Thursday, July 26, 2018

So You Think Yourself a Progressive.

From what I've seen, there are many Canadians who consider themselves progressives by virtue of being somewhat to the left of the Conservatives. It's almost a default laurel. You earn the merit badge not for what you are but for what you are not.

This opening paragraph from an article in The New Republic nails it.

What is the opposite of sex? This is a question that admits of no answer, a kind of Zen koan that brings the reflecting mind to a standstill. So, what if we apply the question to “progressivism,” so-called: Is there an opposite to that? Answer: not if the question refers to the vague, amorphous, undefined progressivism of today. There can be no antonym for a term that is lexically meaningless.
Is the modern Liberal Party progressive? No, it's not. It does not embrace any code of progressive principles. Its progressive instincts, fleeting as they are, are at best gestural. Progressivism is just that - a code of principles. Many of them are embodied in Teddy Roosevelt's Square Deal speech of 1910.  Roosevelt didn't formulate these principles. They far predated him. Yet laid out in this address is a template for progressive governance. Read it and then ask yourself if you wouldn't prefer to have a progressive government today.

[House Speaker]  Paul Ryan ...told Glenn Beck in 2010 that a major goal of his was to “indict the entire vision of progressivism.” He labeled progressivism a “cancer” and identified it as “the intellectual source for the big government problems that are plaguing us today.” The first progressives, he argued, detached “people from the Constitution and founding principles to pave the way for the centralized bureaucratic welfare state,” which in turn fostered “a culture of dependency on the government, not on oneself.” 
Ryan further claimed, “This stuff came from these German intellectuals to Madison, University of Wisconsin.” There is some truth to that, but if Ryan knew more about his native state, he would realize that the true culprits were Scandinavian immigrants who flooded into the upper Midwest in the latter part of the nineteenth century. These immigrants brought egalitarian values, derivative of Lutheran Protestantism, that inspired them to organize agricultural cooperatives and to support, in disproportionate numbers, the nascent trade union movement. A communitarian ethos also led them to view favorably the concept of the welfare state, which the Swedes called folkhemmet, or “the people’s home,” implying, contra Paul Ryan, not a dependency on the state per se, nor on the self alone, but rather on each other, as in a family.
Another key source of the Wisconsin Progressive ethos was John Bascom, the president of the University of Wisconsin from 1874 to 1887. Bascom was mentor to Robert (“Fighting Bob”) La Follette, the Progressive Republican who would serve Wisconsin as both a governor and a U.S. senator. Bascom, Kaufman explains, “saw society as a living thing, a type of organism. To maintain its health, the state needed to foster social, moral, and economic harmony. If the rich grew too rich, if workers became impoverished, if women were subjugated, society fell out of balance, and the whole of it suffered.” Though resistant to socialist ideology, he was even more opposed to laissez-faire economics and advocated strong government action to redress such imbalances. Perhaps the most important idea La Follette took from Bascom was the absolute necessity of curbing excessive corporate wealth and power for the sake of societal equilibrium.
There is another vital point here. While this may seem, in the current condition, counter-intuitive, progressivism is not the exclusive preserve of any political party provided they are committed to democracy. That is not the case when government succumbs to special interests and corporate influence. Ryan & Company are stalwart defenders of self-sufficiency for the people but they dish out plenty of largesse to the corporate sector. That largesse comes in a host of forms including subsidies, grants, deferrals and deregulation. 

As John Kenneth Galbraith warned the only socialism that would be tolerated in America is socialism for the rich. That has been the pattern of the neoliberal era - socializing losses while privatizing gains, redistributing wealth from the many into the pockets of the few. In a functioning democracy that should not be tolerated but America ceased being a democracy years ago.

This is a contagion that, while well-established in the United States, could easily spread, particularly if you happen to be the next door neighbour.

Recent polls show that American Democrats and independents want a sea change, a shift to the left, an aspiration steadfastly rejected by the Democrat establishment. America may be developing an appetite for a progressive restoration.

As for Canada and the governing Liberals, it is time the Liberals abandoned their Conservative-Lite perch and veered sharply left into a position where they could begin to address the major challenges of the day. When will the Liberal rank and file demand a progressive restoration?


Trailblazer said...

I have not seen Socialism since I lived in the UK when the Prime minister was Harold Wilson.
The ideal of Socialism has inch by inch moved to the centre of politics.
It is incredulous that the USA calls Democrats, Socialists!
It's not much better in Canada where the Globe and Mail is considered 'socialist' !!
How soon before the media calls Harper, Thatcher, Reagan et al; moderates?
The narrative has been bought by the mega rich media groups.
Truth is somewhere out in the cosmos..



Anonymous said...

JFK and Nixon killed the True Progressive movement.

The first Progressive movement was from 1890-1920. It was in reaction to Gilded Age excesses where most of the wealth from the Industrial Revolution ended up in the hands of the rich. This brought about Theodore Roosevelt's Square Deal.

The Evil Empire struck back with a Fake Boom during the 1920s, to loot the wealth the middle class built up during the Square Deal period. (Pump-dump-short-deflate-BUY!)

This culminated in the 1929 stock market crash and "liquidationist" policies at the (corrupt and still corrupt) US Federal Reserve. This produced a deflationary death spiral: aka, the Great Depression – and put Hitler in power! (When upper-class looters screw up, they screw up Big Time!)

All this brought about the New Deal of FDR based on Keynesian mixed-market economics. That lasted until JFK killed the New Deal Coalition FDR put in play, which spanned both the Democrat and Republican parties.

JFK killed the New Deal Coalition by splitting the Left in two wings: SJW hippies and self-interested middle-class neoliberals. This cut out workers and People of Color. (Although the latter still have yet to figure it out; it's hard to see straight when they spit you out the bottom of their Machine.)

"Ask not what your country can do for you" – like general healthcare benefits and providing equal opportunity to people trapped in inner-city ghettos – "ask what you can do for upper-crust moochers like me."

The Mound of Sound said...

My take, Anon, is that progressivism was extinguished by the advent of neoliberalism under Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney.

The Mound of Sound said...

TB, I've had a few interesting discussions with Americans on the topic of socialism. Most seem to have an infantile grasp of the philosophy, incapable of distinguishing social democracy from communism and the gulags.

I don't fault them. We were brought up to believe that liberal democracy and free market capitalism were flip sides of the same coin. We never imagined that capitalism would come to capture the institutions of democracy or that it would positively thrive in command economies such as China's. Capitalism seems to work to defeat or at least subordinate all political regimes whether democratic or communist.

Deacon Jester said...

Nobody read or paid attention to the writings of Karl Marx. He predicted all of this shit.

Jay Farquharson said...

Progressive or Purity Pony?

Western Democracies are a 800+ year history from the Magna Carta of two steps forward, one step back, sometimes two steps back, one step forward.

While on social justice issues, some environmental issues, since the '70's, we've walked forwards. On Security and Economic issues, it's been backwards steps most of the time.

Still, I'll vote Liberal all day long if that's what keeps Scheer or Ford out of office, but in my riding, it's Dippers that come close to taking the seat.

The Mound of Sound said...

Deacon, thanks for the link. Nouriel Roubini, the economist credited for first sounding the warning about the 2007 Great Recession, in 2011 gave an interesting interview to, of all outfits, the rightwing Wall Street Journal, in which he said Marx was right.