DrRich has now read large portions of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” i.e., Obamacare. He finds in it the very essence of Progressivism. To understand Obamacare, then, we must understand the basics of Progressive thought.
DrRich has always found American Progressives to be a bit enigmatic. He has found much of their behavior to be persistently, almost defiantly, illogical and counterproductive to the rights Americans hold dear, rights which Progressives themselves also insist they revere – in particular, our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As long as 20 years ago, DrRich had developed a sneaking suspicion that Progressives, their protests to the contrary notwithstanding, never really bought into the “inalienable” thing. On this point, he concluded, they were prevaricators. Since by then it was beginning to look like the Progressives were going to be running things for a while, it occurred to DrRich that it would be a good idea to understand what they really think, and what their agenda really was. And so, after much time and study and contemplation, DrRich developed his theory of Progressive thought, which he is now pleased to share with his readers so that they, in turn, might better understand Obamacare.
The Roots of Progressivism
When DrRich began his study of Progressives he did not quite know where to begin. So he decided to proceed, like Descartes before him, from the simplest and most irreducible of truths. Namely, that Progressives are really, really smart – or think they are. We know this because all the professors in all the best Ivy League schools are Progressives.
From this simple truth we can deduce that, whatever it is that Progressives are actually up to, it must have its roots in the writings of The Philosopher.
And sure enough, it was not at all difficult to discover the roots of Progressivism within the teachings of Aristotle.
Aristotle tells us that man is innately a political animal, an animal with an inherent propensity to gather into increasingly complex communities. The essence of man, according to Aristotle, is society.
The formation of complex societies is what defines mankind; it is what differentiates man from the rest of the animal kingdom. Hence, because man is defined by society, society is inherently on a higher plane of importance than the individual. Individuals are entirely beholden to and dependent upon and subservient to the society to which they belong. Indeed, they are defined as individuals by their place within that society. Without society, a man is just an ape (with a persistently infantile face).
In this sense, “socialism” is reduced quite simply to a philosophy in which society – the collective – takes precedence over the individual. Furthermore, the precedence of the collective over the individual is not something we can simply choose to accept or reject; it is the very essence of mankind. It is nature. It is just the way it is.
So, as you can see, Aristotle nailed Progressivism.
Clearly, while the name “progressivism” has only been around for a century or so (and we will shortly see from whence the name came), its roots are a very old idea. This idea, in fact, was the normal way of looking at the relationship between individuals and society until just a few hundred years ago, when humanists began to cautiously explore the radical notion that individuals (rather than the collective) constitute the fundamental unit of humanity. The new humanist heresy – which declared the primacy of the individual – was for a long time called “liberalism” (a term whose meaning has, recently, drastically changed, and is now a synonym for what had always been its opposite). Classical liberalism reached its zenith, DrRich thinks, a mere two and a half centuries after its painful birth, with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
But to Progressives, classical liberalism has always been an aberration. Despite what America’s founding documents might say, society takes precedence over the individual. It takes this precedence by way of the very essence of mankind, as was taught by The Philosopher, and so it cannot be otherwise.
The Progressive Program
The Progressive Program – the thing that makes Progressives progressive – is to develop the perfect society. This program is not optional; it is dictated by the nature of mankind.
Since society is what defines mankind, it follows, as the night follows the day, that the program of mankind, the purpose, the work, the essence of mankind, is to create the perfect society.
The perfect society has two basic requirements. First, it must meet all the basic needs of the individuals within that society (such as food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, and health), without which individuals will always be tempted to engage in the counterproductive behavior of striving for things. Second, the social order must be of such a nature that it can persist, theoretically forever, without fundamental change. Indeed, the very notion of perfection implies that any change, of any type, is bad, since it will necessarily constitute a movement away from perfection.
The perfect society therefore requires complete stability. This would include (at a minimum) a stable population size, the preservation of natural resources and the earth’s environment (indeed, when one hears the word “sustainability,” one is listening to Progressive gospel), the careful management of the economy, and the careful control – if not suppression – of unplanned innovations. This latter refers both to material (or scientific) innovations, and innovations of thought, either of which will always threaten hard-won societal stability.
