Saturday, February 23, 2013

Progressivism's assumptions about government

For the Framers of our constitution, the people could be trusted and their wise discretion informed. Self government was an all important thing to achieve, so as to get away from despotic government. But for progressives, you have a different outlook. Progressives do not understand the concept of "self interest" at all, and the notion of public reason isn't even considered. It's just silly voodoo magic.

In the book "Public Opinion", by Walter Lippmann, he writes the following on page 313:

If, then, you root out of the democratic philosophy the whole assumption in all its ramifications that government is instinctive, and that therefore it can be managed by self-centered opinions, what becomes of the democratic faith in the dignity of man? It takes a fresh lease of life by associating itself with the whole personality instead of with a meager aspect of it. For the traditional democrat risked the dignity of man on one very precarious assumption, that he would exhibit that dignity instinctively in wise laws and good government. Voters did not do that, and so the democrat was forever being made to look a little silly by tough-minded men. But if, instead of hanging human dignity on the one assumption about self-government, you insist that man's dignity requires a standard of living, in which his capacities are properly exercised, the whole problem changes. The criteria which you then apply to government are whether it is producing a certain minimum of health, of decent housing, of material necessities, of education, of freedom, of pleasures, of beauty, not simply whether at the sacrifice of all these things, it vibrates to the self-centered opinions that happen to be floating around in men's minds. In the degree to which these criteria can be made exact and objective, political decision, which is inevitably the concern of comparatively few people, is actually brought into relation with the interests of men.

First, you might notice the continuation of both the themes I mentioned above. Now, I would implore my readers who haven't taken a look recently into Alexis De Tocqueville's books "Democracy in America" to at least consider taking a refresher before quickly responding. Walter Lippmann wrote this in 1922, when those "18th century" ideas were still fairly fresh in the minds of Americans. As I pointed out here, progressives have always looked down their nose at those old ideas from the Founding era(They do not just do that today) and sneered at them in various ways, and Lippmann is doing that here.

If needed, you can find the text and audiobook recordings of "Democracy in America" here: Volume 1 - Volume 2.

I brought up Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" because he highlights that the voters did do that. That is, Tocqueville contrasted citizens of Europe with Americans, in that Americans rarely if ever felt government in their daily lives, whilst Europeans faced a much more dismal, government-centric way of life. And that's what Lippmann is lamenting. It's not that we kept government out of our lives, it's that the master minds don't approve of how we did it. It would be easy for any one of us to say "Yeah, Lippmann is right! These people re-elected Obama!" forgetting just how much context counts.

Second, we have the plain as day transition of "instead of hanging human dignity on the one assumption about self-government". In this, Lippmann is pointing out the abandonment of the Founders vision of liberty. Established through knowledge of centuries of human sacrifice and squalor through tyranny. In reading our Founders, it doesn't take a reader much time to realize that they were very well read. They didn't just sit at the local coffee shop and theorize on new ways to centrally plan society. They actually looked to the past, saw what didn't work, and tried to prevent it. More than anything else, the Founders got together and formulated a plan to limit their own power. Not to set themselves up as new monarchs or dictators of the masses.

The last four words is the key. "The whole problem changes". What problem? Is self-government a problem? For progressives, it sure is. Lippmann makes it clear in multiple places that he considers people to be too stupid to make their own decisions. We don't come up with our ideas on our own. We need to be either educated or propagandized.

Two paragraphs up, he says this: (Page 312)

The democratic fallacy has been its preoccupation with the origin of government rather than with the processes and results. The democrat has always assumed that if political power could be derived in the right way, it would be beneficent. His whole attention has been on the source of power, since he is hypnotized by the belief that the great thing is to express the will of the people, first because expression is the highest interest of man, and second because the will is instinctively good. But no amount of regulation at the source of a river will completely control its behavior, and while democrats have been absorbed in trying to find a good mechanism for originating social power, that is to say a good mechanism of voting and representation, they neglected almost every other interest of men. For no matter how power originates, the crucial interest is in how power is exercised. What determines the quality of civilization is the use made of power. And that use cannot be controlled at the source.

Have you ever sat back and watched these politicians today, and noticed how obsessed they are with process, rather than constitutionalism? I know I've noticed. Though, today's progressives have devolved a bit, and don't even care about results anymore, as long as the process favors a perpetually growing state. The results are merely one transient stage of progress, looking toward the next. But in any case, he says that the "democratic fallacy" is the preoccupation with origin. This whole paragraph, actually, there's just so much wrong with it that if I typed up all that's on my mind nobody would read my book.

What this gets at is the tyrannical nature of progressivism.(it's also yet another paragraph jabbing the Founders) Progressives don't consider the origin of government because of the belief in the supremacy of government over all, government and bureaucracy can solve any problem. Reading the original progressives is a rewarding endeavor, because it allows me to look at this problem at the source. But many times, this one included, it's also somewhere between horrifying and terrifying.

In not considering the origin of government and sources of political power, the legitimate conversation about tyranny gets wiped off of the table. The entirety of human history is obliterated, and here we are, born fresh today, ready to make the same mistakes made millenia ago. It's a full reset. Why bother learning from history? And since we are not considering human history, since the concept of tyranny does not enter into the equation, the damage that government really does in real people's lives isn't a factor.

The last thing I couldn't help but notice here is the following: (quoted above)

The criteria which you then apply to government are whether it is producing a certain minimum of health, of decent housing, of material necessities, of education, of freedom, of pleasures, of beauty.....

How similar is that to FDR's Second Bill of Rights? Walter Lippmann was a strong supporter of Roosevelt's. I'm not implying any sort of influence, I'm merely observing the uniformity of thought. They see government as pure. Government is the source of prosperity. Government is a service provider. You and your private interests are dirty. That's how it goes. They know better than we do, especially when they control the levers of power.

"We're the ones we've been waiting for".

They've thought this about themselves now for over 100 years. Lippmann, Wilson, and other progressives of that generation thought they had the magical cure-all as well.

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