‘Liberalism’ and ‘Progressivism’ Are Not the Same
I recently had a small office in one of those ‘hipster’ co-working spaces. It was close to my house and relatively inexpensive. They gave you the option to bring your computer and work for the day or rent out a permanent space. I was usually inundated by work, but whenever possible, I made an effort to converse with my fellow freelancers, innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs. Not being a person afraid to talk about politics in public, I found myself one day speaking with a woman, presumably in her early 50’s, about how terrible Trump was for the country. She didn’t attempt to hide her disdain for the President. Being that I am also no fan of Trump, I sympathized with her views and assured her that I was on her side when it came to the president. But then something bizarre unfolded. Never good at biting my tongue, I also conveyed my many grievances with the far Left wing of the Democratic party or what can be referred to as the ‘Progressive Left’. I presented my argument that the Progressive Left was equally or maybe more dangerous than Trump.
That is when the shit hit the fan. She stood up, her face turned red and the tone of her voice was suddenly hostile, loud and chaotic. Her eyes grew larger and her voice become engulfed by emotion. Without knowing my name or my personal history, she explained that I was a privileged White male and that my parents never had to work hard and that Americans for the most part are lazy. Her voice grew louder and I could now see that she was visibly shaking. I tried to respond, but she continued to lay into me. I was also raised to respect my elders and particularly women, so I tried earnestly to remain calm. Literally two minutes before we were agreeing that Trump was bad for the country, but I guess that wasn’t good enough in her mind. She demanded complete obedience. As she was speaking, I could see that she was trying to gain the attention of others in the coworking space. She was performing a dance of ‘virture signaling’ to showcase that was indeeed ‘woke’, and I, this privileged, SIS gendered White male was going to be at her mercy. I had set her off and now I was going going to pay the price.
I wanted to explain to her that I hardly saw my parents growing up since they were always working overtime or a second job. I wanted to tell her that I was the first person to go college in my family. I wanted to explain that Americans, regardless of race, are some of the hardest working people on earth and in fact, work entirely too much compared to the rest of the planet. But I realized my explanation would only be perceived as ‘mansplaining’, further escalating what had already become a scene in my ‘progressive’ shared coworking space. But then things got even more interesting. A Black man in his mid-30’s, with long flowing dreadlocks walked over. I could see the woman’s eyes light up as he approached and judging by her body language, I could only assume that she expected the man to join her in silencing my dissent. Afterall, how dare an oppresser like myself have the audacity to question the Progressive narrative in this ‘forward-thinking’ and ‘progressive’ coworking space. Although she was also White, she could claim victim status in the intersectional hierachy, which made here the natural ally of this Black man while I was clearly the villain.
But something unexpected happened. This man, whom I had never spoken to before, came to my defense. He explained that he overhead everything. He conveyed to her that it is easy to ridicule those that disagree, but in times of such a divided America, we need to respect the perspectives of others and try to see the humanity in those opposing views. He also articulated that although he was no fan of Trump and leaned Left politically, he was also fed up with the increasing polarization within American society. He explained that he had friends from all walks off life, including a White friend who was a Trump supporter and he could see why some people might vote for Trump. He strongly disagreed with his friend for voting Trump, but he wasn’t willing to disassociate himself with others based solely on their political views. We both agreed the country would be better off if we could get back to judging each other on individual character. The woman stood speechless. Her face no longer red, she looked somewhat dumbfounded and confused. At that moment, I felt sorry and even embarrassed for her. The woman then sort of reluctantly agreed with us and sat back down at her work station. I never saw her again.
The truth is that this woman might not have even been a bad person, but it became clear to me at that moment there is a clear distinction between ‘Liberalism’ and the new ‘Progressivism’. I also started to realize that a lot of formally liberal-minded individuals now seem to walking off an ontological cliff and into the blackhole of 21st Century ‘Progressivsim’, which is largely predicated on entirely ‘illiberal’ thought. Before I go further, it is essential to understand that ‘Liberalism’ is the gateway to ‘Progressivism’ and certainly many liberals believe in some very progressive ideas, but there are fundamental and philosophical differences between the two camps. It should also be pointed out that Liberals often use the word ‘progressive’ when discussing policy goals, so there is bound to be some confusion. Liberalism at its core, cherishes America and Western civilization, but makes the compelling and correct argument that we should always be striving for greater equality. It is the ever necessary critic of Western culture, America and global capitalism. In other words, Liberalism accepts the basic premises of the ‘realist perspective’, but rightfully insists that we can sort of ‘take the edge off’. In the post-modern world, this translates into strong social safety nets, inclusion and diversity, all of which are noble goals.
