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Saturday, October 27, 2018

What the Heck Is Progressivism?

What the Heck Is Progressivism?
by Giovanna Laine

Historical Progressivism, that is, what went by the name from the period of about 1890 until about 1945, was a relatively vague thing, concerned only with "reform," which meant that anyone who advocated for what they thought was reform could claim to be a Progressive.  Reform is itself a rather vague term, of course, due to its subjectivity.  I have discussed to some length the Historical Progressives already, and how Modern Progressivism is the legitimate heir of the original movement.  In this piece, I would like to address some distinctions between the three camps which claim to be "Progressive" in the United States today.  I have also discussed this to some extent elsewhere in my work both at The Progressive Flame and on my YouTube channel, but I do not believe that I have made things entirely clear thus far in print.  With this piece, I hope to rectify that.

Modern Progressivism was born about 1946 when Henry Wallace became the editor of The New Republic magazine (founded in 1913 by some of the Historical Progressives), and came of age in 1952 after he realized that the USSR wasn't what he thought it was initially (due to the rather sanitized presentation he was shown when he toured the country).  Unlike Historical Progressivism's hazy nature, Modern Progressivism has some rather distinct perspectives, including initially very Leftist economic views, but since 1952, has been generally Socialist while rejecting Marxist Socialism (although some proponents have supported slightly-Left-of-Center Social Democracy rather than Socialism).  I have discussed some of the ideals of Modern Progressivism elsewhere (see the links below).

There are two other camps in the United States today who claim the label "Progressive," neither of which has any historical connection ("lineage," if you will) from the original Progressives before the end of World War II (Henry Wallace was a Progressive Republican before becoming a Progressive Democrat in 1936, and subsequently FDR's second Vice President from 1941-1945, and was thus an Historical Progressive before becoming the Father of Modern Progressivism).

These are (a) rebranded Social Liberals, Democratic Party loyalists, who first referred to themselves as "Progressive" after the 1988 election, because they hadn't had the spine to defend the term "Liberal" against Republican attempts to turn it into an insult throughout the 1980s, whom Modern Progressives call "Fauxgressives," and (b) outrage mongers inspired by a cursory understanding of Derrida and Foucault, who were mostly younger Democratic Party members more interested in keyboard warrior activism than studying social, political, and economic history and ideas in order to get a thorough grounding before going out and doing any activism, whence one of the names some of their opponents give them, "Social Justice Warriors," the latter word in reference to their initial "keyboard warrior" aspect, who didn't even coalesce into anything worthy of being called a movement until about 2012, who are more likely to be referred to by Modern Progressives as "Regressive Outrage Mongers" or "Postmodern Regressives," due to the fact that the consequences of their activism often seem to be likely (whether intentionally or unwittingly, such as the current call among some of them for segregation) to undo progress which has been accomplished over the past 60 years or so.

This gives us three camps, whom we can refer to briefly as:

1) Modern Progressives (1946 to the present)
2) Fauxgressive Democrats (1989 to the present)
3) Postmodern Regressives (2012 to the present)

and while a more accurate name for the second would be "Rebranded Social Liberals who have continued to be loyal partisan Democrats, some of whom use the name 'Progressive' in an effort to solicit campaign contributions and votes from Modern Progressives" and a more accurate name for the third would be "Outrage Mongers inspired to some extent by Derrida's Poststructuralism and Foucault's Postmodernism, who have usurped and misused the language of Political Correctness, Intersectionality, and Social Justice to spread their outrage and victim mentality, thereby blocking the actualization of Leftist goals" the unwieldy character of these more accurate names obviously makes for poor communication and dialogue.  Unfortunate though Jordan Peterson's misguided campaign to blame Postmodernism for all the ills of contemporary society, and his conflation of Postmodernism with the Right Wing conspiracy theory idea of "Cultural Marxism" (which was inspired by Weimar Germany era piffle about "Kulturbolschewismus," a term used primarily to attack Modern Art), may be, and in spite of the rather poor grasp of a few ideas of Postmodernism by the third camp, nevertheless, naming the third camp "Postmodern Regressives" is still more accurate than giving them some less precise designation, and helps to distinguish them from Modern Progressives (who are not "Modern" solely in the sense of being "up to date" and currently extant, but also in the sense of having embraced values of Modernism).

Of these three camps, obviously the Modern Progressives are in fact Leftists (or, at the very least, Centrists with a Leftist tinge).

Democratic Party loyalists, those whom we call Fauxgressives, whatever they may say, are supporting Neoliberal economic policies, and that means that, whether they realize it or not, they are advocating an Extreme Right-Wing economic perspective.

The final group (again, the Postmodern Regressives) ... I'm not sure they have any economic perspective, as a whole, at all.  They seem to be mostly concerned with authoritarian social policies, although they give lip service to Leftist economic ideals.  However, their obsession with identity politics serves only to establish obstacles to the actualization of any Leftist goals, so it's difficult to say what they actually believe in economic terms, probably due to the fact that most often they don't seem to have any clue what the hell they're talking about.  They're basically (for the most part) young and naïve with superficial knowledge of a few ideas.  It's one of the reasons they have turned Feminism on its head, for example; what was about Liberation and Equality during the 1960s and '70s has become something rather different.  Their situation is actually a rather sad one, because they want to effect some kind of positive change, but they haven't bothered to take the time necessary to understand the context in which the current situation exists;  I mean the historical context and the ideological currents which have come out of the past to influence the present.  Wanting to effect positive change is admirable, but you can't just jump into the deep end of the pool before you learn how to swim.

By way of contrast with Fauxgressive Democrats, Modern Progressives are not partisan (as a group, although some individuals might feel some loyalty to an authentically Modern Progressive, Left-libertarian political party such as the Green Party of the United States or one of the various parties using the word "Progressive" as part of its name), but will instead consider the policies of a candidate over party membership.

In contrast to Postmodern Regressives, Modern Progressives oppose authoritarianism.  Also, while advocating for equal rights under the law for all (regardless of pigmentation, ethnic ancestry, national origin, chromosomal sex, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity;  indeed, the reason the Democratic Party establishment did not want Franklin Roosevelt to pick Henry Wallace as his Vice Presidential running mate in 1940, and absolutely refused to allow him a second term as Vice President, was because he opposed racial and sex discrimination and would not support racial segregationBernie Sanders was arrested advocating for civil rights for Blacks in 1963supported the first ever Gay Pride parade in Burlington, Vermont, as Mayor in 1983, voted against the anti-equality "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1996 [see previous link], and treated Transgender persons as people as early as 1983), Modern Progressives do not allow Identity Politics to divide us and distract us from the primary struggle, which is economic (because reforming or dismantling the [mostly capitalist] structures which have enabled and/or facilitated oppression is the first step in ending oppression).

For more information, see
"Solidarity vs Intersectionality" at my YouTube channel:

"What Is A Progressive?" at The Progressive Flame:

"What Is a Progressive? What Is a Leftist?" at my YouTube channel:

and "A Modern Progressive Manifesto" at The Progressive Flame:

An earlier draft of this piece was first published on Google Plus on 5 September 2018.

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