Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The end of Progressivism?

This is very interesting:
Over the last year or so, though, it’s become increasingly clear to me that one of the great tides of American politics has turned and is flowing out to sea. For almost precisely two hundred years, this country’s political discourse has been shaped—more powerfully, perhaps, than by any other single force—by the loose bundle of ideas, interests, and values we can call American liberalism. That’s the tide that’s turning. The most important trends shaping the political landscape of our time, to my mind, are the descent of the liberal movement into its final decadence, and the first stirrings of the postliberal politics that is already emerging in its wake.
There's a lot of background here about where progressivism came from (Harvard, 'natch, but back in the 1820s) and the ground from which ground it grew (New England Congregationalism - the institutional church of the Puritans - along with Unitarians, a religious sect for the intellectuals of the day).  What's interesting is how closely this dovetails with what Moldbug posted quite some time ago:
The "ultracalvinist hypothesis" is the proposition that the present-day belief system commonly called "progressive," "multiculturalist," "universalist," "liberal," "politically correct," etc, is actually best considered as a sect of Christianity.

Specifically, ultracalvinism (which I have also described here and here) is the primary surviving descendant of the American mainline Protestant tradition, which has been the dominant belief system of the United States since its founding. It should be no surprise that it continues in this role, or that since the US's victory in the last planetary war it has spread worldwide.


The "calvinist" half of this word refers to the historical chain of descent from John Calvin and his religious dictatorship in Geneva, passing through the English Puritans to the New England Unitarians, abolitionists and Transcendentalists, Progressives and Prohibitionists, super-protestants, hippies and secular theologians, and down to our own dear progressive multiculturalists.

The "ultra" half refers to my perception that, at least compared to other Christian sects, the beliefs of this faith are relatively aggressive and unusual.


And when we look at the real-world beliefs of ultracalvinists, we see that ultracalvinism is anything but content-free. By my count, the ultracalvinist creed has four main points:

First, ultracalvinists believe in the universal brotherhood of man. As an Ideal (an undefined universal) this might be called Equality. ("All men and women are born equal.") If we wanted to attach an "ism" to this, we could call it fraternalism.

Second, ultracalvinists believe in the futility of violence. The corresponding ideal is of course Peace. ("Violence only causes more violence.") This is well-known as pacifism.

Third, ultracalvinists believe in the fair distribution of goods. The ideal is Social Justice, which is a fine name as long as we remember that it has nothing to do with justice in the dictionary sense of the word, that is, the accurate application of the law. ("From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.") To avoid hot-button words, we will ride on a name and call this belief Rawlsianism.

Fourth, ultracalvinists believe in the managed society. The ideal is Community, and a community by definition is led by benevolent experts, or public servants. ("Public servants should be professional and socially responsible.") After their counterparts east of the Himalaya, we can call this belief mandarism.
That's a pretty good description of progressivism.  But the Archdruid posits that this movement is running out of gas:
Let’s take current US immigration policy as an example. This limits the number of legal immigrants while tacitly allowing unlimited illegal immigration.  There are solid pragmatic reasons for questioning the appropriateness of that policy. The US today has the highest number of permanently unemployed people in its history, incomes and standards of living for the lower 80% of the population have been moving raggedly downward since the 1970s, and federal tax policies effectively subsidize the offshoring of jobs. That being the case, allowing in millions of illegal immigrants who have, for all practical purposes, no legal rights, and can be employed at sweatshop wages in substandard conditions, can only drive wages down further than they’ve already gone, furthering the impoverishment and immiseration of wage-earning Americans. 

These are valid issues, dealing with (among other things) serious humanitarian concerns for the welfare of wage-earning Americans, and they have nothing to do with racial issues—they would be just as compelling if the immigrants were coming from Canada.  Yet you can’t say any of this in the hearing of a modern American liberal. If you try, you can count on being shouted down and accused of being a racist. Why? I’d like to suggest that it’s because the affluent classes from which the leadership of the liberal movement is drawn, and which set the tone for the movement as a whole, benefit directly from the collapse in wages that has partly been caused by mass illegal immigration, since that decrease in wages has yielded lower prices for the goods and services they buy and higher profits for the companies for which many of them work, and whose stocks many of them own. 

That is to say, a movement that began its history with the insistence that values had a place in politics alongside interests has ended up using talk about values to silence discussion of the ways in which its members are pursuing their own interests. That’s not a strategy with a long shelf life, because it doesn’t take long for the other side to identify, and then exploit, the gap between rhetoric and reality.
If there's a single theme to the current election season, it's a revolt against hypocrisy:
The current US presidential election shows, perhaps better than anything else, just how far that decadence has gone. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is floundering in the face of Trump’s challenge because so few Americans still believe that the liberal shibboleths in her campaign rhetoric mean anything at all. Even among her supporters, enthusiasm is hard to find, and her campaign rallies have had embarrassingly sparse attendance. Increasingly frantic claims that only racists, fascists, and other deplorables support Trump convince no one but true believers, and make the concealment of interests behind shopworn values increasingly transparent.  Clinton may still win the election by one means or another, but the broader currents in American political life have clearly changed course. 

