The real face of progressivism

There is a culture war, and we need it, argues Carol Iannone on NRO’s The Corner.

I don’t like martial metaphors, but I strongly agree with Carol Iannone that there are basically two worldviews competing irreconcilably in the United States today.

One, called progressivism, derives from the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and tends to blame all human problems on imperfect social institutions. Individuals devoted to this worldview concentrate great effort on the perfecting of institutions according to their idea of social justice, which evolves as new problems are created by their efforts to transform society and its institutions.

Their opponents refer to this fundamental problem of progressivism as the Law of Unintended Consequences.

In addition, progressives of all stripes require the development of an aristocracy consisting of political, economic, social, and cultural elites who can implement the proper management of society.

The other worldview, best described as classical liberalism, acknowledges that social conditions circumscribe individuals’ choices, but they nonetheless argue that people have freedom of choice within the conditions under which they live. Such classical liberals argue for political liberty and allowance of social mobility, an essential element of which is the acceptance of the concept of personal responsibility, the willingness of society to allow people to reap the consequences of their actions, both good and bad.

As Iannone notes, a prominent progressive writer who says there isn’t any real culture war going on in the United States has argued that there are more important issues than culture, specifically income redistribution:

I heard a talk on C-Span a couple of weekends ago by Irene Taviss Thomson, emeritus professor of sociology at Fairleigh Dickinson, whose new book is Culture Wars and Enduring American Dilemmas. The idea behind the book is something we’ve heard from people on the Left and the Right many times, that the culture wars are over, if they ever really existed; that there are more important things to deal with. . . .

During the Q&A, she was asked about growing income inequality, and she said that the attention given to the culture wars takes attention away from that issue, which is something we should be addressing. With this the picture became clear. People who declare the end of the culture wars have their own agendas, in this case, income redistribution, and are shortsighted as well. Perhaps the major factor behind poverty, unemployment, underemployment, crime, imprisonment, and so on, is the fatherless household. The liberal view for many years was to diminish the importance of the intact two-parent family and to promote single motherhood as equal if not superior, with the effect of greatly enlarging the underclass and multi-generational poverty and dysfunction. Is it rocket science to see this connection and others like it, between cultural choices, economic well-being, and expanding the middle class?

Meaning: the progressive agenda has had unintended consequences in this area, as has been documented extensively by opponents of the progressives’ denigration of the family, which the progressives refer to as a laudable and overdue transformation of the family and/or an extension of rights to others. But as Iannone notes, there are other consequences, in this case an increase in economic inequality in the society.

As Iannone also notes, Thomson, like other progressives, ” resents the conservative emphasis on individual responsibility.” That’s their Rousseauean roots poking up out of the ground once again.

Whether we want to talk about it as a war or something else, there are indeed two irreconcilable worldviews at work in the United States today. Recognizing that fact and understanding that culture is the greatest influence on individuals’ worldviews is essential to any program for lasting reform of the United States political and social cultures.

Until the great majority of the American people acknowledge and accept the assumption of personal responsibility as the essential element behind a free society, there will be no lasting change. Such cultural reform, however, must be done through persuasion and positive endeavors—on both the producer and consumer sides—and not through merely complaining or political pressure.

Such a cultural awareness appears to be manifest in the Tea Party movement and other expressions of public resentment against the rise of the progressive agenda during the past couple of years (which is a more aggressive version of the agenda that characterized the entire decade of the 2000s).

That’s all to the good, and it’s critically important for adherents of the classical liberal worldview to support positive efforts toward cultural reform.