The perfection of society is the paramount work of mankind, so any method which may help in achieving this perfection is to be embraced; none discounted out of hand. The only considerations one must make in choosing methods of action are: Is this method practicable? And: Is this method more likely to be successful, or counterproductive? These two questions fully define Progressive ethics.
So that’s DrRich’s theory of Progressivism and the Progressive Program. While it is only a theory, DrRich hereby asserts that his formulation is correct.
He makes this assertion for the purpose of advancing the debate and inviting argument. If any of his readers have a better explanation of Progressivism, one that more successfully fits the facts and explains the otherwise difficult-to-explain behaviors we’ve seen from Progressives in recent years, why, DrRich will be delighted to hear it. If it is convincing, DrRich will cheerfully abandon his own theory and adopt yours.
But to accomplish this feat, your theory of Progressivism will have to offer a more successful explanation of the following Progressive behavioral phenomena than DrRich’s theory does:
Individuals and Groups Within Progressivism
While Progressivism by definition places individuals in a subservient position to society, this is not to say that individuals are merely interchangeable cogs in a great machine, or entirely analogous to worker bees in a hive. DrRich’s prior sarcasms aside, Progressive society is not the Borg.
Indeed, individuals within a Progressive society are differentiatable, and can be publicly celebrated or castigated as individuals. But to a great extent the potential worth of an individual is pre-determined by the group to which the individual belongs. Group identity in Progressive society is critically important, as it provides the only feasible means by which the leadership of Progressive societies can attempt to control and direct individual behaviors.
(Group identity is so critically important to Progressive thought that it has been given a special name – “Diversity” – and has been designated as the Cardinal Virtue, from which all the other, subsidiary, virtues – faith, hope, charity and the like – must necessarily spring.)
And so, to stand out as individuals, individuals must stand out as a member of their group, and the manner in which they stand out must fundamentally reflect the assigned essence of their group. So, for instance, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are celebrated individuals, whose accomplishments nicely reflect their assigned group identities. In contrast, Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell are not celebrated by Progressives, and indeed are castigated as abominations, because their individual accomplishments do not reflect their assigned group identities.
Therefore, while individuals within Progressive societies can achieve a certain level of importance, individual importance is merely of tertiary concern, rather than primary or even secondary concern. Individuals can become officially “important” only if their importance reflects the essence of their assigned group; and the importance of the assigned group (the secondary concern), in turn, is proportional to its ability to advance the Progressive Program in general (which, of course, is the primary concern).
While individuals have the potential of rising to a state of importance within Progressivism, the vast majority of individuals will never actually do so. The great masses of individuals will be regarded by society as featureless members of their group, and will be treated accordingly. And the status of a particular group is always subject to change, given the extant needs of the leadership class. Certain groups (e.g. labor unions) may be exulted by the leadership, while others (e.g. the elderly, the white males, or the fat) will be devalued. Yet other groups (e.g. illegal aliens) may be celebrated by the leadership at one point in time (when, for instance, it behooves Progressive leaders to acquire voting rights for them before 2012), but then may be dismissed at some other point in time (in 2013, for instance, after the critical votes have been gathered, and now the group just represents large volumes of mouths to feed and healthcare to consume).
Good and Evil In Progressivism
Many Progressive intellectuals are fond of saying there are no absolutes, and so there is no such thing as inherent good and inherent evil. These intellectuals are wrong, even from within the Progressive paradigm. Because the Progressive Program – which, again, is to achieve a perfect society – is the innate agenda for mankind, there indeed exists a standard by which one can determine good and evil.
“Good” is anything which advances the Progressive Program; and “evil” is anything which threatens it.
Anyone who doubts the existence of good and evil within the Progressive Program need only observe the scores of behaviors and figures of speech which are condemned as unrelentingly evil by Progressives, with all the certainty and fervor of a Jonathan Edwards.
Accordingly, individuals who hinder the Progressive Program are a danger to mankind’s very essence. They are evil, and must be rehabilitated or eliminated.
Progressivism and the Leadership Class
Despite its lip service to the contrary, Progressivism is not egalitarian, even in theory.