It’s possible to be more precise. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, in stark contrast to Clinton, have evoked extraordinarily passionate reactions from the voters, precisely because they’ve offered an alternative to a status quo pervaded by the rhetoric of a moribund liberalism. In the same way, in Britain—where the liberal movement followed a somewhat different trajectory but has ended up in the same place—the success of the Brexit campaign and the wild enthusiasm with which Labour Party voters have backed the supposedly unelectable Jeremy Corbyn show that the same process is well under way there. Having turned into the captive ideology of an affluent elite, liberalism has lost the loyalty of the downtrodden that once, with admittedly mixed motives, it set out to help. That’s a loss it’s unlikely to survive. [emphasis mine - Borepatch]
That last is the key condemnation of the movement.  It was always a philosophy for the intellectual "elite", but the last several decades have seen it used to entirely capture public policy - policy that has been exercised solely for the financial benefit of that "elite" and at the expense of what in a simpler day were called "the masses".

And the masses have woken up to the fact that they are being fleeced by the "elites".  The reaction from both groups is entirely predictable:
Over the decades ahead, in other words, we can expect the emergence of a postliberal politics in the United States, England, and quite possibly some other countries as well. The shape of the political landscape in the short term is fairly easy to guess.  Watch the way the professional politicians in the Republican Party have flocked to Hillary Clinton’s banner, and you can see the genesis of a party of the affluent demanding the prolongation of free trade, American intervention in the Middle East, and the rest of the waning bipartisan consensus that supports its interests. Listen to the roars of enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—or better still, talk to the not inconsiderable number of Sanders supporters who will be voting for Trump this November—and you can sense the emergence of a populist party seeking the abandonment of that consensus in defense of its very different interests.
Read both of the linked posts, which do a better job explaining the current political dynamic than anything I've seen in ages.


B said...

If only he is right, and *IF* it happens before the Liberals cause us to collapse.

Kelly Brumbelow said...

Interestingly, if the above article is true, in every point that the so-called ultracalvinism stands out, it stands opposed to true Calvinism. In fact, I believe that the article writer has a very flawed origin theory, all of the described tendencies are most apparent in a branch of theology which derives directly from the radical reformation as opposed to the standard protestant reformation. The decedents of the radical reformation, which BTW are considered heretics by calvinists, come by means of the Anabaptists (not to be confused with Baptists, two different origins despite similar names) and descend through the general baptists and maintain in revivalism until the late 1800's where the split occurs between fundamentalism and progressivism. Woodrow Wilson is a classic example of this decent as he ascribed to a theory/hermeneutic/eschatology called dispensationalism.

In any case, my point is simply that there is effectively no calvinistic decent but really descent from Thomas Müntzer, Zwingli through Munster and then to American Revivalism.

We Calvinists get a bit picky when people try and rewrite our history, especially when they bring the anabaptists into the story.

LSP said...

Thanks for that. I think, for what it's worth, that the classical liberal project is dead, and with it Westphalia. But that's just me -- maybe we'll miss the conflagration. But I doubt it.

Jester said...

Nah, you're totally wrong with this. The simple fact is the media, whatever wing or leg you want to call it is in total control of the information. Period. Hillary wins in a landslide. It does not matter what we may think but the east and west coasts? Well goodness, those matter. No, and I will eat my word but the system is so broken that it does not matter. Presidency or anything under it it does not matter. Ask the Bernie supporters... Oh.. Oh.. They will support the candidate that screwed over their chosen candidate... So the side of the.. not Democrats has to fight for the soul, or anything among 100 million people and even the aspect of anything R, Trump, Rommeny, Mccain is enough to say well Clinton is better than anything else offered.

Nonesuch River 1758 said...

@Borepatch - Strictly speaking, the Archdruid was discussing the end of liberalism, which is different from progressivism. Just as there are various, sometimes hostile, branches of right-wing thought, there are various branches of left-wing thought and they aren't the same.

Borepatch said...

Kelly, that's fair from a theological perspective. However, the Puritans had no concept of the separation of church and state, and the cult of Progressivism demonstrates that today. In this sense the Calvinist roots are exposed.

Kelly Brumbelow said...

Two kingdom theology has been the default and orthodox view of Calvinism since the standards were established (Belgic Confession esp article 36 - 1561, Westminster Confession - 1646) so the Puritans are an outlier and not representative of Calvinism in this sense.

see for a brief explanation of 2 kingdom theology.