Progressivism: The Horrors of an Idea
by Bradley J. Birzer
When a well-meaning person claims the mantle of “progressive,” run. For that way lies democratic despotism, fascism, nationalism, socialism, and communism. Madness.
One of the most interesting developments of the post-Bush years has been the resurgence of the popularity of the term “progressivism.” With that popularity has come, of course, a resurgence of the ideas traditionally associated with progressivism, though highly sanitized. Some very good and well-intentioned scholars and commentators—who in general are NOT aligned with the left—have even attempted to co-opt and redefine the term for their own belief systems. In particular, those who support rather radical free markets have claimed that progress and progressivism can best be attained by the methods (or anti-methods, as the case may be) of competitive enterprise.
Let me make my point as up front as possible. Not only should we avoid ever praising progressivism or the progressives, we should, without hesitation, shun the term and its advocates (while, of course, loving the person).
First, and importantly, the term itself is one of the most tainted in our history as a western people. And it should be. Indeed, it never should have a good cast to it in the least. Ironically, the very people who today claim the mantle of progressive as a force for humanist harmony have almost no conception of its origins as a brutally racist concept. From its origins and employment by Americans in the 1870s, it was associated with anything that despised and attempted to control non-Anglo-Saxon-Celtic (but only the Scotch, not the Irish) Protestant peoples. Germans and Scandinavians were barely tolerable, but not Irish, Italians, Spaniards, Yugoslavs, Jews, blacks, or any other people that didn’t fit a horrendous racialist norm. The WASP stereotype was much more than a stereotype. It was, for many, a reality. The progressives advocated the separation of the races, the stealing of children from parents, eugenics, and the eventual destruction of anything remotely Catholic, Jewish, or not “perfectly” white. They were as arrogant as they were inhumane. It’s worth remembering that Woodrow Wilson, often considered the greatest and yet most representative of the progressives, re-segregated all federal offices in D.C. as well as the military. He also listened in silence as blacks were lynched while simultaneously speaking out against lynchings of whites.
Frankly, the progressives are the very folks C.S. Lewis used as the model of the “conditioners” in his own fiction and non-fiction. They would use nature to dominate others, present and future, for the appeasement of their own very strong if misguided conceits.
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