The duty of mankind is to strive for the perfect society. The chief tool by which mankind is to achieve this program is man’s intellect and logic. It is axiomatic that only a minority of people will have the intellect and logic necessary to direct the program of mankind. Therefore, Progressivism fundamentally relies on an elite corps of individuals to guide our progress toward a perfect society. The perfect society will not just happen, it must be engineered by those who are gifted enough to lead.
The lack of egalitarianism in Progressive thought is illustrated by the special treatment accorded to the elite corps. The leadership class must be nurtured and valued by society. Furthermore, it must be given special privileges which others in society do not have. Because their work is so critical to the essential program, the elite must be removed from worry over the mundane necessities of life. That is, providing the leadership class with certain luxuries and privileges, and even freedom from having to follow all the rules that apply to the masses, is therefore not hypocrisy, but is an essential good. It redounds to the benefit of the Program.
Anyone who has not noticed recent glaring examples of this “different standard” for the Progressive elite should consider activating their “durable power of attorney” forthwith, so that a more alert individual can manage their affairs.
Progressivism and the Unwashed Masses
It goes without saying that, if left to their own devices, the populace would devolve into some primitive societal arrangement (such as capitalism) in which individuals would spend all their time striving to improve their own individual situations, even at the expense of others.
This means that the great unwashed masses must be “managed.”
Ideally, the best way to manage the population is through education, and so all efforts must be made – through formal education and by controlling the public media – to indoctrinate the population to the great benefits of the Progressive agenda, to the natural duty and obligation of all men and women to work within society to realize the Progressive Program, and to the inherent evil of all the alternatives. Since education will never be sufficient, the unwashed masses may need to be controlled through pacification (i.e., attempting to meet all their basic needs, so as to eliminate their impulse to strive). If this fails, they must be controlled through coercion, intimidation, peer-pressure, or (as a last resort or to serve as an object lesson) violence.
Fundamentally, the Progressive Program relies on all members of the great unwashed to subsume their own individual needs to the needs of the collective. That is, the Progressive Program requires a fundamental change in human nature. This change will never be forthcoming, and so Progressives are apparently doomed to be frustrated in their efforts. (However, as we will see shortly, Progressives ultimately have the answer to this problem, as well.)
So, despite their frequent hymns of praise to the worthiness of the common man, Progressives invariably develop an underlying contempt toward the unwashed masses. It is not difficult to spot this contempt if one is alert to it.
Progressivism and Politics
Under the Progressive Program, just like Aristotle says, mankind is essentially a political animal. In fact, the Progressive Program can only be achieved by political action. This means that politics – and to be clearer, political control – is the fundamental work of Progressives. Without politics, without political control, there is nothing. To lose political power is oblivion.
This attitude toward politics is in stark contrast to the attitude of conservatives, for whom government (and therefore politics) is merely a necessary evil, with which one must occasionally contend, when it cannot be avoided, as a part of life. For most conservatives politics is an afterthought.
For Progressives, politics is everything, the essence of human behavior. And it is worth any cost, any desperate measure, to maintain political control. Indeed, to fail to lie, cheat and steal in order to keep political control would be unethical.
Progressivism and Religion
Progressives have a natural adversity to organized religion. For one thing, religions tend to give a higher priority to some supernatural entity (and worse, to an afterlife), than to mankind’s “true” imperative, which is to achieve a perfect society right here on earth. However, since religious leaders can be readily coerced to serve the needs of the state (and always have been), this is not an insurmountable problem.
The real difficulty with organized religion is that the major ones stress the importance of the individual (since individual salvation, or individual enlightenment, is the major theme of the big religions). Under progressivism the inherent importance of individuals is necessarily subsumed by the importance of the collective, so by focusing the ultimate meaning of life on the individual, traditional religions become a major threat to Progressivism.
Apparently realizing that abolishing religion is far too difficult a task, Progressives have adopted the long-term strategy of infiltrating and co-opting religious establishments, and by means of introducing new ideas – such as group salvation, and the concept of social justice as a religious imperative – rendering religion, this “opiate of the masses,” less incompatible with the Progressive Program.
