Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Refine & Enlarge


John Moser argues in today's Columbus Dispatch that a good definition of the word progressive is needed.  In focusing on this a certain kind of healthy political conversation would follow and then the partisanship would become both more understandable and more meaningful.  I would add that the same thing could be said, of course, about conservatism.  One of the things I like about the Tea Party movement is that even in their name they mean to remind us of the beginning of the country (and then we can talk about what to conserve).  Progressives have the reverse problem.  They assume a movement away (progress) is better than saving something.  Therefore that silly word, change.
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Discussions - 9 Comments

PWS, an insightful and thoughtful new category - refine and enlarge - for a real civic conversation about what it means to be an American, citizenship, and the proper role of government in a republic. I think John's piece is an excellent overview and analysis of the relevant issues of the historical and current breeds of progressivism. I read it five minutes after grappling with the Progressive Era in U.S. History, its gospel of efficiency, the proper role of government in society and the economy in an urban, industrialized society, and how it related to the Founding. I immediately printed off the article and will share it with my students as well as friends over e-mail in the attempt to "refine and enlarge." Thank you.

I thought Christopher Lasch took care of this.

Always a shocker to see the liberally-biased lamestream media giving some column inches to an Ashbrook prof / NLTer.

"What we are desperately lacking is a real national conversation... about progressivism."

Why? I think that conversation is far from "desperately lacking" or needed at this point. Progressivism has only the most limited influence on national politics, and its role as anything like a guiding national ideology has been all but non-existent for decades now. We might as well have a conversation on chattel slavery or the military threat posed by Canada. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and whatever one imagines Ronald Reagan to have been - these people have more influence in America now than Russ Feingold, Dennis Kucinich, or Patrick Leahy - let alone Pelosi the pariah.

Progressivism is hardly at its popular pinnacle today. It's safe and easy to be suspicious of it.

What we are desperately lacking are real national conversations on those ideologies and subjects which have had an increasing dominance in our politics, even though they are poorly comprehended and/or poorly defined by those who promote them:

- conservatism
- neoliberal economics and unfettered global monopoly capitalism
- libertarianism (is it about reducing/eliminating business regulations? (which ones?) freedom to ingest chemicals as individuals see fit? both? I get 10 distinct answers for every 10 libertarians I meet)
- meritocracy (what is it, what should it be, and do we have anything like it now in the US?)
- market populism (markets as indicators of the will of the people, "letting the market decide" (see Kate's recent comments here at NLT), the unquestionable wisdom of the invisible hand, etc.)
- can we really determine what America's Founders would have to say about current American economics, society and politics? Are we forbidden to ever deviate from the path that they envisioned?

for starters.

Progressives were usually quite happy with the work of Russ Feingold - sole Senate vote against the PATRIOT Act, voted against Iraq War, wanted to censure Bush for illegal wiretapping, etc. - but hey, he's gone. The People chose Johnson the tea partier. It's true that progressive Dems did much better in the recent election than their Blue Dog counterparts, but still, we just had a big sweep by conservative Republicans, who tend to range from conservative to ultra-conservative, with the influence of the tea party - and its hatred for government and love for all-American capitalism - being strongly felt. Let's talk about the Tea Party's ideology (-ies).

If conservatism continues to grow and dominate, what will America look like? A Beckian paradise - what is that?

Sean, my first draft was "Read Christopher Lasch," but I found I needed an additional 647 words or so to bring it up to the Dispatch's standard op-ed length.

Sure, Owl, as long as we face the fact that the conventional wisdom of "the center" has moved drastically rightward over the last 30 years.

And Obama can TALK a good game as a progressive, but he doesn't actually DO much at all to match his verbiage.

Michael Moore is disappointed and maybe even a bit disgusted by Obama. The actual socialists are kind of laughing and saying "Hey, we told you so!" - which runs directly counter to the Palin-Limbaugh-Beck narrative.

In any case, how to have a civil conversation about defining progressivism or conservatism when conservatives seem to have a real problem with facts and truth-telling?

Spoken like a true progressive! Reminds me of New Left historians' criticism of the New Deal and Great Society that the federal government was not expanded enough. The narrative of "we could have a reasonable and civil discussion" if it weren't for lying and idiotic conservatives is part of the progressive problem. As for the rightward shift of America, that is generally true, and shows the reaction against the big, progressive government and tax-and-spend liberalism of the New Deal and Great Society.

First of all congrats to Dr. Mosier.

I had a really long post that started off answering Sikkenga that basically trailled off into conservatism and progressivism, and included some of Craig's concerns.

My primary source for progressivism was a law review article by Jane Radin entitled Property and Personhood 34 Stan. L. Rev. 957 (1982).

My most basic sense is that progressivism starts with Hegel.

Of course the number of people who have heard of Hegel or Radin is probably rather miniscule.

Nevertheless all the questions asked by Mosier and Craig fit under property.

My essay was fairly decent, quite long, but got lost and I haven't the heart to recreate it(in part because my conclusion undermined any sense of significance I could derive from answering the question).

"libertarianism (is it about reducing/eliminating business regulations? (which ones?) freedom to ingest chemicals as individuals see fit? both? I get 10 distinct answers for every 10 libertarians I meet)."

Basically Craig, there is no such thing as progressivism, conservatism, libertarianism. That is there is a general sense in which we can speak of these. We can speak broadly. But then you have to get down to details, and with a sufficient degree of nominalism and particularity the broad categories vanish. Human Being becomes Craig Scanlon.

