The roots of Progressivism’s appeal…or not?

David Foster just posited that “We should have a discussion thread on the sources of the emotional/intellectual appeal of “progressivism” and how, if at all, these factors can be countered.”

Bookworm’s aficionados have been all over this issue in a multitude of scattered comments, but let’s let all hang out. It really is the core question of the hour. On to you…

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  • Danny Lemieux

    OK, let me start this: my own experience with many Liberal /Progressives (esp. at my Church) is that they are driven by:
    a) a craving need for security and they believe that the government can fulfill that need)
    b) Utopian visions of reengineering society they way they believe it should be perfected.
    c) an envy of others who have money.

    Among the wealthy people I know, Progressive beliefs are more of a Stockholm Syndrome reaction: they believe that by mouthing platitudes about the Liberal welfare state and taxation they are saying, “hey, I’m just like you — please don’t kill me when you come after me with pitchforks and torches!” There is, of course, the undying need of people like this to feel good about themselves as well, as in “Of course I am a good person – I vote Democrat!”.

    So, the best way to attack this, in my view, is to point out that the society they envision will actually be the opposite of what they desire. There won’t be security, there won’t be entitlement programs…there will only be the “Big D’s” in Democrat – despair, degradation, deprivation, decay…Detroit! 

  • David Foster

    A big part of it, certainly, is social pressure. In many industries and social groups, dissenting from the “progressive” party line means you will be in with the out crowd. But that doesn’t answer the question of how these ideas became so dominant in those segments to start with.

    “Progressivism” is not a coherent intellectual system even to the faux-intellectual level that Marxism was. Nor does it same to have the same sort of direct irrational emotional appeal that Fascism/Naziism had to many people, with the appeal to racial or ethnic solidarity. (Those the increased racial focus of the Dems seems to be aspiring in that direction.)

  • Old Buckeye

    I have seen all three traits you mention, Danny. The Utopian vision is driven further by their belief that they are smarter than any conservative. Heck, they’re smarter than the people in the history books, because they ignore the trail of failed attempts to create Utopia. I see the base of Progressivism being rooted in the academic elites. And they are some of the most insecure people I’ve yet to come across. I’ve been an adjunct faculty member at a couple of small institutions and the faculty has been the same everywhere–lots of crabbing and clawing for recognition, putting more letters behind your name, etc. I’ve chosen to remain an adjunct because of the mindset. I just don’t see the point. The money envy is so true too. And what gets me is that it seems a lib sees it that if someone else has more, that means that they–the liberal–has less! Or they got it through inheritance or some nefarious means–cheating someone else out of it! It could never have been through hard work. In other words, “you didn’t build that!”

  • Beth

    From my observation, Progressives have a severe lack of self-discipline, self-respect and work ethic.  How dare anyone say “Shame on you”.  Any pleasurable thing out to be not only available but accepted and revered as honorable and good. 

  • Mike Devx

    My very liberal friend will definitely be voting for Obama.  He is “progressive” because:
    – He hates Christians, and thinks they have far too much influence on Republicans
    – He thinks businesses are massively corrupt, and the only way to control them is with strong, big, powerful Government
    – He buys into *all* the arguments on the left about global warming and, urgh, vomit: “sustainability”

    Them’s the main three reasons.  I’ve given up on “arguing” with him, because mostly we just talk past each other.  It is not worth my time anymore.


  • JKB

    Below is an excerpt from an article published in the late 19th century.  It discusses socialism but that is just what Progressivism is.  Progressivism evolved from Christianity as the believers disposed of God.  Whereas, Christianity worked to change men’s hearts, the Progressive works to get the state to do by force what religious teachings do by inducing people to be a better person.  This is part of the reason that Christianity is held in such disdain by the Progressive, it is a viable alternative to their belief system

    First, we must accept it is a religion.  As a religion, Progressivism cannot be countered by logic or fact.  Frank discussion must be stopped.  To counter religious nuts, you must continually show them the fallibility of their beliefs.  You must root out and reveal the hypocrisy.  Obama has been very good at this with the failure of their grand plans.  I had a thought today.  If we have this intelligent campaign, will many of the college “educated” be able to participate or comprehend it.  This bodes poorly for the near term but in the long term, the fact that an alternative viewpoint is being revealed can spark realizations.  However, until then, this challenge to the Progressive church teachings is likely to provoke violence as beliefs are tested.

