12-16-14 – Progressivism and the Decline of the West, Part 4

by Tom Licata
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Progressivism – so pervasive in today’s Democratic Party – is the ideology of American suicide and specifically of American Constitutionalism. This is the fourth in a series of writings dissecting and analyzing Progressivism’s ideological beliefs and ideas, to which the just stated conclusion will become self-evident. “Suicide” is an emotive term but here I use its cognitive ‘self-inflicting’ meaning. That is, the demise of American Constitutionalism is coming almost entirely from internal or domestic sources, rather than external or foreign.
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The frameworks of these writings are largely taken from James Burnham’s 1964 work, “Suicide of the West,” a detailed analysis of liberalism’s history and beliefs, which ends in the conclusion that “Liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide.”

*          *          *

Progressivism predicts that the progress or ‘ideal society’ they envision is justified by the five Progressive beliefs or “symptoms” outlined in earlier writings, summarized here: Human nature (moldable with an almost indefinite potential for human development); Rationalism (where reason and science, not nature and revelation, are man’s essence); Obstacles (where obstacles to progress aren’t derived primarily from man’s nature but from external and correctable societal conditions; Anti-Traditional (where the legacies of the past are predominately the cause of today’s injustices and prejudice); Historical-optimism (Because humans are nearly “perfectible” and rational and most obstacles to progress are external and remediable, the Progressive realization of progress is inevitable). These five beliefs compose the formal structure of the “ideological syndrome” known as Progressivism.

We’ll now look at three means by which the progress or ‘ideal society’ that Progressivism sees as possible will be carried-out in practice.

Maximilien de Robespierre – leader of the Jacobin Club during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror – instituted a system of free, universal education in order to instill his liberal vision into France. And ever since, this means of controlling education for ideological ends has been a tactic of liberals and today it explains why school-choice is so vehemently opposed, as controlling instruction is essential in instilling Progressive ideology.

“Ignorance” – as one of the two external obstacles to Progressivism’s ‘ideal society’- is overcome by using this means of free, universal and rationally-based education. But it’s not just any “education” that will do; rather, it must be a controlled “Progressive education” where any threatening “non-rational” or “irrational” beliefs are either discarded or reinterpreted. As Mr. Burnham writes, “…the purpose of genuine education as understood by liberalism is, precisely, to liberate the mind from the crippling hold of custom [i.e. a nation’s history or founding principles] and all non-rational belief [i.e. religion].”

“Bad institutions” account for the second of the two external obstacles to Progressivism’s ‘ideal society.’ And the means to overcoming these obstacles are found in social, economic and political reform.

Bertrand Russell, the early 20th century philosopher perfectly captured Progressivism’s sentiments for these kinds of reforms. Russell summarized three obstacles facing man: that from physical nature (e.g. death, pain); that from character or ignorance; and from power. And from these, he wrote: “The main methods of combating these evils are… for physical evils, science; for evils of character [meaning ignorance], education…; for evils of power, the reform of the political and economic organization of society.”

So if Progressivism’s ‘ideal society’ is obstructed by the underlying “evils” of poverty, crime, juvenile delinquency, urban blight, etc.; and if these “evils” are the results – not of man’s fallible nature – but of the external obstacles of man’s ignorance and faulty institutions; then it follows that eradicating these “evils” requires eliminating man’s ignorance through Progressive-controlled education and eliminating faulty institutions through the fundamental transformation of America’s existing social, economic and political order.

And therefore Progressive logic concludes that there’s no rational basis for “blaming” criminals for crimes or teenagers for delinquency, as it’s not “their fault” that society either improperly educated them or provided inadequate institutions.

And lastly what follows is the third means by which Progressivism’s ‘ideal society’ will be made possible: For now the soil is fertilized not for a limited, self-government and rule-by-law retributive criminal justice system; but for an almost unlimited, social service Welfare State and “rule-by-empathy” permissiveness.

If it’s not already self-evident that Progressivism and American Constitutionalism don’t go together and are mutually exclusive, then read the first three of this series (found here: http://ethanallen.org/progressivism-the-decline-of-the-west-part-3/) and the fifth, coming out shortly.

– Tom Licata is a member of the Ethan Allen Institute board of directors

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