I’ve been struggling to come up with a down-and-dirty definition of modern Progressivism. I know that we can just call it socialism with an American accent, but that’s inaccurate. We need to define it correctly because doing so allows us to see and address Ground Zero — the creation point — of this toxic ideology.
As any good conservative knows — especially those who have read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change — American Progressivism was a political movement that originated more than a hundred years ago. Some early Progressives liked to borrow some ideas and words from socialism, as was the case in Jean Webster’s 1912 classic Daddy-Long-Legs. In that quite charming book, the heroine, Judy Abbott, is a foundling sent to a posh college modeled on Vassar. Once there, she pronounces herself a Fabian, meaning (to her) a socialist who wants to bring about change slowly, without an actual revolution.
Despite borrowing a few linguistic trappings, though, American Progressives were never European-style socialists. The difference between American Leftists and their European counterparts was a matter of class — the Europeans had classes and, technically speaking, Americans did not. Sure, America had her rich and her poor, and some families who could trace their wealth back a few decades, but Progressivism arose in a time when America was still an economically dynamic country, one in which people’s status was based on wealth, not birth, and they could rise and fall depending on their luck, hard work, and financial acumen.
In this, Americans were unlike Europeans who had ancient, deeply stratified, practically immobile classes. As Alan J. Lerner wrote for My Fair Lady, “An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him. The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.” England was not alone, of course. Lerner could have written the same words about every European country, and indeed just about every other country in the world.
Classic Marxist socialism, which arose in mid-19th century Europe, envisioned a true revolution, with the social orders upended, and the lowest becoming the mightiest. The resulting socialist government’s final form would be statist — that is, individual rights and property would be nonexistent — but it would be the people dropping their “h’s” who ran the state, rather than those who spoke received English.
In America, the Progressive movement was entirely different. Sure, in America’s new ghettos, there were Italians, and Poles, and Russians, and Jews who imagined a socialist revolution, but they didn’t get it. In a country with no tightly defined classes and the possibility of social mobility, no one really wanted to change the system. Why blow up the casino if there’s a chance, no matter how small, that you might win?
The real revolutionaries were the middle classes getting educated at the Ivies, as well as all of those liberal arts colleges popping throughout America after the Civil War. The professors in these colleges believed that a confluence of classic education and science could perfect humankind. Let the liberal arts define the perfect human being and the perfect society, and then let science and technology bring these ideas to fruition.
For example, these educated classes were in agreement that the perfect human being would look and behave remarkably like them: white, Anglo-Saxon, fit, and educated. Science then provided the answer to achieve human perfection: Safe and legal abortion, along with sterilization for anyone deemed unfit — blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Italians, Asians, the mentally or physically infirm, alcoholics, and anyone else who didn’t fit the Aryan mold. (It really wasn’t that big a step for the Germans to conclude that abortion and sterilization were too slow and to opt, instead, for wholesale slaughter. The Germans, obviously, were not Fabians.)
In certain situations, strides in science and technology were indeed a boon. Farming, manufacturing, medicine, and technology brought wonders to the world: cars, airplanes, radios, movies, television, safe surgery, sophisticated vaccinations, machines bringing relief from backbreaking field work while increasing food output, were all modern wonders. (Although I suspect that, if one looked into the background of many of these wonders, they did not originate in America’s colleges, but in individual workshops, factories, and homes. Take the Wright Brothers, for example. . . .) The Progressives’ mistake was to believe that humans were just like widgets, and could be treated in the same way as these object-based advances.
Home economics was born, assuring American women that if they followed the expert instruction coming from male and female university professors who had never had a child or run a home, these women could have a perfect home, filled with perfect children, who would grow up to become perfect adults. As part of this, mothers were told not to give in to human emotions when it came to their babies, because the scientific method, allied with that Progressive goal of perfecting humankind, mandated that babies experience a certain amount of rigor, combined with a lack of affection, to grow up properly.
Education in America, which could have followed Maria Montessori’s focus on children and how they actually learn, instead became an assembly line for producing educated citizens. Students were rolled from one year to another, subject to mass teaching, a system that instructed many of them, but educated few of them.
Woodrow Wilson was the embodiment and apex of the early Progressive movement. An intellectual and a university professor, he promised Americans that he would lead them to the American utopia — an expert-run country benefitting all. It’s ironic that something as awful as World War One prevented this first Progressive experiment from reaching a Germanic end. The war revealed the tyrannical statism lurking behind the Progressive movement. When the war ended, Americans no longer had a stomach for iron-fisted expertise. They craved the “normalcy” that Harding promised. They wanted to have fun and be imperfect.
