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The Bigotry Inherent in American Progressivism

Toward what do the progressives of today believe they are progressing? The chances are more than good that they have no idea. Somehow “progress” means greater equality, greater understanding, greater tolerance, greater peace, and greater evolution. Somehow. But it’s never entirely clear how. In almost every sense, modern progressives mean that anything they deem good is progressive while all else is not just wrong but evil.

Is there an actual end to the progress of progressives? Is there a threshold of equality that must be crossed, one that would at least allow us to claim victory? Is there some utopia just around the corner, achievable in some viable way?

I will not walk with your progressive apes,

Erect and sapient. Before them gapes

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The dark abyss to which their progress tends—

If by God’s mercy progress ever ends,

And does not ceaselessly revolve the same

Unfruitful course with changing of a name

change_me

— J.R.R. Tolkien, “Mythopoeia”

Just as the progressives of today have no real sense of where their progress might or should lead, they have even less sense of their origins. Progressivism, as understood in the last several centuries, originated in the thought of the Prussian philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and his contemporary Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814). As with all Prussians and most philosophers, Hegel’s and Fichte’s thoughts were complex and varied, not easily reduced to a quick soundbite or even a few sentences. Still, the progressive understanding of them is surprisingly simple. Drawing their own ideas from—and frankly distorting—the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus, the two Prussians believed that life moves forward through the struggles of societal forces. The forces that dominate most aspects of society, Fichte labeled the “thesis.” Those who opposed those forces, he called the “antithesis.” In their struggle—through and by which neither would wholly win—emerged a third thing, the “synthesis.” The synthesis, once arrived at, quickly became the thesis, opposed by a new antithesis. And the cycle started all over. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

This cycle of thesis-antithesis-synthesis was given the shorthand of “progress” and its advocates “progressives,” and it quickly dominated Germanic thought in the 19th century. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels especially coopted the idea.

Two things, however, must be noted. First, Progressivism very well might not have succeeded without the scientific idea of evolution re-emerging in the 1840s and 1850s. Darwinian evolution weaponized “progress,” giving it something quantifiable and endowing it with a staying power (one is tempted to write “endowing it with virtue,” if it were not such a perversion of virtue) that remains as strong to this day.

Second, whatever the intentions of Marx and Engels, the Left never had a monopoly on Progressivism. As the Germans adopted the idea early in the 19th century, the Anglo-American world did so with equal enthusiasm in the 20th century. Progressivism is really, at heart, pre- and trans-political. It is a theory of history and anthropology, not of politics. Deeply conservative men such as Harvard University’s Frederick Jackson Turner embraced the progressive vision of history. Whenever I teach students its meaning, I find they learn best by looking at the simplified version offered by Turner. “In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave—the meeting point between savagery and civilization,” Turner wrote in 1893. Then in rather poetic language evocative of every great western to be written for the silver screen during the following century, Turner explained:

This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the great West. 

In Turner’s progressive history, Europe serves as the thesis, Indians as antithesis, and Americans as the synthesis.

One need not limit this analysis to the 19th century. Modern neoconservatives such as Francis Fukyama have embraced the progressive vision of history just as readily as had Marx and Turner. Progressives have come to dominate academia, churches, the media, and especially politics. Woodrow Wilson might have been America’s most left-wing progressive president, but his ideas were not significantly different from those of either George Bush, not only in foreign policy but domestic policy. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the No Child Left Behind scream progressive, each placing what should have been dealt with privately and locally in the hands of Washington bureaucrats.

Yet even the most objective view of the progressive vision of history should give any intelligent and humane person pause. First, the progressive vision demands conflict. That is, in its understanding, history is made up of winners and losers. This flies directly against the long tradition of republican and Judeo-Christian thought that calls for the “common good” of the res publica, not the greater good of those who might be victorious. In the greater part of the Western tradition, at least up through the writings of Nicolo Machiavelli, the most important intellects recognized the flaws or fallenness of man, noting that power must be divided and guarded against. The progressives, wittingly or not, embraced the idea that those with established power should be taken down by others with power, thus creating a third and new power, itself soon to be the establishment and challenged. As such, the guiding force of society is might, not justice. In the res publica, ideally, each gives up some of his rights and treasure for the benefit of the whole. Thus, while each suffers some, the whole benefits mightily. No such rules or restraints govern the progressive vision. Truly it is a comparative: the greater good, not the common good. Power thus replaces love.

