Why <span style="font-style:italic;">progressives</span> really aren’tby Robert
The so-called progressives of whom I speak are actually collectivists, in that they abhor individualism and individual rights, insofar as such are symbolic of self-reliance. Generally, they think in terms of all-for-one and one-for-all. What’s more, they’re not satisfied with a mutual and voluntary communal arraignment. No, self-styled progressives seek to use the police power of the state to coerce others—those who cherish personal responsibility and freedom from tyranny—to fund their utopian welfare state. There are many such neo-liberal voices; e.g. the usual suspects.
The problem with collectivist ideology—beyond being morally indefensible—is that it does not work in practice. Ultimately, it turns individuals into wards of the state, rather than creating a truly egalitarian society. As pboettke of The Austrian Economists puts it: “When the State oversteps its bounds and constrains or chooses for us, we loose the capacity to live a self-governing life.”
I’m actually an advocate of egalitarianism. That is, I favor full equality for everyone, with respect to individual rights and treatment under law. However, I adamantly oppose the forced equality of stuff, which utilizes wealth redistribution and other such tools that deplete liberty. Roderick T. Long explains it this way:
But to ignore or mask the violence upon which
socioeconomic legislation necessarily rests is to acquiesce in the unconscionable subordination and subjection that such violence embodies. It is to treat those subordinated and subjected as mere means to the ends of those doing the subordinating, and thus to assume a legitimate inequality in power and jurisdiction between the two groups. The libertarian revulsion against such arrogant presumption is ipso facto an egalitarian impulse. Those who feel no such revulsion should not expect their egalitarian credentials to pass unquestioned; they may revere equality in theory, but they fail to recognize it in practice.
Coercion is the means, but what are the ends of progressives? Their purported goal is to achieve a classless society, where poverty is eradicated and—perhaps more importantly—the accumulation of wealth by individuals will cease. A strong centralized government—according to statists—is necessary to bring this to pass. Theoretically, state officials would be democratically elected and utterly selfless. But in practice, such a society inevitably devolves, resulting in two distinct and very unequal classes: the ruling elite and the impoverished masses. To be sure, there are exceptions. Some have slightly more resources (relatively speaking), but like the rest, they are subjects of the state; they are by no means free citizens.
A notable current example is the ironically named Peoples Republic of China, whose Marxian revolution has certainly not lived up to its billing. Such is the subject of a balanced analysis of China’s social experiment at Monthly Review.
The political apparatus that was used to destroy old inequalities had itself given rise to a new set of inequalities. The power of the state was supposed to be wielded in the interests of the working people, to be sure. But in fact, the subordinate working classes were at best to be the dependent beneficiaries of a paternalistic bureaucracy—not to mention that such hard-won benefits can be easily taken away as political circumstances may change, as recent developments in China have so clearly demonstrated.
In a similar vein, Eric points out that free people participating in free markets is a large part of the solution to the problems attendant to disparate socioeconomic classes.
In fact, this continuous characterization of upper, middle and lower class is part of the problem. Our economic system is one of the most classless in the world, although the imposition of socialist and quasi-socialist government programs is having the effect of stratifying the classes more and more firmly.
It would seem, then, that the goals of modern liberals (e.g. state run healthcare, individual transfer payments, increased government pensions, etc.) are actually regressive. For the motivation of America’s founders was to move away from tyranny and towards greater individual liberty and personal responsibility. Therefore, in light of numerous historical examples, true progress is exemplified by increased freedom for individuals, rather than its antithesis, which flows from collectivism.
[cross-posted at Eric’s Grumbles]