Faced with Harding, Coolidge, flappers, and bathtub gin, Progressivism went to ground. And in the context of Progressivism, “going to ground” meant retreating to the Ivory towers of the myriad college and universities that dotted the American landscape. Subject to a few terrible economic forays during the Roosevelt era, Progressivism basically festered in academia. In those hallowed halls, academics clustered together, assuring themselves and each other of their superiority when compared to the crude, ill-educated, boorish American in the street. These academics took their cues from the sophisticated Europeans — people so sophisticated that they started two world wars, resulting in the slaughter of sixty or more million people.
The same academics taught generations of students that America was a brash child of a nation that needed to be tamed to European norms. The unspoken part of this education was that once tamed, America could be socialized in the same way that modern Europe was being socialized. Sadly, these proud academics were too stupid to realize that Europe’s much-vaunted cradle-to-crave welfare system worked only because America entirely absorbed the defense costs that all sovereign nations have to pay . . . or die. (It’s funny how Europeans always got pissy when I reminded them that we hard-working Americans were funding their free health care, thirty-hour work weeks, six weeks paid vacation, and early retirement. They got even pissier when the Cold War ended, we stopped paying, and they started going broke.)
The post-war era — and, more specifically, the GI Bill — gave the academics a huge influx of students to whom they could teach these ideas. Unfortunately for the professoriate, the first batch of students was made up of men and women who had been tried in the Depression and the theater of war and were, therefore, (mostly) too tough for their ideological blandishments. They had seen first hand just how “sophisticated” Europeans actually were and therefore were a hard sell for the notion that Europeans should be emulated, not rejected.
However, as the war retreated, the academic Progressives gained ground in the American middle class, especially with spoiled and bored Baby Boomers who were susceptible to manipulation through guilt, fear, sex, and drugs. But before we get there, we have to take a brief stop in 1952 and again in 1956, when the academic Progressives hatched their first candidate — Democrat Adlai Stevenson, a witty, charming Harvard-educated lawyer who appealed to the burgeoning class of college educated Americans but made the mistake, as he said, of running against a war hero.
Incidentally, to show how far the Democrat party has come, I think everyone reading this blog would willingly cast a vote today for Stevenson. Here are just a few of his better-known statements, which will help you understand how far the Left has traveled in the ensuing 60 years:
The whole notion of loyalty inquisitions is a national characteristic of the police state, not of democracy. The history of Soviet Russia is a modern example of this ancient practice. I must, in good conscience, protest against any unnecessary suppression of our rights as free men. We must not burn down the house to kill the rats. [A nice counter to the new Left’s demands that those who do not parrot their ideas are haters and must be silenced.]
Communism is the corruption of a dream of justice.
What counts now is not just what we are against, but what we are for. Who leads us is less important than what leads us — what convictions, what courage, what faith — win or lose. A man doesn’t save a century, or a civilization, but a militant party wedded to a principle can. [In other words, don’t worry so much about who Trump is. Focus on the values he promises to advance, and the people who promise to keep him honest if he wins. Remember, Hillary is much, much worse.]
It was always accounted a virtue in a man to love his country. With us it is now something more than a virtue. It is a necessity. When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect. Men who have offered their lives for their country know that patriotism is not the fear of something; it is the love of something.
The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions. But there is also, it seems to me, a moment at which democracy must prove its capacity to act. Every man has a right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal chords.
Public confidence in the integrity of the Government is indispensable to faith in democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight and spend for.
There is no evil in the atom, only in men’s souls. [Tell that to the gun control crowd.]
My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.
If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is not a barking dog, to be tethered on a ten-foot chain. [And tell that to the attorneys general who are trying to criminalize opposition to an inviolable climate change ideology whose devotees misleadingly claim it is “science.”]
Those who corrupt the public mind are just as evil as those who steal from the public purse.
Some of us worship in churches, some in synagogues, some on golf courses … yet we are all children of the same Judaic-Christian civilization, with much the same religious background basically.
The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal — that you can gather votes like box tops — is, I think, the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.
We must recover the element of quality in our traditional pursuit of equality. We must not, in opening our schools to everyone, confuse the idea that all should have equal chance with the notion that all have equal endowments. [That statement alone would get him kicked out of today’s Democrat Party.]
The first principle of a free society is an untrammeled flow of words in an open forum. [I think Triggly-Puff should read this.]
It will be helpful in our mutual objective to allow every man in America to look his neighbor in the face and see a man — not a color. [An idea today’s Democrats, who are steeped in race, deplore.]