A second problem, very much related to the first, is that the progressive vision of history demands a victim. In the Marxian vision, it is the class enjoying dominance. One should not, therefore, be surprised to see mobs of Soviets dismantling mansions and executing the inhabitants. Even in the gentle vision of Turner, one readily sees how the Indians serve only one purpose in history: to turn Europeans into Americans. It’s as though generations and generations and generations of Indians existed only to give purpose and meaning to the European invaders. One can see what Gary Larson would do with this: a multitude of bored Indians hanging around Plymouth Rock, eagerly awaiting the coming of the Year of Our Lord 1620. One can see too how the murder of America’s original inhabitants could be easily justified.

As it happened, America’s first active progressives emerged from the annual Lake Mohonk conferences, sponsored by the “Friends of the Indian.” These do-gooders—almost all the children of evangelical ministers and almost none of whom had ever met an actual American Indian—believed in true progressive fashion that they knew how to make the Indians into “humans.” Their stated goal was horrific: “to kill the Indian to save the man.” Such friends one should avoid! They supported the reservation policies, the often forced Christianization of Indians, and the willful theft of Indian children from their biological parents. These latter they would send to East Coast boarding and trade schools, forcing them to “Americanize.” The most infamous of these schools was Carlisle Industrial, its cemetery full of the suicides of Indians who had been made to live neither in the world of their parents nor the world of their captors and who had escaped both only through death.

The progressives did not just target American Indians though. They also hated (and that word is not too strong) black Americans, Jewish Americans, and Catholic Americans. As Woodrow Wilson’s supporters put it, they wanted to “yank the hyphen” out of hyphenated Americans. He called the hyphen a dagger, ever ready to be wielded against the nation. Should it surprise anyone, therefore, that President Wilson not only segregated the U.S. Navy (it had always been desegregated, even in colonial days), but that he also segregated all federal offices and bureaucracies in Washington, D.C.?

Tellingly, it is impossible to separate Progressivism from racial and religious bigotry, especially in the United States. Eugenics and social engineering come directly from America’s progressives, who firmly believed in a lily white, Protestant America. One of progressivism’s most famous scholars—a man who supported and received the support of Teddy Roosevelt as well as Woodrow Wilson—was Edward Alsworth Ross, author of the wretched The Old World in the New (1914). “In this sense it is fair to say that the blood now being injected into the veins of our people is ‘sub–common,’” Ross asserted. “To one accustomed to the aspect of the normal American population, the Caliban type shows up with a frequency that is startling.” After analyzing the faults of each immigrant type—from Scandinavian to Sicilian to Jew—he lamented:

The overlooked that this man will beget children in his image—two or three times as many as the American—and that these children will in turn beget children. They chuckle at having opened an inexhaustible store of cheap tools and, Lo! the American people is being altered for all time by these tools. Once before, captains of industry took a hand in making this people. Colonial planters imported Africans to hoe in the sun, to “develop” the tobacco, indigo, and rice plantations. Then, as now, business minded men met with contempt the protests of the few idealists against their way of quote “building of the country.” Motors of prosperity are dust, but they bequeathed a situation which in four years wiped out more wealth than 200 years of slavery had built off, and which presents today the one unsolvable problem in this country. Without likening immigrants to Negroes, one may point out how the latter-day employer resembles the old-time planter in his blindness to the facts of his labor policy upon the blood of the nation.

As disturbing as Ross’s views are, they are the essential beginning of Progressivism. From its beginning, whether intentional or not, Progressivism has been racist and bigoted. Yet such results are true to its theory. If all history comes from conflicts over power, the losers will always be dehumanized. Crazily enough, the modern progressives have done the same thing, yet whereas once our history was written by the victors, it is now written by the victims. Neither is healthy for a stable, just, and free social order.

Bradley J. Birzer is The American Conservative’s scholar-at-large. He also holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History at Hillsdale College and is the author, most recently, of Russell Kirk: American Conservative [1].

48 Comments (Open | Close)

48 Comments To "The Bigotry Inherent in American Progressivism"

#1 Comment By Ken T On December 4, 2018 @ 10:56 pm

Somehow “progress” means greater equality, greater understanding, greater tolerance, greater peace, and greater evolution.

