In Hot Air’s Greenroom, CK MacLeod argues that the Left has unduly hijacked the mantle of “progressive,” and that there can actually be such a thing as “conservative progressivism.” Needless to say, I don’t find his argument very compelling.
The main problem seems to be the definition of progressivism he seems to accept as his starting point:
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.
He attempts to enlist Sarah Palin and Rep. Paul Ryan as such progressive conservatives—the former based on little more than the fact that she campaigned as a reformer and uses the word “progress” a lot; the latter because he sees Ryan’s healthcare proposals as progressive, and, um…he’s from Wisconsin, isn’t he?
All this really shows is that CK’s definition of “progressive” is so vague as to be useless. What he calls “progressive” basically boils down to the word’s most common usage of reform or “improving stuff.” Well, who isn’t for improving stuff? Who wouldn’t reform something that isn’t working? But that’s not what political progressivism means.
His characterization of Ryan’s healthcare goals—“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”—is a little closer, but still misses the mark.
“Bringing government closer to the people” is a value progressives sometimes advanced, via direct referenda, recalls, and such, but this was mostly a strategic calculation, not a political value—as they deemed certain levels & branches of government to be roadblocks to their vision, they experimented with different ways of getting around them. Regarding “greater efficiency and effectiveness,” we again should ask: who’s against efficiency and effectiveness? To present either as a defining trait of any one ideology is absurd.
He’s most wrong when he says “the destruction of undemocratic and corrupting concentrations of power” is a “foundationally, capital-‘P’ Progressive goal.” Progressivism certainly styles itself as movement of and for the people, but its conception of democracy—government actualizing the universal will—is not the same as the Founding Fathers’—government by consent. For one thing, they explicitly rejected the Founders’ belief in clearly-defined limits on government power and dismissed the principles of the Declaration of Independence as applicable only to the Revolutionary era, from which history has since progressed. For another, their idea of democracy granted the people a say in what goals government should pursue, but they emphatically denied that the people were fit to figure out how to achieve them—better to leave the actual details of policymaking to the unelected, unaccountable “experts” of the bureaucracy. As President Wilson said, “I believe in the people: in their honesty and sincerity and sagacity; but I do not believe in them as my governors.”
Blogger JE Dyer is doing a good job dismantling CK’s assumptions in the comments, and it’s extremely telling that CK’s already been reduced to little more than griping about semantics.
Glenn Beck ain’t perfect, but he does deserve credit for working to educate the country about the American Left’s progressive foundations. Heaven knows our schools and Republican Parties aren’t doing their job in that department…