What Do Progressives Think of Us? Not Much.

by Martin Harris

Even if you’re not a “shrink” (a little disparaging street lingo, there) you can, with little effort, gain some insight into the Nation’s now-dominant political party’s view of its place at the apex of national governance. The supposed Biblical quote, “by their deeds you shall know them” actually mentions “fruits”, not works or actions (Matthew 7) and now that there’s a wide-ranging electronic and even print commentary platform, the former 3-station radio-TV network monopoly no longer limits public knowledge and opinion. As its shrinking print readership numbers show, even the Grey Lady of 43rd Street’s once-credible pledge of “all the news that’s fit to print” no longer commands much respect from the lost subscribers. So, there’s new evaluation: some of the more striking comes from former Leftist-Progressives, like this one from Christopher Lasch, whose “Revolt of the Elites” (1995) was one of the first to publicize the Party’s real doctrines and tactics(as opposed to public rhetoric and platform) from first-hand experience: “When confronted with resistance to these [governance] initiatives, they betray the venomous hatred that lies not far beneath the smiling face of upper-middle-class benevolence. Opposition makes humanitarians forget the liberal virtues they claim to uphold; they become petulant, self-righteous, intolerant. In the heat of political controversy, they find it impossible to conceal their contempt for those who stubbornly refuse to see the light– those who “just don’t get it”, in the self-satisfied jargon of political rectitude.” Venomous hatred is a bit over-wrought; contempt is about right.

In Vermont nearly every instance of school budget defeat brings forth the now-standard “if only we’d more simply explained all the wonderful things we’re trying to do for the children, these people might have been more appreciative, but we’ll give them another chance to vote correctly…” and so on. At the national level, such Progressives as H.L. Mencken were dismissing us in the popular press as “the booboisie” as early as the Roaring Twenties, using a neo-logism which was then more mental than physical, while such academicians as Woodrow Wilson were explaining to their colleagues how they should depict the Presidency as the exemplar of the “popular will” who has “a vision of the future” and “reads the implicit will of the public better than the public itself does” and “to illuminate for them a path to it” by “instructing the public, in simple terms, of what it is that it truly desires”. You’ll find the Prez 28 analysis in Ronald Pestritto’s “Woodrow Wilson”. What’s missing from the RP study of “The Roots of Modern Liberalism” is the earlier origin (the root-cause, if you will) of such superiority notions, developed while Progressivism, a late 19th century movement founded in Wisconsin by Republican Governor Robert LaFollette, was still closely tied to the higher-education “academy” with its own then-new concepts of eugenics, based on notions of evolution-based genetic superiority of intelligence, understanding, and even technical skill evident in the upper 10%, who therefore had the obligation (the “white man’s burden”, in the words of English Progressive Rudyard Kipling) to govern, for their own good, of course, a probably intransigent and unappreciative 90%, the rest of us. The on-line Wikipedia has a (too-brief) description of this late 19th century “talented tenth” Liberal concept, and how it was adopted by black advocate W.E.B. duBois for minority-advancement purposes. Even a non-shrink can appreciate how, once you’re convinced that you’re in the topmost intellectual decile, you can then look down on those who disagree with you as mentally deficient.

That’s because you’re part of “the civilized minority”, another H.L.Mencken Progressive self-label, correlating “civilization” with “intellect” and “education” and leading to another example from Christopher Lasch, in his “the One and Only Haven”, of the correlation of sociology as an academic science with the duty-to-govern, using as an illustration sociologist Robert Lynd’s 1939 “Knowledge for What?” book for this quote: “liberal attitudes are correlated with intelligence”, an assertion that was recently repeated in a 2010 study from the Social Psychology Quarterly, explaining why “social change has to be engineered from above”. Lasch writes of sociologist-academics like Lynd that it illustrates “their low opinion of ordinary Americans”, but doesn’t discuss how such blunt language is now more discreetly withheld from the “dumber 90%” (us) than it was when Lynd’s 1929 analysis of Muncie, Indiana, was first published.

There are multiple sub-ironies under the Progressive big one: they ostensibly advocate equality, but then declare themselves more highly evolved and therefore superior. They advocate “democracy”, but declare that they know the public will better than we in the public know our own. They advocate for broad public education, and then explain that’s it’s for us to learn what to want and how to follow and obey their superior judgment. And, of course, presently they’re deep into the favors-for-friends, punishment-for-enemies, crony capitalism, and vote-buying for “free stuff”, all of which the earliest Progressives formed up to expose as “Chicago politics” and remove. A nostalgic political-historian might well ask, “Robert LaFollette, where are your restore-Jeffersonian-principles colleagues now that your Party really needs them?”

2 thoughts on “What Do Progressives Think of Us? Not Much.

  1. I seriously doubt that there was any overlap between the eugenics craze and LaFollette Progressivism in Wisconsin and neighboring states, prior to LaFollette’s ascent from the governorship to to the Senate in 1905. The post-LaFollette Progs were certainly keen on improving the human race, one way or another, and the early midwestern Progs probably had a strain of nativism – against recent immigrants in seaboard cities. B ut you ned to show me that the Wisconsin Progs had the hots for eugenics.

    • I can’t prove it, except by circumstantial (“by their deeds,” etc.) evidence. But then I can’t “prove” that the $17T and growing debt will eventually make the US that we grew up in as vanished as the dinosaurs, either.

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