And after writing this sentence, you go on to point out that some people back in the 19th century stood for less equality, less understanding, less tolerance than today. And you think that this somehow refutes the claim of progress? This is coming from someone billed as a “scholar-at-large”. Sorry, Mr. Scholar, but I think you just earned an “F” for this one. I think some remedial tutoring is called for.

#2 Comment By Oleg Gark On December 5, 2018 @ 12:02 am

Disabled people and their family members are mostly big fans of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I don’t think disparaging it promotes your argument.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 5, 2018 @ 12:35 am

Now this a very worthwhile, thoughtful post.

#4 Comment By John Blade Wiederspan On December 5, 2018 @ 12:59 am

Oh for God’s (Christian) Sake!! Selective facts in order to make a point. Just got done reading Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. Was stunned to read he thought the Civil War was really unnecessary and the industrial North should have let the agrarian Slave based South gradually evolve to the fact that humans aren’t animals to be bought and sold. Liberalism and Progressivism are why slaves are free, women and blacks can vote, homosexuals are not thrown in jail, machine guns are illegal, we have national parks, land grant colleges, the interstate highway system, the Louisiana Purchase, U.S. Senators are elected by the people, people of different races can legally marry, racial segregation is illegal, we have regulations to protect us from rancid food and fake drugs, we have the SEC to try to protect us from fraud, forming a union is legal, the 40 hour work week, public education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The conservative powers that be fought every one of these developments. I remember when segregation was legal and possession of marijuana was a felony. Ignorant conservatives have the luxury of living in a national that, from its beginning, changed things if they needed to be changed. Can tolerance go too far? Yes. Can trying to cure all ills through government actions be counterproductive? Yes. Do I bemoan the breakdown in community and family? Yes. But before everyone gets all starry eyed about a society with no revision and reform, read some history. And take a clear eyed look around. We live in a democracy and like it or not, we have a society and government system that the majority of people want. The price you pay for living in a free society is a certain degree of distasteful things.

#5 Comment By Geoff Arnold On December 5, 2018 @ 2:20 am

What a curious piece. The author wonders to what “the progressives of today believe they are progressing”, and proceeds to project his own fantasy rather than actually asking any of them and working from actual progressive ideas. Not surprisingly, his fantasies bear no relation to what most real-world progressives actually espouse.

Surely the American Conservative can do better than this.

#6 Comment By Anan On December 5, 2018 @ 3:11 am

It this lamentation about the apparent racism of Progressivism, the author displays an orthographic racism in refusing the capitalize the adjective “black” he uses the describe Americans of African descent, yet he capitalizes the other groups befitting the unconscious nature of much of his critique of Progressivism. Peaople whom he refers to as “black” Americans are African-Americans, whether one likes it or not, or thinks it is “too long to say”. People don’t say “jew” American because that is allegedly an insult. So, why can African-Americans be insulted constantly under the guise of decrying the “racism” of the left? Regarding African-Americans’ experience in the USA, both the so-called right (conservatives) and left (progressives) have been racist in differing degrees and manifestations where African-Americans are concerned. Are African-Americans supposed to give the group who can be demonstrated to be the least racist towards us an award or something? Reparations Now!!

#7 Comment By Whine Merchant On December 5, 2018 @ 5:14 am

“As disturbing as Ross’s views are, they are the essential beginning of Progressivism. From its beginning, whether intentional or not, Progressivism has been racist and bigoted. Yet such results are true to its theory. If all history comes from conflicts over power, the losers will always be dehumanized”

Wow! this is the apex of Trumpian pseudo-logic. You get the pretzel logic prize this week!

#8 Comment By msnthrop On December 5, 2018 @ 5:47 am

Is this satire? Or some kind of Burroughs themed cut-up piece?

#9 Comment By Alan Vanneman On December 5, 2018 @ 8:06 am

This is “interesting”, but combating/converting the heathen was aggressively practiced in Europe by avowed believers in Original Sin long before the Progressives started it in the U.S. Of course, you’re also neglecting the wicked French, who thought up the perfectability of man back in the 18th century.

#10 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On December 5, 2018 @ 8:37 am

“Toward what do the progressives of today believe they are progressing? The chances are more than good that they have no idea.”