In the long version I reached this by pointing out to Sikkenga, that school choice and vouchers and charter schools and Michelle Rhee were potentially progressive.

I mean if you make school choice conservative, then it would be good to examine Ohio Charter school law. There are a lot of miserable charter schools in Ohio, oweing in part to the fact that if you punish the sponsors by taking away a slot for closeing a bad charter school, then they will find ways to not close down bad charter schools. So "school choice" in the broad sense conservative, may not in actuality from state to state be narrowly tailored to achieve any compelling "conservative" interest.

The myth is that you can both refine and enlarge at the same time. But it is a myth that is human.

In any case because my essay dealt with schools as the launching first impression on what exactly conservative school reform was dealt with the establishment clause and the Lemon Test, so I quoted Scalia's dissent in Lamb's Chapel: 508 U.S. 384 (1993) "Like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad..."

"The secret of the Lemon test's survival, I think, is that it is so easy to kill. It is there to scare us (and our audience) when we wish it to do so, but we can command it to return to the tomb at will."

"When we wish to strike down a practice it forbids, we invoke it; when we wish to uphold a practice it forbids, we ignore it entirely."

"Such a docile and useful monster is worth keeping around, at least in a somnolent state; one never knows when one might need him."

Well Scalia in conjunction with Radin in conjunction with some Baileys in my coffee leads me to the conclusion that Scalia is tapping into something else... namely he is tapping into the problem of "vagueness", or the difficulty inherent in transitioning from a "broad category", i.e. progressivism, conservatism, to particular details.

In the legal world generally speaking! vagueness! and broad categories! are upheld where the standard is simply rational basis!

Dr. mosier is more or less right that where the standard is rational basis there is no limit to what government can do, unless it seems patently absurd.

But it is also true that nothing I write, nor anything anyone on this blog writes is the gospel, or the law.

In the first essay I got into copyright, trademark and the Berne Convention, and the ideas of Radin and Hegel in regards moral rights, only to argue that it is only with moral rights, that one can answer what libertarianism, conservatism or progressivism is.

That is I hope we can all agree what Coca-Cola is. But we couldn't all agree what Coca-Cola is if Coca-Cola was not able to police its trademark by unliscensing fountain soda operators who to make a bit of extra money decided to cut the product with water.

We can agree on what Monty Python is, but we wouldn't have the opportunity to form the same impression, if Monty Python had not sued CBS for censoring its product and filling it with commercials. That is Monty Python had moral rights.

There is no such thing as the conservatism, progressivism or libertarianism as a definitive concrete answer, and yet there is because human being's are political animals who cannot live a full or proper human life, a life that matches up to the special human capacity for freely exercised agency, without coming to a full consciousness and appreciation of themselves as a person sharing a society and a culture with other human beings and indeed sharing with them the making of that society and culture.

But unless you own valuable copyrights or trademarks you will not be able to fix and defend your intellectual achievements from dilution. Thus your interactions will leave on the world no mark or imprint of agency, or efficacy, in a way that is recognized and defensible as recognized.

But people cannot, in general, have much hope of imprinting themselves on the material and social worlds in this way unless they can be made secure in their control over parcels of the material world, extended through at least a moderate length of time.

(In my case I spend hours writting this, and it is read by three people, maybe:).

In terms of the tea party no one knows who owns the intellectual property. You want a definitive answer: Can I sell you a book?

To some extent Glen Beck or Fox News or Rush all have IP. But Glen Beck, Fox News and Rush do not have IP on Conservatism. Potentially the University of Chicago press has IP on Conservatism. But the University of Chicago press only owns copyright on Machiavelli, Mansfield, Leo Strauss...and not "Conservatism."

Sean suggest that Christopher Lash has answered better than Mosier.

"Can we really determine what America's Founders would have to say about current American economics, society and politics?"

Well the University of Chicago Press, historians, archeologists, anthropologists, speculating pundits, legal scholars, attorneys, universities, museums, sociologists, all have a vested interest in this fight.

In my lost essay I reached this organically by contrasting plagerism with copyright, I think that even if they can, the intelligence represented by the copyright holder(author) is not really translated to the reader. I made a snide argument for not citing sources, on the grounds that bad paraphrasing actually changes the intent of the author, and violates moral rights. I.e. "Keynesianism". That is in the act of understanding, even the good faith reader creates a derivative work in his head.

"Are we forbidden to ever deviate from the path that they envisioned?" As we can see, where the mental image of "the path" itself is a deviation, there is no forbidding the impossible.

The answer in broad strokes is yes, the answer in particulars is Hell's no. I mean folks write books, and folks buy books seeking the definitive answer, and after investing a sufficient amount of time they have a vested interest, and a reliance interest in the myth, they also have may have Phd's and legally cognizable expertise.

But what level of expertise(mental derivative work) is in a general populace where 25% of people don't know that we declared war from great britain?

Tony, I didn't describe conservatives as "idiotic." (I might recommend that as a step in the right direction towards a civil discourse - don't put words in people's mouths)

But the chronic dishonesty does seem to be a problem, as the article I linked to elaborates on in some detail (in a well-documented fashion). Start out with the big lie perpetuated by Lucianne Goldberg's son, Jonah, and his cohorts at NRO, and elsewhere, about Obama's alleged lack of enthusiasm for the USA and its exceptionalism.

... and then continue into the myriad other lies.

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