Nixon is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump for a speech on conservation. [Just think of Hillary and the $12,500 Armani potato sack . . . er, dress she wore to give a speech on income inequality.]
An editor is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff and then prints the chaff. [And he was talking about a kinder, friendlier media.]
A beauty is a woman you notice; a charmer is one who notices you. [Not political. I just like it. As I get older and my looks fade, I try hard to be charming.]
Reading those quotations, you can see that Hillary Clinton, today’s Democrat Party candidate, is no Adlai Stevenson. What she lacks in Stevenson’s wit, charm, and core values, she more than makes up for in cackle, corruption, and anti-Americanism.
So far, I’ve described the classic Progressive — a wonkish kind of person, most at home in the academy, who was convinced that expert scientific analysis could be brought to bear on social and political issues so as to create an improved world. He loved America but believed that science (including the new categories of social and political science) could make her an even better nation.
The classic Progressive vanished in the 1960s when socialism moved onto campus and into the hearts and minds of the guilty (early white privilege), fear-ridden (the draft), drug-ridden, sexually obsessed Baby Boomers. By “vanished,” I don’t mean stopped existing entirely. I mean that American Progressivism cross-bred with socialism and created today’s Progressive — a hardcore statist who is invested in the full socialist agenda, but dresses it up in academic clothes, complete with Lysenkoism (i.e., fraudulent science to support bad, or even dangerous, politics). An analogy might be the way in which Africanized Killer Bees crossbred with American honeybees, which resulted in Killer Bees occupying seemingly innocuous honeybee hives.
Today’s Killer Bee academics do have a few things in common with the old Progressives. They still believe in the rule of an academic elite. To them, Obama’s Harvard Law degree was, in and of itself, adequate proof to them that he had all the necessary accomplishments to become president. Likewise, Ben Rhodes’ English degree made him an ideal person to shape and then dishonestly push the Iran deal. After all, he’d almost certainly read lots of Alice Walker, Doris Lessing, and Rigoberta Menchú Tum, just to name a few of the Leftist, anti-white, anti-male, antisemitic writers who have flooded America’s liberal arts departments.
Unlike the old academics, though, the new Killer Bee academics share the socialists’ belief that science is not a discipline for discovering hard, immutable truths, but as a vehicle for political change — which means that scientific truth must always be subordinate to political goals. (Back in the old days in America, politicized science was mostly the province of racists. Now it’s the province of all Leftists.)
And speaking of those racists, just like Wilson today’s Progressives still believe that blacks are inferior. The difference between then and now is that the Killer Bee academics dress that racism up in seemingly loving language so that they blame societal victimhood, rather than genetic inferiority, to address the fact that blacks do not thrive as they should in America. Having dressed their racism up in the garb of political science, they then use it as another vehicle to drive political policy.
Moreover, because it worked for blacks, academic Killer Bees have learned to use the same technique with other minorities, women, non-heterosexual people, and whomever else they can convince of victimhood in order to create a political pawn. (Conservatives, incidentally, side with Frederick Douglas, who said, essentially, “Get that government away from my people so that they can use their gifts to thrive, without either the government’s dangerous malevolence or even more dangerous faux-beneficence.”)
The biggest change in today’s academic Killer Bee Progressive is the hardcore Marxist socialism that’s invaded the university hive. These people want a true revolution. They believe in a totally state-controlled economy. They are determined to squash individual liberty — and to use guns in government hands against unarmed citizens to make sure that the liberties, once taken, never return. They have completed the transformation from honeybees, naive but patriotic, to Killer Bees, determined to use the tools of academic — the papers they publish, the students they control, the graduates they seed in America’s media and businesses — to destroy America and remake it in Marx’s image, with an academic elite at the helm.
So if you’re wondering how we got to where we are now, look no further than America’s universities. If I were to give Donald Trump advice, I would tell him that one of his first acts as President should be to do whatever it takes to withdraw all federal funding from America’s colleges and universities. After all, if the Obama administration was willing to withdraw those funds over potty rights for sexually confused people, Trump should certainly be able to withdraw them to save America from Killer Bee academics.
UPDATE: I barely finish writing when I see that California, which has no money, found $5 million to fund a “gun research” institute at UC. Now, do you seriously think it will do honest research about guns used both offensively or defensively, with an eye to constitutional rights, or will it simply use taxpayer money to advance the goal of destroying the Second Amendment? If you want to see actual gun research, go here, where John Lott and his team let the data lead, rather than letting the ideology lead (with taxpayer funding yet).