Monday, February 22, 2010

"Progressivism" is a "Disease in the Republic"?

Glenn Beck, he of Tea Party fame, recently pronounced that the "progressive movement" is a "disease in the Republic" and a "cancer." He also said: "All right, now, if all of this sounds like a government out of control, go back to the progressive movement. It is not what our founders of this country intended."

One thing Tea Partiers consistently ignore is history. Despite their moniker, the movement bears no resemblance to the revolutionary-era Boston Tea Party. And despite Beck's rantings, progressivism has always been at the core of the American nation.

Baptists in the colonial era were the progressives of the day (alongside smaller groups like Quakers), fighting for freedom of conscience, religious liberty, pluralism, and separation of church and state. The Baptist vision - for some 150 years considered heretical and subversive by conservative, theocratic colonial church states - finally won out in the founding of the new American nation, a nation founded upon the liberal, progressive principles of freedom, justice, secular government, human equality, and human rights.

In the decades and centuries following, it fell upon successive generations to further advance the nation's expressed commitment to freedom and human rights. The story of America from the late 18th century to the present is a narrative of a nation fleshing out the substance of these founding principles, ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution in terms of America as a people who are committed to human equality, "justice," "domestic tranquility", "common defence," "the general welfare" of all citizens, "the blessings of liberty," and First Amendment rights of separation of church and state and freedom of expression. It is a story yet unfinished, and pockmarked with plenty of warts. But it is the story of the unfolding of the ideals voiced by our nation's founding fathers.

Yet demagogues like Glenn Beck have little use for truth or for America's liberal, progressive founding principles. Rather, their concern is their own personal welfare at the expense of those with whom they disagree. Their rhetorical demands are for a country in which there is essentially no federal government, taxes are virtually non-existent, life and death and wealth and poverty are willed by the profit-driven dictates of large corporations, freedom of conscience is restricted (if not illegal), diversity does not exist, the full rights of citizenship are limited to ideologically-pure persons (and maybe even ethnically pure), and freedom exists only within the parameters of approved group-think.

In short, the world of Glenn Beck and his loyalists is a world opposed to historical American principles and ideals. And while America's liberal, progressive foundations allow Beck the freedom to express his subversive views, if Beck and his followers were to succeed in abolishing America's historical identity, their ideological triumph would seal the destruction of the nation they love to hate.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

You're on target, of course, Bruce. But your examples are all about negative rights and civil liberties. That's well and good, but not enough to set the record straight.

Progressivism (as opposed to mere liberalism) cares also about substantive justice and positive care for the common good. Progressive worked to abolish slavery and segregation (though racial justice, equality, and true integration remains elusive) end child labor, get standards of worker safety and some kind of fairness in wages (still a work in progress). Progressives gave us national parks and work to give us clean air, drinking water, and saved many endangered species. Progressives gave us Social Security which has nearly abolished poverty among the elderly. Progressives gave us universal education, Medicare, Medicaid, and are trying to get us universal healthcare--and have been since 1911.

If not for progressives, America would not even be a tolerable place to live.

Bruce Gourley said...

We're saying the same thing, me thinks: you fleshed out in detail the ongoing struggle for "justice," "human equality," "general welfare" and "human rights" that I mentioned (I opted to leave the reader to review the specifics of history in his or her own mind).

It is interesting to note that Beck, when discussing "progressives," often points to himself as a modern day Thomas Paine, who in reality was a progressive of his day (late 18th century).