‘Tis true indeed. Ask a prog for specifics and about all you’ll get are sweeping generalizations and something on the order of “Just listen to us. We have all the answers to life’s problems. In the meantime, just know that those stupid trolls who don’t know what’s good for them and who keep getting in our way on the road to utopia must simply be EXTERMINATED.”

#11 Comment By Peter On December 5, 2018 @ 9:36 am

For your consideration: Major Danny Sjursen authored “Original Sin” the first of 22 articles @ American History for Truthdiggers [truthdig.com] February 3, 2018 [2] , this link to part 22: [3] , has links to all 21 previous parts/articles.

“Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His wartime experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.”

Truthdig editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “Make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?”

#12 Comment By TomG On December 5, 2018 @ 9:38 am

This is an interesting historical analysis, but I think it means nothing to the rank and file who would say they are progressive. To these it means (admittedly not always coherent) a view towards a more egalitarian and just way of life as preached by MLK, Jr. and not the Wilsonian left.

The hubris that so easily infiltrates any power group quickly enough seduces bigots whether religious, racial or ideological into what has kept this country from it purported democratic ideals. The left has no corner on this. The most ardent so called conservatives are just as susceptible. And so we continue to wallow pridefully in our national sins while looking for who we can blame besides the face in the mirror.

#13 Comment By mrscracker On December 5, 2018 @ 9:42 am

“Colonial planters imported Africans to hoe in the sun, to “develop” the tobacco, indigo, and rice plantations.”

***************
Africans were first imported to cultivate rice plantations because they were already highly skilled in growing that crop. But tobacco planters bought tens of thousands of British convicts to work their fields. Transported convicts were cheaper to buy & therefore more expendable than African slaves. You could by a child convict for almost nothing.

The really silly thing is that any number of eugenics supporters who proudly traced their lineage back to colonial days were more likely to be descended from transported convicts. Or Africans. Folks mixed more freely in the early colonial period.

Eugenics would be sillier if it hadn’t turned out to be so sinister.
And if I remember, Oregon was perhaps the last state to perform eugenic sterilizations. The Oregon State Board of Eugenics wasn’t formally abolished until 1983.
There’s an interesting article online about that & just to mention, Louisiana, one of the least “progressive” states was also one of the very few that, as far as I can see, never allowed eugenic sterilizations:

“In 1917 the Oregon State Legislature, in Salem, Oregon, passed a bill titled, “To Prevent Procreation of Certain Classes in Oregon.” Passage of the bill created the Oregon State Board of Eugenics, an organization that presided over the forced sterilization of more than 2,600 Oregon residents from 1917 to 1981. In 1983, Legislation abolished the State Board of Eugenics, by that time called the Oregon State Board of Social Protection. For more than seventy years, the State Board was involved in the US eugenics movement, using theories partly constructed from genetics to control the reproductive health of citizens….Bethenia Angelina Owens-Adair, one of Oregon’s earliest female physicians, helped write and promote the bill that was used to create the Oregon Board of Eugenics. Owens-Adair was a women’s suffrage activist, reproductive rights supporter, and a eugenics advocate from Warrenton, Oregon….”

[4]

#14 Comment By Efrem Sepulveda On December 5, 2018 @ 9:54 am

“We live in a democracy and like it or not, we have a society and government system that the majority of people want. The price you pay for living in a free society is a certain degree of distasteful things.”

Yes, and it is this “majority” that will make a mockery of your so-called “free society.” Hey, we might be in chains, but look at all of the channels we have!! We might be servants of the State but we can amuse ourselves with NFL Sunday Ticket!! Progress has turned us from a truly free people into something little more than sacks of concrete to be tossed about by governmental “experts.”

#15 Comment By Silver On December 5, 2018 @ 10:37 am

I think the most telling part of the article is the part where Edward Alsworth Ross is quoted as “proof” of progressivisms inherent bigotry (EVERY progressive, mind you, because apparently a centuries old movement with millions of followers and developments over time has remained static, unchanging and can be summed up by the most damming cherry picked quotes Mr. Birzer could find).

Was there an attempt to place the quote in context and how it fit in with the general mindset of the era towards non-white people of the time? Was it compared to other ideas such as, say, “the white man’s burden”, colonialism, forced conversions to Christianity, ethnic cleansings of native Americans, etc? Was there an acknowledgement of the gap between that attitude and the modern progressive notions that celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity?
No, there was not, because this article feels more like it was written as a manifestation of the author’s feelings towards a political orientation he opposes than an attempt at intellectual honesty.

