In recent decades, the label “progressive” has been resurrected to replace “liberal,” a once vaunted term so successfully maligned by Republicans that it fell out of use. Both etymologically and ideologically, the switch to “progressive” carries historical freight that augurs poorly for Democrats and for the nation’s polarized politics.
.. Historical progressivism is an ideology whose American avatars, like Woodrow Wilson, saw progress as the inevitable outcome of human affairs.
.. The basic premise of liberal politics, by contrast, is the capacity of government to do good, especially in ameliorating economic ills. Nothing structurally impedes compromise between conservatives, who hold that the accumulated wisdom of tradition is a better guide than the hypercharged rationality of the present, and liberals, because both philosophies exist on a spectrum.
.. A liberal can believe that government can do more good or less, and one can debate how much to conserve. But progressivism is inherently hostile to moderation because progress is an unmitigated good. There cannot be too much of it. Like conservative fundamentalism, progressivism contributes to the polarization and paralysis of government because it makes compromise, which entails accepting less progress, not merely inadvisable but irrational.
Hillary Clinton, for example, called herself “a progressive who likes to get things done” — the implication is that progress is the fundamental goal and that its opponents are atavists.
.. Unlike liberalism, progressivism is intrinsically opposed to conservation. It renders adhering to tradition unreasonable rather than seeing it, as the liberal can, as a source of wisdom.
The British philosopher Roger Scruton calls this a “culture of repudiation” of home and history alike.
The critic of progress is not merely wrong but a fool. Progressivism’s critics have long experienced this as a passive-aggressive form of re-education.
.. Because progress is an unadulterated good, it supersedes the rights of its opponents. This is evident in progressive indifference to the rights of those who oppose progressive policies in areas like sexual liberation.
.. The ideology of progress tends to regard the traditions that have customarily bound communities and which mattered to Trump voters alarmed by the rapid transformation of society, as a fatuous rejection of progress.
.. Trump supporters’ denunciation of “political correctness” is just as often a reaction to progressive condescension as it is to identity politics.
.. Where liberalism seeks to ameliorate economic ills, progressivism’s goal is to eradicate them.
.. Moynihan recognized this difference between Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which he always supported — as exemplified by his opposition to Clinton-era welfare reform — and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which he sympathetically criticized.
.. The Great Society partook more of a progressive effort to remake society by eradicating poverty’s causes. The result, Moynihan wrote, was the diversion of resources from welfare and jobs to “community action” programs that financed political activism.
.. Conservatism holds that accumulated tradition is a likelier source of wisdom than the cleverest individual at any one moment. It fears the tyranny of theory that cannot tolerate dissent.
.. Liberalism defends constitutionalism. One of the finest traditions of 20th-century liberalism was the Cold War liberal
.. progressivism, by its very definition, makes progress into an ideology. The appropriate label for those who do not believe in the ideology of progress but who do believe in government’s capacity to do good is “liberal.”
Theologians call the principle of concrete-to-universal knowing “the scandal of particularity.” John Duns Scotus asserted that God only created particulars and individuals, a quality he named “thisness” (haecceity). Thisness grounds the principle of incarnation in the concrete and the specific. You can’t really love universals. It’s hard to love concepts, forces, or ideas. Ideology is just the ego wrapping itself around such abstractions.
Love—God incarnate—always begins with particulars: this woman, this dog, this beetle, this Moses, this Virgin Mary, this Jesus of Nazareth. It is the individual and the concrete that opens the heart space to an I-Thou encounter. Without it there is no true devotion or faith, but only argumentative theories.
Why is “thisness” so good and important? To begin with, such thinking was a breakthrough in the hierarchical Middle Ages, when the top and the center were considered most important. Any writing about a commoner’s life was very rare at that time. The concept of the individual apart from the group had not yet been born, despite Jesus’ talk of leaving the ninety-nine to search for the one (Luke 15:4). Kings and queens, the papacy, the office of the bishop, and nationhood were far more important than anything small, local, immediate, concrete, or specific. “My king is better than your king” and “my religion is the only true one” substituted for personal transformation or the sense that God was engaged with the individual and ordinary soul (which is precisely mysticism). The corporate, collective identity was preferred to a person’s own soul. Without truly seeing and valuing individual lives, war and violence become almost inevitable. Unless we can see and honor “thisness,” religion and politics are up in the head, and the heart and body will remain untouched.
Duns Scotus fully and happily live inside the communal Body of Christ, while still preserving and honoring the importance of the individual. He is an amazing example of bridging the gap. I find it most rare in our postmodern society on both the Left and the Right. He held onto the individual end of the continuum so strongly (almost unheard of in the 13th century) that some churchmen have accused him of actually fathering Western individualism! In truth, Duns Scotus held the entire continuum together—both part and whole—with such refined consciousness that he was very early dubbed “The Subtle Doctor” of the Church. We could use such subtlety today.
Trumpism Is a Psychology, Not an Ideology
The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life.
gun-control advocates assume that if Republicans oppose “gun free” workplace rules, it’s because they think gunplay at work is okay — and not because such laws don’t work on people keen on shooting up their office
.. I have no doubt that Porter was good at his job. One hears reports about how he was a stabilizing presence in the White House and a reliable ally of the Gang of Grown-Ups in the West Wing. But it tells you something about the bunker mentality inside the White House that these allegations were simply too bad to check.
.. one of the great defenses of the Trump administration is its practicality and rejection of abstract theory and ideology
.. Part of my defense of ideology is that much of it isn’t abstract theory (
.. Different thinkers (Burke, Chesterton, Hayek, Polyani, et al.) have different terms for different kinds of knowledge that cannot be simply conveyed with words, such as “tacit,” “hidden,” or “embedded”
- .. “Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States” is explicit knowledge.
- How to throw a curveball involves a lot of tacit knowledge;
- all the variables that go into the price of a loaf of bed is embedded knowledge;
- all of the arguments that go into why good manners are valuable is hidden knowledge.
.. it took hundreds of thousands of years of trial and error to come up with the ideas bound up in liberal democratic capitalism and modernity.
.. the supposedly abstract ideology that underlies Western civilization — on most of the left and most of the right and everywhere in between — is the greatest achievement of practicality in all of human history.
.. The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life.
.. In politics, the worry is very often not that the government will knowingly do wrong but that it will take the shortest path to doing what it thinks is right. This is what Michael Oakeshott called “politics as the crow flies.”
.. For the last decade, at least, conservatives have insisted that they were ideologically opposed to precisely the sort of turd burger we saw getting sizzled on the congressional grill this week.
.. the tea parties were in no small way a delayed backlash against the profligate spending of George W. Bush as much as they were a backlash against Barack Obama. The psychological reasoning boiled down to: “We felt we had to put up with the crap under Bush because of the war or because he was our guy, but we’ll be damned if we’re gonna put up with it from this guy too.”
.. More broadly, the president doesn’t like entitlement reform, as he has made clear many times.