     It may be worth while to emphasize this difference. The fact that Christianity held that accounts were to be balanced in heaven, and that those who had good things here were to have evil things hereafter, that those who were full of sores at the rich man’s gate were to be in “clover,” and the rich man was to be in torture, made it possible for Christian Socialism to exist side by side with institutions which furthered these social inequalities which have been incident to every state of society. The Socialist of our day, however, seems to have turned his back on Christianity, and to have made a serious misalliance in espousing science. This separation has had two effects : it has relieved the thinker from any sense of authority, and it has made him demand an immediate balance of accounts between himself—poor, and his neighbour— rich. He naturally wants not merely to have the pleasure of seeing Dives thirsty hereafter, while he himself is in the consoling bosom of Abraham, but he wants to have some of the good things Dives has. Unwise Socialists talk about confiscating what Dives has; wise ones shudder at the word “confiscation,” but say, “Come, let us ‘tax ‘Dives.” The adoption of science as a creed is a curious feature of Socialism, for science is not, we think, on the side of Socialism. The scientific doctrine of today is that progress has been effected, not through equality, but by means of inequality. It is not by ” taxing ” those who have, for the benefit of those who have not, that evolution goes on, but by oppressing the weak and the poor, and by bestowing the five talents upon him who has five.. Darwinism is in favour of a fair field and no favour, on which the best pigeon, the best stag, and the best man may win and abolish the vanquished. Socialism is desirous of putting an end to this strife, of abolishing competition and rivalry, and of allowing not only the best and fittest, but of allowing every one to survive. And if this fine design cannot be carried out by human nature as it exists, it purposes so to regulate human nature that this end may be a possibility. It purposes, in effect, to punish the capable and the strong for the benefit of the incapable and the weak—for there shall, in spite of Nature, be equal social conditions. Under these circumstances it would be interesting to inquire what would be the effect upon evolution of the successful establishment of a thorough Socialism. That Nature would have her way iu the long run, nay, in the short run, we are inclined to believe, and that she would drive her coach-and-six through this new statute book is more than probable. 

  • Old Buckeye

    This post from Powerline was interesting in light of this thread:

  • David Foster

    Mike Devx…”He hates Christians, and thinks they have far too much influence on Republicans”

    The hate of Christians, and also of rural and southern people, plays and important part. I’m frequently astonished at just how vitriolic these feelings are..much stronger, usually, than any feelings about radical Islamists or rogue states with nuclear weapons.

    Even though I’m not myself a religious person, it seems to me one should be bothered more by someone who wants to blow you up or cut your head off or (at a bare minimum) shut down your freedom of speech than by someone who wants to talk to you about Jesus (or NASCAR!). But that’s evidently not the way many “progressives” see it.

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  • David Foster

    The link from Old Buckeye makes the point that “progressives,” despite their claims to intellectuality, seem increasingly uncomfortable with abstract thinking. Related thoughts on this at my post Dionne vs Jackson on the seen and the unseen.


  • Danny Lemieux

    David Foster: “I’m frequently astonished at just how vitriolic these feelings are..much stronger, usually, than any feelings about radical Islamists or rogue states with nuclear weapons.”

    Actually, this goes a long way to explaining the confluence of the Left with radical jihadis. See what is happening on the campuses. Just this past weekend, I experienced a pretty scary demonstration of pro-Palestinian confluence of thinking with Jihadis among a group of Liberal/Leftists in my church that smelled suspiciously like anti-semitism. Believe me,  I am going to look into this very carefully to see what is going on. The prophet Isaiah warned us about people for whom evil is perceived as good and good is perceived as evil.

  • Gringo

    I am reminded of  Tom Leher’s  “Folk Song Army.” We can mine the opening lines.
    We are the Folk Song Army.
    Everyone of us… cares.
    We all hate poverty, war, and injustice,
    Unlike the rest of you squares.
    Progressives ARE concerned about bettering conditions in the world, about doing something about “poverty,war, and injustice.” Grant them that. There is also a warm fuzzy feeling about being a Progressive, about belonging to an in group that is about BRINGING ALL THOSE GOOD THINGS TO THE WORLD IN CONTRAST TO THOSE NO-GOOD MEANIES WHO WANT TO KEEP THE WORLD FULL OF POVERTY, WAR, AND INJUSTICE. Etc.
    For Progressives, intentions trump results. When others ask them if their proposed  GOOD PROGRAMS will actually bring forth the desired results, the Progressive responds that those who ask those questions are NO-GOOD MEANIES etc. etc.. Research on on Head Start, which has been in place for nearly a half century, shows that Head Start makes no difference in the long-term academic achievement of those enrolled in Head Start. Judging by results, Head Start has been a half-century’s worth of  wasted money. To the Progressive, the effectiveness of Head Start is not important. Head Start has  had good intentions, which is why it should continue.
    Progressives believe that whatever the problem, government will solve it. “There ought to be a law” is the implicit mantra of progressives, which forgets that quite often government is the cause of the problem. See the effect of welfare requirements on the long-term decline of the black family. For those who believe that more government is always better than less government, they should ask themselves: would the South and the whole country  have been better off if Jim Crow laws had not been enacted in the late 19th century?
    Progressives believe that we can achieve Heaven on Earth. We just need one more law, one more program. And then another law. And then another program. Those of us who are not Progressives believe that while we can most likely improve the mess we are in, there will always be a mess. It is inherent to the human condition.