If I wanted to act the same way, I could make arguments that conservatism is inherently bigoted; I could for example, demonstrate on how anti-abolitionists used the Bible and Christian theology to defend slavery, and use that to make the point that conservatism is always racist. I could point out all the conservatives that supported Jim Crow, opposed the civil rights movement and the end of segregation.

But that would be a self-serving narrative bound to contribute to the political polarization that keeps getting worse.

Until we can start having honest and fair discussions on ideas, principles and policy (even when dealing with politics we oppose) I expect the political climate to continue to deteriorate.

#16 Comment By Rob G On December 5, 2018 @ 11:08 am

“Just got done reading Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. Was stunned to read he thought the Civil War was really unnecessary and the industrial North should have let the agrarian Slave based South gradually evolve to the fact that humans aren’t animals to be bought and sold.”

Anachronize much? Also, the CW wasn’t about ending slavery but about maintaining the union, remember?

The rest of your post is likewise lacking a rather large helping of nuance. Why not just go ahead and proclaim that everything good in America comes from progressives and liberals and everything bad comes from conservatives, as that’s your argument in a nutshell? Because if you came out and said it everyone would know that you’re either an ideologue or a loony.

#17 Comment By Liam On December 5, 2018 @ 11:44 am

Well, that was embarrassing.

#18 Comment By Donald On December 5, 2018 @ 12:48 pm

“The rest of your post is likewise lacking a rather large helping of nuance. ”

This is a good description of Birzer’s article, though you don’t seem to realize it.

I agree that “progress” is a word used to justify all sorts of evils. But so is “conservative”. This article needs nuance. As it stands, it is only the flip side of all the unthinking liberal pieces I come here to escape.

#19 Comment By hooly On December 5, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

I consider the most de-humanizing regime in the 19th century to be the Confederate States of America. Would you consider it under Progressive rule?

#20 Comment By CLW On December 5, 2018 @ 1:58 pm

This ridiculous screed belongs out in the blogosphere, not on TAC. Birzer finds it hard to imagine what the “threshold of equality” might look like, but others seem not to have had that difficulty:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.”

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”

#21 Comment By CLW On December 5, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

This ridiculous screed belongs out in the blogosphere, not on TAC. Birzer finds it hard to imagine what the “threshold of equality” might look like, but others don’t seem to have had trouble imagining it:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.”

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”

#22 Comment By KevinS On December 5, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

What utter drivel! Are we sure Dinesh d’Souza didn’t write this? Or maybe Ann Coulter?

#23 Comment By John Blade Wiederspan On December 5, 2018 @ 3:33 pm

Rob G, I will not proclaim (nor did I in my post) all good comes from progressives/liberals or everything bad comes from conservatives as neither statement is true. Neither liberals nor conservatives are, or have been, infallible in their actions/beliefs in regard to governance and/or society. As to either an ideologue or a loony? Or perhaps an idealistic loony? The jury hasn’t come in yet with a verdict.

#24 Comment By Ray Woodcock On December 5, 2018 @ 4:07 pm

This piece is overly ambitious. A more conservative (sic) approach might have been more effective. Maybe a rule of thumb would be to limit oneself to no more than one remarkable pronouncement per essay, and to focus on making that one stick.

#25 Comment By Naeco On December 5, 2018 @ 4:07 pm

Well put John Blade Wiederspan!

#26 Comment By Bill Smith On December 5, 2018 @ 5:05 pm

This has a lot of good parts. Particularly the disastrous implications of dialectical analysis of social interactions. I think you make a serious misinterpretation about half way through.

This obsession on the mainstream right with tying the progressive left or Democratic party to racism. D’Souza made this argument so often it became a cliche. The Democrats are the real racists, DR3.

While racial hatred is a serious problem the rhetorical game here is nothing short of lazy. When you say that the progressive left is failing to live up to its egalitarian values you expose them as hypocrites. You also strengthen their historicism and reasoning by assenting to it.

The problem with the left isn’t that they fail to destroy all hierarchies, rather that they are in the game of destroying hierarchies regardless of the effect.

As long as the right can only criticize it’s opponents as hypocrites, crooked, or weirdos it won’t learn to make significant politically philosophical criticisms. This column is the latest installment of the dumbing down of the American right.