However, Liberalism aims to achieve these goals WITHOUT tearing down the system and WITHOUT screaming in the face of those that disagree, including conservatives. While there isn’t always a clear distinction between the two camps and a sort of cloudy, gray area persists, it is important that we as Liberals truly understand and attempt to stand up against the tyrannical nature of the Progressive movement or the ‘woke narrative’. It is imperative that we maintain committed to rationalism, reason and open political discourse. We may disagree with conservatives, but we should continue to engage with them and admit that some of their ideas have legitimate merit. It is perfectly fine to criticize Western culture and American society, but we must not forget the great achievements and advantages of Western culture either. We must be careful not to fall deep into the abyss of ideology, amoralism and irrationalism. ‘Progressivsim’, as it exist in 2019, is ‘Liberalism’ stricken by a deadly disease. When it comes to politics, it is ok to pick a team, but you have to be willing to call out members of your own team. Humility, not self-righteousness is the mark of an open, Democratic society. Progressivism is the result when Liberalism implodes. For the Progressive, virtue is increasingly based on one’s group identity rather than on individual character, talent or merit. We are currently living on borrowed time from the accomplishments of the past. Eventually, such narrow-minded thought, if not already, will be the downfall of American society. Below are some more important distinctions between Liberalism and Progressivism.
Progressives are fully willing to engage in ‘intellectual dishonesty’ in order to further the ‘woke narrative’
We now often hear the term ‘alt-right’. Although the meaning of ‘alt-right’ is a term invented by White nationalist to distinguish an alternative Right based on a notion of White supremacy from traditional conservatism, it’s now very common for members of the Progressive media, political actors and even certain politicians to lump all conservative and even moderate political thinkers into the category of ‘alt-right’. Although Liberals may mock Conservatives and even ridicule their ideas, they will at least hear those ideas and acknowledge that some are valid. It’s also not uncommon for a liberal to have conservative friends or have a loving relationship with a family member who happens to be conservative. Progressives, for the most part, refuse to even recognize the humanity of those with conservative or even moderate ideas. Instead, they are likely to yell in your face and label you a racist, sexist, bigot, homophobic or transphobic depending on which is most convenient for silencing dissent at the given moment. They certainly don’t even vaguely attempt to understand an opposing argument. And god forbid if you speak of Christianity ‘without contempt’ to a Progressive! Without fail, Progressives weaponize race, gender and sexual orientation as a way to shut down those that disagree.
This tyrannical nature only continues to lead us down a myopic path of intellectual dishonesty and intellectual laziness, which is antithetical to the principles of democratic society. Nothing has demonstrated this more during the past two years than the Progressive media’s campaign to not only misrepresent the ideas of those that accurately criticize the ‘woke narrative’, but to falsely portray dissenters as ‘alt-right’. The unnerving reaction by members of the Progressive Left to categorize any idea that is remotely conservative as ‘alt-right’ is nothing less than disturbing. A notable example of such intellectual dishonesty has been the malicious attacks on Jordan Peterson, who is at best, politically moderate. Peterson is targeted by the progressive media largely because he is so effective at exposing the gaping inadequacies of the ‘woke narrative’. Peterson maintains there ARE biological differences between men and woman, rejects the idea that social hierarchies are socially constructed and condemns legislation which arbitrary enforces the usage of gender-neutral pronouns. Peterson’s work, however, is actually quite apolitical and instead reads as a guide for personal self-improvement. He implores individuals to take responsibility for their actions, embrace self-discipline and ultimately strive for self-improvement. He is also severely critical of the Progressive doctrine of ‘identity politics’ simply because it is a self-limiting perspective, which promotes a culture of victim hood and devalues personal responsibility.
