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Monday, April 25, 2016

Progressives and Populists

Yesterday I read two columns, one by right wing columnist George Will and the other by left wing columnist Robert Reich, both of which mis-take what it means to be progressive.

George, who should have stuck to sports reporting where he is actually quite good, is the great stereotyper when it comes to politics and philosophy. In his article he gives "four tenets of progressivism: 
  1. history has a destination. 
  2. progressives uniquely discern it. 
  3. politics should be democratic but peripheral to governance, which is the responsibility of experts scientifically administering the regulatory state. 
  4. enlightened progressives should enforce limits on speech in order to prevent thinking unhelpful to history’s progressive unfolding.
Now I realize the definition of "hogwash." All four of those tenets are spurious and demonstrate that George knows not what or whereof he speaks.

We progressives believe that history has no meaning except that which we collectively give it. The end of history is when the human species goes extinct, now made probable by climate change and nuclear war. To paraphrase one of George's devils: our job is not just to study history, but also to make it. 

It also seems that George does not recognize the distinction and separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government. He may be a Republican but he is not very republican since he does not acknowledge the role of free publics in establishing vision and goals along with the importance of an unencumbered and, yes, scientific administration. I suggest he read another conservative writer whom I admire greatly Francis Fukuyama (Political Order and Political Decay) who demonstrates that one of the main reasons for America's decay is precisely George's mistaken notion of government that leads to the intrusion of individual politicians and their lobbyists in administration. 

As to enforcing limits of speech as a tenet of progressivism, George, that is just silly and not at all worthy of comment. Because of your ideology, you just don't want to accept science and the rule of evidence.

Now for Reich. He on the other hand is saying that populists of the right and the left are now reaching si liar conclusions because of the public's disgust of establishment politics run by big money and corporations. He is admirably searching for common ground, but is unwittingly promoting the kind of movement Jacksonian populism that could lead, as Fukuyama points out, to a weak federal state and to weak international organizations (as George himself wants). Such populism isWe certainly a politics of fear and hate that permits demagoguery along with cronyism and corruption. 

My own reluctance, Robert, about your and labor's opposition to the TPP and other free trade agreements is that it continues to promote the nationalism (e.g. American exceptionalism) that is dividing and destroying the earth. I see progressivism as much different and better than populism. And if free trade (with negotiated rules related to the environment and labor) and advanced technology does away with low-skilled jobs but is combined with a guaranteed basic income and free graduate education for all administered by a strong, competent bureaucracy, I am for it. That is a progressive's dream that I think has no chance of being acceptable to the conservative right. 

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