#27 Comment By One Guy On December 5, 2018 @ 5:19 pm

One of the most dehumanizing things I’ve seen recently is putting children in cages.

It wasn’t the progressives who did that.

#28 Comment By balconesfault On December 5, 2018 @ 5:37 pm

The gist of this critique seems to be that Progressives of the past were only one or two steps ahead of the racism and bigotry of their contemporaries, instead of one or two laps ahead.

I suppose to the conservative mind, government providing any level of assistance to an individual or group is “dehumanizing” to them.

#29 Comment By Diane Trefethen On December 5, 2018 @ 5:43 pm

“[T]he Americans with Disabilities Act and the No Child Left Behind scream progressive, each placing what should have been dealt with privately and locally in the hands of Washington bureaucrats.”
Though stated as a fact, this is just Mr Birzer’s opinion. I gather he thinks that “Washington bureaucrats” are less capable than private and/or local institutions at providing help for the disabled to fulfill their potential and for children in impoverished school districts to succeed equally with their peers in more affluent districts. I have an opinion too. I think Birzer is wrong because we’ve had charity for the disabled and poor children for hundreds (if not thousands) of years and today’s disabled and poor kids are still woefully shortchanged by society on opportunities for success. Maybe the 2 programs mentioned won’t be/haven’t been successful but the “privately and locally” shtick didn’t work either – ever.

Before analyzing the rest of the article, keep 2 points in mind. 1) Whenever a reasonably proficient writer uses a word that has multiple meanings or connotations when there are other words with a more limited definition that he could have used to express his idea, he is preparing to con the reader. 2) There is a huge difference between a bad idea and a good idea implemented badly. The former is a lost cause no matter what is done while the latter can be reworked to succeed.

Problem #1, according to Birzer is “progressive vision demands conflict”. Since a vision can’t engage in physical struggle, “conflict” must mean intellectual conflict, aka differing opinions. However, he immediately hedges that definition by declaring that “progressive vision” sees history as “made up of winners and losers” and after some wandering around, “Power thus replaces love.” In other words, might triumphs over compassion. Had he started with “progressive vision demands differing opinions”, he would have looked foolish declaring that disagreeing about an idea with someone means you see the history of this disagreement as nothing but winners and losers. Concluding that your differing views = love being displaced by power is even less intuitive.

Problem #2 completes the degeneration of the originally proposed intellectual “conflict” into class warfare, including “bored Indians” waiting around to be “victims” of the newly arrived English “mobs”.

The next misstep by Birzer. “America’s first active progressives. . . almost all the children of evangelical ministers. . . believed in true progressive fashion that they knew how to make the Indians into ‘humans.’ Their stated goal was horrific: ’to kill the Indian to save the man.’” Progressive? Really? That was the blueprint followed by the roughly contemporaneous Spanish Inquisition. And since Birzer himself defined progressives as those who waged the struggle against the forces that dominate society, aka the Elites, how can he then proclaim a bunch of evangelicals, a group that holds and always has held some of the most reactionary philosophy in the US, to be “progressives”?

Having redefined reactionary evangelicals as progressives, the rest of his article just follows that logic on down the rabbit hole where up is down and progressives hate Jews, Blacks, and Catholics. So if all this redefining is accurate, how come those new definitions don’t fit? It isn’t Progressives who are labeled pro-evangelical; it’s Conservatives. Super conservative white nationalists are antisemitic, not the progressive branch of the Democratic Party (there IS no progressive branch of the Republican Party). It isn’t Progressive legislators who are disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Black (and poor white and student and Hispanic) voters; that again would be what we today call Conservatives. And hate Catholics? We’ve had one Catholic President and one Catholic Vice-President. Neither was a Conservative.

#30 Comment By Clyde Schechter On December 5, 2018 @ 5:43 pm

@Anan

First, I’ll agree that Black should be capitalized when referring to people (except in contexts where no capitalization of references to other groups of people is being used.)

I’ve been around for a while. I was a minor activist in the Civil Rights movement back in the 60’s. Then the respectful term was Negro, with Colored Person a close runner-up. Then in the late 60’s and early 70’s it changed to Black. From there over time it switched to Afro-American, and more recently African American. And while colored person is out of favor, the periphrastic People of Color has made its debut (as a term that includes basically all non-Whites).