Another glaring example of intellectual dishonesty, irrational thought and self-serving behavior has been the Progressive media’s attempt to distort the situation in Venezuela. Undoubtedly, the utter and complete failure of socialism in Venezuela is a sticky thorn in the far-Left narrative, which has become enamored with the idea of socialism. But what is more discerning is the immoral nature by the Progressive media to downplay the human suffering and oppression of the Venezuela simply because they don’t like Trump? It is perfectly fine to question American military intervention in Venezuala as we should always proceed with caution when the possibility of armed conflict arises. However, to portray the situation in Venezuela as an act of ‘imperialism’ is an immoral argument. To imply that the economic collapse and social chaos throughout the country is the fault of the US is a complete distoration of the truth. The situation that Venezuela faces in 2019 is the direct result of the unsustainable, irresponsible and undemocratic policies started under Chavez and the emergence of a narco state that has transpired under the dictatorship of Maduro. It should also be pointed out that the US is in no way reliant on the heavy and expensive-to-produce crude oil of Venezuela.
It may be that some corporations reap profits in Venezuela if democracy is restored there, but is that really a great atrocity compared to the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding there at the hands of completely ruthless dictatorship that is in reality a small group of narco drug traffickers that seized control of the country? Marduro and his inner-circle of henchmen are not much different than the tyrannical rule of Pablo Escobar in Colombia two decades before. Yet, we see mainstream journalist, such as Amy Goodman on Demcracy Now more or less defend Maduro and question the motives of the US. Why? Is it because well-educated journalist like Goodman are naive or is it because they are so hellbent on preserving a narrative that they will side with irrationalism and deceive the public? Sure, we can all agree that Trump is unfit to be president and probably isn’t the best person to be leading the charge against Maduro, but there is no comparison between Trump and someone like Maduro. Maybe one of the key underlying issues in America is the lack of appreciation for how good we have it here. Maybe many so-called ‘Progressives’ come from such privileged, upper-middle class backgrounds, free of adversity that they have to justify a false narrative as a way to compensate for having it ‘too easy”. To label Guaido’s efforts in Venezuela as a ‘coup’ is an act of intellectual dishonesty of the worst kind.
Progressives believe that a person is only ‘Decent’ if they completely agree with the ‘narrative’ or embody the ‘narrative’
For the Progressive, if someone has a different point of view or is conservative, they can’t possibly be a a decent individual. While Liberalism can at the very least be cordial with conservatives, Progressivism punishes the act of engaging with the opposition. For Progressives, it isn’t individual merit, talent, exceptionalism or one’s personal history that is important, but whether or not one has correctly ‘checked off the boxes’ in terms of full compliance with the ‘woke narrative’. In other words, the idea of decency has been conflated with complete agreement with the Progressive agenda and abstaining from dissent even if it requires the denial of reason. If one is not ‘checking off the boxes’, the other way to find acceptance in the Progressive movement is be a member of a highly ranking victim group in the ‘intersectional hierarchy of oppression’. For the Progressive movement, virtue is not about necessarily striving for the good and self-improvement, but more about saying the ‘appropriate things’ and claiming a status of a marginalized victim. The latter applies regardless if one is truly a victim or merely an amoral individual that really has little understanding nor appreciation for their place in the world.
Although Liberalism itself is often riddled by PC culture, it still at least admires individual talent regardless of one’s sexual orientation or skin color. There are exceptions to this, such as affirmative action programs and scholarships targeted at specific minority groups. Although, it should be pointed out that such programs under the umbrella of Liberalism are often implemented with the noble intention of creating a more equal society. While these programs are pushed hard by Liberalism, it is Liberalism, like American Conservatism that ultimately rewards the individual. At the end of the day, what makes America great, despite its flaws, is ensuring that competent people are put in important positions for the betterment of society. Progressivism, however, goes one or maybe two or three steps further. Because it is a deeply ideologically driven movement, individual competency and excellence often take a back seat. For the Progressive, an individual is only decent and should only be rewarded if he or she is a member of a marginalized group or openly and adamantly proclaims his or her white privilege. From this perspective, it is not political leaders with good ideas who are admired, but rather politicians that adhere by the woke narrative. Consequently, immoral politicians, who are nothing more than opportunists, are not only rewarded for their ‘decency’, but are assisted by the Progressive media in misleading the public and licensed to engage in public deception.
