Turning Points Rotating Header Image

Are Progressives Anti-Progress?

The fact that conservatives have been attacking liberals for years because liberals are always fighting against progress, as defined by the conservatives, got me to thinking. Are progressives anti-progress?

For a number of years, I have been more than a little confused about the meaning of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. I tackled this topic early on in this blog and have wandered about the intellectual landscape since then, sampling various schools of thought, trying to make sense of what I see in the world. With a background in the arts and a skeptical attitude towards main-line Christianity, I’ve always self-identified as a ‘liberal’, without ever really thinking what that might be. I imagine that others self-identify as ‘conservatives’, without ever thinking what that might be, also. I’ve been disenchanted with politics in this country for a long, long time and had come to the conclusion several years ago that the Democrats and the Republicans were just two sides of the same coin – the business coin. It turns out that that conclusion is not uncommon – many other people think that way also but they see no alternative, either. I’ve been searching for that alternative and am beginning to see it coming into focus.

In an earlier post, Chet Bowers discussed the mis-use of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. I found his ideas liberating and dove into the ideas of the Distributists, a socio-economic theory based on Catholic Social Justice Doctrines. I also posted the introduction to Mark Satin’s book, Radical Middle: Politics We Need Now, which addresses the need for a “third way”. Some time ago, I posted an alternative view of Adam Smith, whose idea of an “invisible hand” is the cornerstone of many a conservative pundit’s justifications for the current economic order. In that post, I showed the context of Mr. Smith’s thoughts regarding the “invisible hand” and his ideas on the subject of profits. That essay was still in my mind when I ran across a very interesting essay by John Medaille, who, with three others, writes the blog, The Distributist Review. In this essay, Mr. Medaille shows how Adam Smith’s thought is related to the late eighteenth century era he lived in and further demolishes conservative claims to Adam Smith as justification for predatory capitalism.

In the sidebar of this blog, there is a link to the site for Mutualist.Org, a rich resource for alternatives to capitalism. In the links section of that site, I found a very interesting essay at the The Preservation Institute, entitled From Progressive to Preservationist. It had originally appeared in the Fall, 1995 issue of the journal New Perspectives Quarterly, entitled Toward an Appropriate Politics. It was written by Charles Siegel and covers, in a slightly different way, the ideas that Chet Bowers wrote about, but also goes into some depth about the contributions of the appropriate technology, the historical preservationist, and the back-to-the-land movements towards a new politics. I found it to be interesting reading and would encourage you to read it.

There is a whole new political movement out there, mostly unrecognized by the media pundits, who would have us believe that the current two-party system is still capable of addressing the problems that we find ourselves in. While many progressives had high hopes for President-elect Barack Obama, they recently have voiced their displeasure at some of his cabinet selections. Perhaps President-elect Obama will embrace this new political movement. I hope so. But he faces considerable opposition from the status quo, which, interestingly enough, encompasses both liberals and conservatives.

That opposition can be found in this essay, which I found very intriguing, for it proves to me that everything that Wendell Berry, Chet Bowers, Charles Siegel, John Medaille, and Kevin Carson assert about conservatives, as they are currently defined, is true. Fascinating reading.

So where am I now? Still searching. But this part of the Conservation Economy website offers a very interesting overview of all the themes addressed in this post. All of us, liberal or conservative, religious or secular, whether we be capitalists, socialists, environmentalists, permaculturalists, distributists, agrarians, communitarians, or mutualists would benefit by visiting this site and seeing how all the pieces fit together.

So, are Progressives really anti-progress? Not at all. But the current crop of status-quo defenders, like those in the Reason Magazine essay, surely would like Americans to believe so. By slapping the label of “Neo-Luddite” on all attempts to humanize technology and strengthen local economies at the expense of globalization promoted by the multi-national corporations that fund the conservative think tanks, the market liberals are fighting a battle that is doomed to fail. The new economy is developing right under their noses and they can’t (or won’t) see it.

0 Comments on “Are Progressives Anti-Progress?”

Leave a Comment