Progressivism & the Decline of the West, Part 3

by Tom Licata

Progressivism – so pervasive in today’s Democratic Party – is the ideology of American suicide and specifically of American Constitutionalism. This is the third in a series of writings dissecting and analyzing Progressivism’s ideological beliefs and ideas, to which the just stated conclusion will become self-evident. “Suicide” is an emotive term but here I use its cognitive ‘self-inflicting’ meaning. That is, the demise of American Constitutionalism is coming almost entirely from internal or domestic sources, rather than external or foreign. The others in this series can be found here: https://ethanallen.org/11-7-14-progressivism-and-decline-of-the-west-part-2/

The frameworks of these writings are largely taken from James Burnham’s 1964 work, “Suicide of the West,” a detailed analysis of liberalism’s history and beliefs, which ends in the conclusion that “Liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide.”

*          *          *

Progressivism is a Weltanschauung (the German phrase) or worldview. A way to think of this worldview is to call Progressivism a “syndrome.” A syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur together as a group. For example, Parkinson’s disease is a syndrome that displays certain symptoms and when enough of Parkinson’s symptoms display themselves, doctors know what they’re dealing with. Likewise, Progressivism displays certain symptoms.

In the first of this series we observed that Progressivism rejects the claims made in the Declaration of Independence and we quoted the words of two prominent Progressives, Woodrow Wilson and FDR, to provide evidence to this. In the second of this series we observed that Progressivism does not believe human nature to be fixed but to be moldable, plastic and “correctable”; we observed that Progressivism sees an almost unlimited potential for human development; we observed that because Progressivism sees no innate obstacles in human nature, the obstacles to the ideal society must be in the conditions of the external or material world; and we observed that these external conditions are correctable through Progressive-controlled education and Progressive-controlled social and bureaucratic institutions.

This worldview and these five symptoms begin to unmask the syndrome known as “Progressivism.”

In this third of the series we continue the unmasking of Progressive symptoms by examining their beliefs in rationalism, anti-traditionalism and historical-optimism.

Progressivism’s intellectual ancestry dates back to 17th century rationalism and to such thinkers as Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes. In rationalism reason is not only man’s essence but his controlling characteristic. Progressivism believes reason and rational science – apart from any “superstitious” traditions of ‘God, country and apple pie’ – are all that’s needed to achieve the ideal society. The overused notion of “Separation of Church and State” derives from this rationalist worldview as the State attempts to replace “God in Heaven” with “Science on Earth.” Vermont’s so called single-payer “Green Mountain Care Board” is an example of the rational-scientific Administrative State incarnate: As it begins the gradualist tactic of controlling what are ultimately moral individual and familial medical decisions.

To Progressive thinking, the inequitable social conditions and ignorance of man, that Progressives believe are the cause of today’s problems, are the legacy of the past: “The product of the errors and injustices of the past,” as one prominent early 20th century Progressive put it. Hence, not only are there no reasons to accept traditions and institutions of the past, but they should be rejected and transformed. This “anti-traditionalist” worldview seeks to remake the legacy not only of our “errant” educational and social institutions but is determined to “fundamentally transform” the legacy of American Constitutionalism.

And this is why Progressivism is so fixated on the idea of “progress” or historical-optimism. That is, if man’s nature is not fixed but “correctable” through Progressive-controlled education and institutions; and if the obstacles to the ideal society are not derived from man’s innate weaknesses but from earthly and material conditions; then with the use of reason and rational science absent the baggage and legacy of the past’s traditions and Constitution, Progressivism can achieve its “Heaven on Earth.” Or, as the 18th century Enlightenment philosopher Condorcet wrote, “…Man by using reason and facts will attain perfection…. Nature has set no limits to the perfection of the human faculties.”

If it’s not already self-evident that Progressivism and American Constitutionalism don’t go together and are mutually exclusive, then read the first two of this series and the fourth, coming out shortly.

– Tom Licata is a member of the Ethan Allen Institute board of directors

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

David Usher December 10, 2014 at 3:40 pm

On the mark, Tom, well done. Waiting for more.

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