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.