Progressives claim that Hierarchies are socially constructed
Progressives are willing to push the false narrative that hierarchies are merely socially constructed concepts that can be torn down as a clever way to promote the idea of ‘equity’ over ‘equality’, which is a very important distinction between Liberalism and Progressivism. What we are really talking about is ‘equality of outcome’ versus the ‘equality of opportunity’. Liberalism, like Conservatism, accepts that there is an inherent social hierarchy that exist and always will exist. For the Liberal, the paradigm of Realism is predicated on a legitimate set of ideas and principles that portray a valid ontology. However, Liberalism is also correct in denouncing the cynical nature of a hard-right, realist perspective and makes the compelling argument that we as a society are intelligent and compassionate enough to ‘take the edge off’ and ‘even out the playing field’ to some extent. This is where the distinction between Liberalism and Progressivism can get murky as both groups agree to some extent on particular policies, such as healthcare and programs for the poor. The difference is that Liberalism takes the more practical approach in advocating for ‘equality of opportunity’ while Progressivism embraces the radical and disingenuous path towards ‘equality of outcome’, which is based in the notion that we can actually control the ‘end result’. I use the word ‘disingenuous’ because Progressive leaders know this to be a fallacy, but peddle such ideas anyway if it will get them elected.
Progressives, largely with the backing of post-modern and neo-Marxist theory, insist social hierarchies are socially constructed and thus can be torn down. This is, afterall, one of the main premises of Marx’s thesis. Capitalism is only a socially constructed concept devised by the business class to suppress the lower classes, but once we can eradicate the ‘hierarchy’, we can create a society based on absolute cooperation and ensure ‘equality of outcome’. While it is highly unlikely that most Progressives and Progressive leaders are naive enough to think that we can actually tear down the hierarchy and ensure equality of outcome, it is a grandiose mindset that fits with the woke narrative. It is also a very seductive idea for the masses that Progressive politicians can mindlessly espouse to either get elected or maintain a political seat. There is also one important distinction that should be pointed out between Marx’s economic class theory versus the neo-Marxist and post-Modern ideologies. While Marx understood history a class struggle, the Progressives see American society in 2019 as a struggle between the oppressive, dominant group and historically marginalized groups. The Progressives like Marx, however, also shun the ‘individual’ and cherish the ‘collective’, which is why the allegiance to the ‘woke narrative’ and absolute conformity is essential for the radical Left.
The reality is that the ‘Progressive Left’, although quick to preach against the power structure, is in actuality a movement to consolidate power. Identity politics isn’t really about helping people, but a clever way to grab power through the guise of ‘helping’ historically marginalize groups within society. Furthermore, what is really behind the movement of ‘tearing down the hierarchy’ is a deep-seated disdain for America and Western Culture. ‘Tearing down the system’ is nothing more than a euphemism to abandon the values of Western culture and to unfairly paint a picture of Western civilization as an oppressive power structure based on White supremacy. Does Western culture have its flaws? Absolutely and White supremacy is an evil and distorted variation of Western culture that both Democrats and Republicans agree has no place in 2019 America. But ironically, it is also Western civilization that is by far the most compatible with diversity, same-sex marriage, freedom of speech and movements towards greater equality. It is only in open, Western culture where journalist can freely mock and disgrace the president without suffering consequences and two openly gay men can hold hands in public. Where else is this going to happen? Yet, Progressives continuously brainwash our youth with ideas that America in 2019 is a terrible place. Does this mean that we should never criticize America or point out its problems, such as its horridly high rate of incarceration? Absolutely not and as Liberals, we should always be committed to improving society just as we should be dedicated to improving at the individual level.
Liberalism adheres to ‘Rationalism’ while Progressivism is fully willing to abandon it
This might be the most important distinction between the two camps. As mentioned before, Liberalism is the gateway to Progressivism and there is plenty of overlap and a definite gray area between the two. Furthermore, a Liberal may use the word ‘progressive’ and a Progressive may use the word ‘liberal’. Liberalism itself can veer towards the center, but it can also drift down a slippery slope and into the abyss of Progressive thought. However, what stops a Liberal from completely descending into the trenches of ignorance is a pledge to rationalism. Despite the flaws in Western Civilization and the historical atrocities of American society, it is a strict adherence to reason that has allowed global society to prosper during the past few hundred years. Progress does not occur exponentially, but is rather one step back for every two steps forward. The Liberal, through the lens of pragmatic rationalism, understands this whereas the Progressive fixates only on the ills of society and paints an everlasting picture of doom and despair.