The point is that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. While there are certain terms that should be avoided because they are pointedly and intentionally derogatory or hateful, it frankly becomes tiresome changing these words every few years. I don’t see that it offers anybody any real benefits in the first place, and I infer that Blacks don’t feel much benefit from the new names or they wouldn’t keep changing them. I started using Black when that became fashionable, but I’ve stuck with it since then.

#31 Comment By Rob G On December 5, 2018 @ 6:48 pm

Nice dodge, JBW. Someone calls out your nonsense and suddenly the nuance faucet is turned on full force.

“I consider the most de-humanizing regime in the 19th century to be the Confederate States of America.”

Then you don’t know much. You might want to take a little look-see at, for instance, the Congo Free State.

#32 Comment By Mike Ludwig On December 5, 2018 @ 6:53 pm

In London, July/1912, over 700 of the world’s most renown university professors, doctors, philosophers, scientists, theologians and social reformers attended the First International Congress of Eugenics. Among those most known to posterity were Major Leonard Darwin, chairman of the British Eugenics Society and son of Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, American inventor Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Eliot, president emeritus of Harvard University and Dr. Alfred Ploetz, president of the International Society for Race Hygiene.From Darwinian origins, eugenics had risen to the highest scientific levels. It was discussed at universities and in scientific journals. Political leaders and scientists everywhere espoused it as the salvation of the human race. (Philipp Blom in The Vertigo Years)
But what was considered settled science at the time would be revealed in subsequent generations as nothing more pseudo/science. Tragically, however, eugenics would play a significant role in the formulation of racist theories which contributed to a hyper-nationalism that rationalized the subjugation of indigenous peoples the world over, forced sterilization programs, world war, the rise of Nazi, Fascist and Communist totalitarianism, genocide and more than a hundred million dead in the 20th century.

Today’s progressives are actually far more lethal considering the anti-population measures they support to “save the planet.” Abortion and euthanasia are the progressive’s final solution to protect the environment from too many useless breathers sucking up the globe’s Co2.

#33 Comment By Richard Grabman On December 6, 2018 @ 1:56 am

The author is confusing Positivism, the prevailing philosophy of the latter half of the 19th century, with Progressivism. Certainly, there is a lot to lament about the Progressives, but all political movements of the late 19th and early 20th century were Positivist in their assumptions about how the world worked. We still get echoes of it today in talk about things like the “developed world” (as opposed to those nations less tied to the economic systems of the “global north” … the whole Positivist position resting on the assumption that cultural and political advancement meant becoming more like what they considered the best models… for most of them, France.

#34 Comment By atimoshenko On December 6, 2018 @ 2:29 am

Conservative: the older an institution, the more valuable it is for having stood the test of time.

Progressive: the older an institution, the more likely its core is to be rotted, mutated or corrupted, most frequently in order to limit competition and entrench the winners.

In other words “reverence until proven otherwise” vs “suspicion until proven otherwise”.

#35 Comment By Marilee On December 6, 2018 @ 3:30 am

I am unconvinced.

#36 Comment By Erica Wanis On December 6, 2018 @ 5:33 am

TAC must have been short on content this week. This essay is offensive in its lack of rigor and intellectual honesty. As another person said, better suited for an alt-right blog post than a serious publication of any kind. Disgraceful.

#37 Comment By mrscracker On December 6, 2018 @ 10:07 am

balconesfault says:

The gist of this critique seems to be that Progressives of the past were only one or two steps ahead of the racism and bigotry of their contemporaries, instead of one or two laps ahead.”
**************

I think it was just a different flavor of bigotry.
It’s similar to comparing socialism & fascism. For folks living under a totalitarian regime, it matters little what philosophy the current regime professes. Oppression comes in differing guises but it all feels the same to the oppressed.
To be fair, conservatives & liberals alike can have blind spots. Speaking as a conservative I guess I feel more comfortable with prejudice that’s out in the open rather than cloaked behind enlightenment. Hidden evils are harder to confront, especially when they claim higher ground.

#38 Comment By madge On December 6, 2018 @ 10:35 am

“Disabled people and their family members are mostly big fans of the Americans with Disabilities Act”

In the author’s defense, it takes quite a bit of skill to rant about the dark eugenic heart of modern progressivism and denounce the ADA in the same column. Some tasks are so difficult that only scholars at large at Hillsdale College are able to meet them!

