When Liberals Become Progressives, Much Is Lost

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.”

Should Democrats Embrace the Center or Abandon It?

Over the next six months, Democratic voters will be asked again and again whether their party’s candidates should hew to the center or move to the left.

How voters answer that question will help shape the strategic plans of the dozen or more Democrats jockeying to beat President Trump in 2020.

.. “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said in a statement. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”

.. Does the path to victory lie in mobilizing the liberal base — by taking explicitly left-wing stands on immigration, as well as gun rights, universal health care, the minimum wage, racial justice and so on?

.. Or is the widespread hatred of Donald Trump — at least among Democrats — sufficient to turn out progressive and minority voters, which would make undecideds the constituency that must be more actively wooed?

.. “Democrats Can Run the Conor Lamb Strategy Over and Over” read the headline of an article by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine:

There are a lot of Conor Lambs out there. Very early in the election cycle, Democrats recruited candidates with nontraditional backgrounds, especially in the military, who would appeal to voters in red districts.

.. No way, Bob Mosher argued in a Rolling Stone essay, “Why Democrats Should Worry About Conor Lamb’s Victory.

“The real message of Lamb’s campaign basically boiled down to this: ‘Look at what a fine young normal white fellow I am!’ ” Mosher wrote. The “clamor for centrism,” according to Mosher, risks

deflating the Resistance, turning off nonwhite voters, and dampening the turnout that Democrats should be able to expect in November, given the level of Trump animus across the country.

.. The evidence suggests that the balance of power among these voters is shifting to the left.

.. In 1976, conservative Democrats were a significant force within the party, making up 27 percent of its supporters. By 1992, their share fell to 24 percent, still a factor to be reckoned with, providing a crucial source of support to Bill Clinton.

John Stuart Mill Showed Democracy as a Way of Life

Donald Trump is always trying to cure his loneliness by making friend/enemy distinctions; trying to unite his clan by declaring verbal war on other groups; trying to shrivel his life into a little box by building walls against anybody outside its categories.

.. Richard Reeves points out that in “On Liberty,” Mill used the words “energy,” “active” and “vital” nearly as many times as he used the word “freedom.” Freedom for him was a means, not an end. The end is moral excellence. Mill believed that all of us “are under a moral obligation to seek the improvement of our moral character.”

“At the heart of his liberalism,” Reeves writes, “was a clearly and repeatedly articulated vision of a flourishing human lifeself-improving, passionate, truth-seeking, engaged and colorful.”

.. He championed the labor movement, was the first member of Parliament to call for women to be given the right to vote, was the leading British philosopher of the 19th century and served as a loving son, husband and friend.

.. Mill had an optimistic view of human nature and probably an insufficient appreciation of human depravity

.. Mill was living in a Victorian moment when the chief problem was claustrophobia — the individual being smothered by society. He emphasized individual liberation. His emphases probably would have been different if he had lived today, when our problem is agoraphobia — too much freedom, too little cohesion, meaning and direction.

.. His example cures us from the weakness of our age — the belief that we can achieve democracy on the cheap; the belief that all we have to do to fulfill our democratic duties is be nice, vote occasionally and have opinions.

.. Mill showed that real citizenship is a life-transforming vocation. It involves, at base, cultivating the ability to discern good from evil, developing the intellectual virtues required to separate the rigorous from the sloppy, living an adventurous life so that you are rooting yourself among and serving those who are completely unlike yourself.

The demands of democracy are clear — the elevation and transformation of your very self. If you are not transformed, you’re just skating by.

Is There Life After Liberalism?

he boasted about his plan to realign our politics. His nationalist-populist movement, he argued, would transform the G.O.P. into something truly new: a right-wing worker’s party that spent freely, “jacked up” infrastructure all over the country, and won “60 percent of the white vote” and “40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote” on its way to a 50-year majority.

.. “We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks,” Bannon said. “It will be as exciting as the 1930s.”

As exciting as the 1930s is not a line you hear every day, but rather than an alt-right dog whistle, what I heard in Bannon’s formulation was the idea that in the Trump era, as in the crisis years that gave us both F.D.R. and Hitler, everything might be up for grabs: not just electoral coalitions, but the nature and destiny of the liberal order.

.. the idea of Trumpism as an ideological revolution, whether akin to Roosevelt’s or Mussolini’s, has mostly evaporated.