Progressivism and Eugenics
Since World War II, the enthusiasm with which Progressives publicly embrace the idea of eugenics has become muted. But eugenics is, in fact, inherently bound to Progressivism. One way or another, a perfect society will require far more perfect citizens than we have today. Indeed, the seething contempt with which Progressives regard the current genetic pool that comprises the unwashed masses is often difficult for them to suppress.
To a large extent, modern Progressivism was born as an offshoot of Darwinism. The idea that society could be perfected, and the idea that mankind could be perfected, were two sides of the same notion. And early Progressives unabashedly embraced both of these ideas, such that the idea of “culling the herd” became extraordinarily attractive to them – and they said so. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, and Margaret Sanger (the founder, as it happens, of Planned Parenthood) are only the most well-known Progressives who extolled the idea of eugenics.
But public support of eugenics among Progressives has become quite subdued, ever since the Nazis committed their atrocities explicitly in the name of achieving societal perfection.
One can argue, of course, whether the recent Progressive support of such activities as late-term abortions, or creating human embryos for experimentation, are partially aimed at desensitizing the public for future efforts to “guide” a more favorable genetic makeup for the population. Either way, DrRich reminds his readers of the history of Progressivism in this regard, and of the inherent attractiveness of eugenics to the Progressive Program, and urges them to remain alert.
Progressivism and Environmentalism
Radical environmentalism and the Progressive Program are not perfectly compatible. But they are close.
Radical environmentalists believe that humanity is a plague upon Planet Earth. Everything man has done since the day he first learned to cultivate crops (and thus for the first time became a different kind of animal) has been bad. And anything which delays, halts or reverses the sins mankind has perpetrated upon sacred Gaia, since that day he first departed from Nature, is a good thing. So the radical environmentalists are in favor of strong central governments which will control the behaviors of individuals (and which might ultimately drastically reduce or eliminate the human population).
Progressives are certainly on board with controlling man’s effect on the environment, but (in most cases) they are not in favor of returning mankind to a hunter/gatherer condition (since most Progressives do not view this condition as the embodiment of a perfect society). Rather, they view the environmental movement – in particular, the Global Warming Theory – as a good way to get the populace to give them the power they need to carry out their Progressive Program. So Progressives have completely embraced the Global Warming Theory as a means to their own political end. Accordingly they have declared man-made global warming to be settled science, and they suppress any efforts to study it further.
DrRich is very sorry about this. He suspects that global warming is happening, and concedes that human behavior may be playing a role, and is saddened that this scientific question has been absorbed into the Progressive agenda in such a way that we are not allowed to find out what’s really going on.
Progressivism and the Great American Experiment
Unlike any other nation in the history of mankind, the United States was not founded because of geography, race, religion or ethnicity. It was founded on an idea. It was founded on the still-radical idea that individual autonomy – the individual’s God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – is the chief Fact of humankind, and that the only legitimate role of government is to create an environment in which individuals can enjoy those rights to the fullest extent possible.
One can see immediately that the Great American Experiment – which awards primacy to individual autonomy – is fundamentally incompatible with Progressivism. But because a majority of Americans still like the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Progressives need to play their cards close to their chests. They need to proceed carefully – but relentlessly.
By slowly re-interpreting the Constitution, and slowly addicting a critical mass of Americans to an array of government programs, Progressives are certain they will ultimately prevail. They have been at it for over 100 years, and have come a long way. DrRich cannot tell whether or not we have already passed the Event Horizon, the point beyond which restoring the Great American Experiment will become impossible. But we are at least very close.
In fact, one plausible theory for President Obama’s headlong pursuit of programs and policies which anger the majority of Americans, and which gravely and immanently threaten the political control which is the center of the Progressive universe, is that he sees America as being at the very cusp of that Event Horizon, and believes that one last, small push will gain it, and make the Progressive Program irreversible, whatever might happen in the next election or two.
Progressivism and Healthcare
DrRich does not need to say much about Progressivism and healthcare right now. Many of the posts in this blog have pertained to this very question, as, undoubtedly, will many more.
But to really understand the current American healthcare system, and to understand Obamacare (the future American healthcare system), it is necessary to understand Progressivism. DrRich sincerely hopes that this current post will help a few of his readers understand, if not Progressive thought itself, at least DrRich’s conceptualization of it.