#39 Comment By George Nuffelmeyer On December 6, 2018 @ 10:57 am

@balconesfault: “The gist of this critique seems to be that Progressives of the past were only one or two steps ahead of the racism and bigotry of their contemporaries”
If by that you mean they were *more* racist, you are certainly correct!

#40 Comment By Thaomas On December 6, 2018 @ 4:37 pm

Sorry, Communists and Fascists can have it out over Hegel; Liberals have no dog in that fight. Nietzsche, another famous anti-Liberal does lay out Christianity’s antitheses to his Superman ethos rather nicely, however.

And the racism of Wilson is somehow not explained as essential to his support for a progressive income tax.

#41 Comment By Mark B. On December 6, 2018 @ 5:40 pm

@ mrscracker

Your post made me smile. Me too am more comfortable with open than with hidden evil and I also think progressives dehumanize and victimize those they claim to stand up for while despising them.

It’s just that as a European I fear one open evil more than all the progressive’s hidden evils together and that is concentration camps. European right-wing bigotry if not racism combined with Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism must be taken more serious as a threat to everybody in Europe than it ever will and (hopefully) can be in the US. One cannot ignore history.

Simply put: I’d rather live in totalitarian socialist Sodom or Ghomorra than next to a new Auswitch.
But I have hope neither will arrive.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot: I envy you Americans. Regards.

#42 Comment By blackhorse On December 6, 2018 @ 8:16 pm

2 words, Mr Brizer. “Historically conditioned”. That was then. Meanwhile the right courts and embracea bigots.

#43 Comment By balconesfault On December 7, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

@George Nuffelmeyer There is lots of evidence that past progressives were susceptible to the bigotry and prejudices of the cultures they lived in, although to a lesser degree. There is no evidence that they were more racist than their conservative peers of the time.

For better or worse, we are all products of the cultures we grow up in. But moving forward from those past bigotries and prejudices requires progressive attitudes.

#44 Comment By John Blade Wiederspan On December 7, 2018 @ 1:57 pm

Rob G, better go to an eye doctor, I did not write that sentence. You read someone else’s post or you are imagining something in mine that isn’t there. I never did have anything to dodge. Is that nuanced enough for you?

#45 Comment By John Blade Wiederspan On December 7, 2018 @ 2:14 pm

Rob G, it is apparent that my post has caused you discomfort. This is unfortunate. The world has enough trials and tribulations the way it is. I didn’t mean to add any more to it. Life is tough enough without people making it tougher.

#46 Comment By Werd On December 8, 2018 @ 11:49 am

I think you’re all missing the point. This is where the ideological backing for proggressives comes from, so inevitably it will produce similar results. Why can’t we come to a compromise over religious believers and LGBTQ rights? Why is it ok to make fun of White people, and increasingly Asians and Jews on the American left? Because, progressivism by its very nature demands cultural domination as well as an “other” to dehumanize. That’s what I got out of the essay, anyway.

#47 Comment By David Garshaw On December 8, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

This column is a horribly pathetic representation of what can be considered progressive. It is true that “progress” means greater equality, greater understanding, greater tolerance, greater peace, etc.

There is no such category of “progress” as if we’re talking about “Friedman” economics or “George Carlin” comedy. It is worse than childlike to twist a term like “progress” like this.

How could a respectable source even print it?

#48 Comment By Ed On December 8, 2018 @ 4:32 pm

But was that the progressives? Or America? Or its WASP upper and middle classes? Or the Western world a century back?

Maybe it was a question of “I’m saying what you’re thinking.” The progressives were the outspoken and activist part of the country. They were the ones who were acting on beliefs that were much more widely held.

Many a conservative believed that Whites were superior and many didn’t have a problem with locking up or sterilizing those judged in competent. They were just more passive and didn’t make crusades out of such things.

People who really opposed eugenics, imperialism, segregation, and racial supremacy were few in those days, and many of them were on the left, radicals in opposition to the more middle class and conventional progressives (not that all the opinions of those radicals would be considered politically correct today).

You are who you are and believe what you believe not because you are a liberal or conservative or radical, but because you live at a time when certain beliefs have been judged unacceptable and reprehensible and other beliefs are accepted and encouraged (and sometimes made all but mandatory).

If any of us could go back a century we’d be surprised at what our ideological counterparts actually believed back then.