is this a coincidence? Did your host cherry-pick to suit his demagogic purposes? Perhaps. But try this thought experiment: put together a list of Progressive policies that do not involve the expansion and centralization of government power. Once you have tried and failed, the conclusion is inescapable: The ideology of Progressivism advocates a gradual and wide-reaching extension of the powers of central governments.

To me, this discovery is reason enough to condemn Progressivism – I see it as self-evident that ever-expanding state authority in every aspect of people’s lives is abhorrent. It strikes me as painfully obvious that, historically, small governments emphasizing the rule of law and free markets have been orders of magnitude more successful at improving the human condition than governments that did not – there is a reason guards on the Berlin wall had their guns pointed inward at their own citizenry, preventing them from escaping. China’s 10% annual growth is not unrelated to her recent pro-market reforms. If your opinion on this matter doesn’t match my own, please spend some quality Wikipedia time with Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Chile and Ireland - see if you can manage to come out the other end with your pro-government sympathies intact.

Realistically though, if you don’t share my preference for small government over large, than there is nothing I can say to change your mind in an 800-word column. I can recommend some authors – Milton Friedman to get your toes wet, then some Hayek once you’re warmed up. An occasional episode of South Park doesn’t hurt. But ultimately, the realization that 60’s-style Leftism is untenable is one that recovering Progressives must come to themselves.

Hopefully the conversion process is complete before our next column, though. Next week, we’ll be focusing on a new question: Since the Libertarian ideals of capitalism and free markets have been responsible for what have unarguably been the most prosperous two centuries of human history – why are those ideals being categorically discarded by Western governments over the past century?