  • David Foster

    C S Lewis, in That Hideous Strength, described his protagonist–a sociologist–as follows:

     “..his education had had the curious effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than the things he saw. Statistics about agricultural laboureres were the substance: any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer’s boy, was the shadow…he had a great reluctance, in his work, to ever use such words as “man” or “woman.” He preferred to write about “vocational groups,” “elements,” “classes,” and “populations”: for, in his own way, he believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of the things that are not seen.” 

    I think this phenomenon has a LOT to do with “progressivism.” While the focus on abstract categories may superficially seem to conflict with my point about the ability of progressives to think abstractly, it really doesn’t. What they tend to do is the *reify* abstractions, to treat them as if they were concretes, which is a long way from serious abstract thinking.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Gringo: “For Progressives, intentions trump results”. 

    To that, I would also add “methods trump intentions”. Inevitably, Progressives turn to coercion and violence to achieve the goals of their intentions. It begins in little ways (abortion) and transitions into big ways (death camps).

    Eugenics was always based on the “good” intention to remake the world into a better place. Two of the many Progressive icons of the movement were Margaret Sanger and Madison Grant. Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood as a means of ridding society of “undesirable people” (primarily blacks) and Madison Grant wrote the book on ethnic genocide, “The Passing of the Great Race”, a book that Hitler referred to as his “bible” and which laid the foundations of the Nazi genocide.

    It is from this perspective that we need to view current Progressive efforts to gin-up mob violence (e.g., Occupy Wall Street, the New Black Panthers, etc.). 

  • Danny Lemieux

    David Foster, I think that your post has circled back to Bookworm’s adage above, namely “Conservatives deal with facts and reach conclusions; liberals have conclusions and sell them as facts”.

    Incidentally, I have often used the Bookworm Adage in conversation with Liberals: it resonates. 

  • Charles Martel

    I’d like to bring sex into this.
    No, really.
    When I was in high school, the sexually permissive kids (aside from the apolitical football punks) fancied that their attitude was most congruent with a hipster lifestyle. As the beatnik, and later hippie, cultures embraced an ethos of indolence, anti-authority, the rejection of logic and reason, and loose sexual morals, the political philosophy that best covered up the horrendous defects of that mentality had to be one that could accommodate relativism and feel-good politics. That accommodation began in 1968 and eventually morphed into the modern Democratic Party.
    I have run into few committed “progressives” who haven’t alighted sooner or later on the vulva, or the penis, or the anus as their primal focus. The “right” of everybody to sloppy firsts, seconds, and twenty fifths becomes enmeshed in the liberal mind as the right to have that end supported by the government. Thus, Sandra Fluke and all the other liberated wymyn who need a paternalistic government to sponsor their spread-legged antics.
    That explains much of the shrillness and histrionics that comes with leftist reasoning. You can do anything you want—destroy the black family, eviscerate millions of people in the womb, tax the rich for being uppity, excuse Muslim savagery, and piss on Judaism and Christianity, but don’t you dare insist there be any limit to my sexual appetites. Long live the orgasm!

  • David Foster

    One especially noteworthy phenomenon is the level of support for Obama/”progressivism” in the financial industry.

  • Danny Lemieux

    David Foster – perhaps it is because banks are indispensable where big money is concerned and Democrat/ Progressives inevitably equate with financial corruption. 

    It brings to mind a recent column at 

    And, we can probably add Jon Corzine to the list of financial people that will never be prosecuted. 

  • interestedparty

    Very interesting discussion. I agree with much of what JKB wrote and find the roots of the appeal of Progressivism described in Freud’s little book “The Future of an Illusion” in which he describes, broadly stated, the roots of religion. Like JKB, I see Progressive thought as a religion. Being a religion, its appeal can be found quite simply in its promise to take care of all of our needs in the face of what appears to be overwhelming odds against us. And, quite similar to religion, it is maintained by fervent faith in its goodness, truth and “rightness” in the face of whatever objective evidence may indicate or suggest. Furthermore, like most religions across history, there are “true believers” who so believe in its goodness and ultimate “rightness” that they are willing and ready to impose it on the rest of us “for our own good.” As CS Lewis described, these “do-gooders” are more dangerous than admitted tyrants because they sleep peacefully without a shred of concern or guilt precisely because they believe they are doing a good thing –  “The Lord’s work”, if you will. Though I prefer to not use the lyrics of music, particularly rock music, as illustrations, David Bowie’s Cygnet Committee comes to mind:
    And I close my eyes and tighten up my brain For I once read a book in which the lovers were slain For they knew not the words of the Free States’ refrain It said: “I believe in the Power of Good I Believe in the State of Love I Will Fight For the Right to be Right I Will Kill for the Good of the Fight for the Right to be Right”