Western culture has undoubtedly been a positive force in not only lifting millions across the globe out of poverty, but also in institutionalizing the ideas centered around equality and human rights. Is this to say that Western Culture has never been guilty of violating human rights or that non-Western Culture should be dismissed? Absolutely not, but it is only the Liberal, not the Progressive that understands this. Liberalism can be seen as the best friend to Western Civilization and Conservatism acts as the necessary buffer to deter Liberalism from plunging into the irrational mindset of the ‘Far Left’. Liberalism always remains an ardent and necessary critic of Western Culture, but also recognizes its vital importance to the development of modern, global society. Moreover, the Liberal may chastise America, but he also concedes that America has done more ‘Good’ in the world than ‘Bad’ and the alternative isn’t better. The Progressive Left of 2019 is a movement based in bitterness, resentment and an often open hatred for America and the West.
It can also be argued that the Liberal is more educated, well-read and has a much deeper understanding of history compared to his Progressive counterpart. This lack of strong historical knowledge or understanding the nuances of society on the part of the Progressive is largely due to his or her refusal to see the humanity behind opposing ideas and the abandonment of the Socratic method. It has been the dedication to the Socratic method, rationalism and striving for greater equality that has led human society to where it is right now in 2019. Although global society and American society are far from perfect and much work is still needed to be done, the standard of living today is higher than it has ever been in the history of human civilization. Furthermore, the Progressive Left refuses, either out of political motivation or sheer stubbornness, to acknowledge that American society has made tremendous strides in the past 50 years in terms of equality and the America of 2019 is actually a pretty cool place.
It is also through the alliance to rationalism that the Liberal can maintain healthy and productive relationships with his moderate and conservative peers. Because he has an understanding of history and at least a sliver of appreciation for the merits of Judeo-Christian culture, one which cherishes the individual and strives for equality, the Liberal is able to stay afloat of the Progressive abyss. Although the Liberal may despise Trump and disagree with the platform of the GOP, it is rationalism, which reminds him that Trump is in no way the next Hitler. It is rationalism that allows the Liberal to understand that the people of Venezuela are suffering at the hands of a brutal, socialist dictator who is nothing more than a narco-terrorist. Although the Liberal rightfully espouses complete equality between men and women, it is rationalism that tells him that there ARE definite biological differences between a man and a woman and a man who dresses up as a woman is not a woman. Although a strong critic of capitalism, the Liberal also recognizes it is a superior alternative to socialism. While the Liberal advocates for diversity and inclusion, he also understands that the concept of a ‘safe space’ is comically ridiculous and those at college campuses who protest whenever a conservative speaker shows up, are merely privileged youth that have been coddled their entire lives.
Where do we go from here?
In 2007, I moved abroad and lived in a city with a strong ex-pat community. I was 27 when Obama was elected in 2008. We danced on tables and closed the bar that night. It was such a feeling of hope and jubilation. Maybe it was just the nativity of our youth or maybe it was the culmination of true progress within American society, which began decades before. In 2011, I moved to Washington DC after living abroad for nearly four years. I also visited other major US cities that year, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston. It was then that I began noticing a nefarious change in the American political Left. Most notably, there was a sudden shift in the demeanor of young professionals that were gentrifying the inner cities of major American urban areas. The old was giving way and a new era, but something ‘new’ is not always synonymous with progress. It should be noted that it was also around 2011 that smart phone technology and social media began to really infiltrate the dynamics of American and ultimately global society.
Fast forward to 2019 and the radicalism of Progressivism is a far cry from being just‘fringe politics’. One could arguably make the case that it has not only become mainstream, but has more or less taken hold of the Democratic party. This is not to say that the answer is to simply move back to the center or a return of Clintonian neoliberalism. The problem is NOT that American society has ‘changed’. We need change from time to time in order to refresh, discard inadequate ideas and implement better ones. The problem in 2019 is the way we have changed. While it is portrayed as “progress” or “forward”, it is anything but forward. American Progressivism in 2019 is a regression of the mind, an insult to rationalism, riddled by intellectual laziness and entirely ‘illiberal’. While we should always be striving for greater equality and inclusion, this is NOT the way to do it. You are not going to change anyone’s heart by screaming in their face. As Liberals, we must stay committed to reason. At this point, we can all agree that America can do much better than Trump, but it doesn’t mean that the Progressive Left is the answer to Trump either. Through the lens of reason, we must understand that ‘two things can be true at the same time’. We can agree that Trump is unfit to be president, but at the same time recognize that what is festering on the American Far Left, might actually be much more egregious.