What “Freedom” Means To A Progressive

It ain’t good, and it isn’t “American”. Interesting essay in NRO by Tiffany Jones Miller:

According to the progressives, history, for all its “ebb and flow,” is a process of “development” ordered toward the increasing actualization of a common nature or “destiny” — freedom in the “positive” sense. History thus entails a common path of development in which each subsequent stage represents a fuller flowering of humanity’s innate faculties. “‘When we measure the progress of a society by the growth in freedom,’” Ely notes, “‘we measure it by the increasing development and exercise on the whole of those powers of contributing to the social good with which we believe the members of the society to be endowed.’”

To a progressive, “freedom” doesn’t follow the ideals set up in our Declaration of Independence of rights and self rule, and the pursuit of happiness. Progressives are concerned with “positive” rights tied to their ethical ideal:

“To the demands of ethics, it is felt, should the entire economic life be made subservient.”
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Importantly, then, the “ethical ideal” grounds not only the fundamental right of the individual to achieve his fullest possible development, but also the moral obligation to promote the fullest possible growth of everyone else. “Self-development for the sake of others,” Ely declares, “is the aim of social ethics.”

We live to serve others, I guess. The OWS crowd is partly composed of progressives, and this philosophy can be seen that piece I linked a week or so ago on how the they hope to bring forth the “revolution of love”. Compare:

What else but love would motivate any person to abandon the quest to maximize rational self-interest? Love, the felt experience of connection to other beings, contradicts the laws of economics as we know them. Ultimately, we want to create a money system, and an economy, that is the ally not the enemy of love. We don’t want to forever fight the money power to create good in the world; we want to change the money power so that we don’t need to fight it. I will not in this essay describe my vision – one of many – of a money system aligned with the good in all of us. I will only say that such a shift can only happen atop an even deeper shift, a transformation of human consciousness. Happily, just such a transformation is underway today. We see it in anyone who had dedicated their lives to serving, healing, and protecting other beings: people, cultures, whales, children, ecosystems, the waters, the forests, the planet.

Progressive thinker from the German Historical School of Economics, Richard T. Ely puts it a tad more succinctly:

The “ethical ideal which animates the new political economy,” Ely explains, “is the most perfect development of all human faculties in each individual, which can be attained,” including “all the higher faculties — faculties of love, of knowledge, of aesthetic perception, and the like.”

Freedom, to progressives, takes on a new meaning.

“True liberty” does not consist in “negative” freedom — in, that is, the legal freedom to make decisions about one’s own life without suffering interference from others. Rather, “true liberty” is “positive” in character because it “means the expression of positive powers of the individual” to “‘make the most and best of [himself]’” — to develop, that is, all his faculties fully and to employ them in “service” to others.

This is the progress of humankind. The “upward trajectory” of our development. As “we” progress, we have to insure that our government progresses as well. It is the job of this new and improved government to promote a better way of life.

To affirm the “omnipotent rulership” of the state is to affirm that government, not the individual, has the primary right to decide how the individual ought to act in every aspect of his or her life. It is to affirm, in other words, that all of the decisions previously reserved to individual control by virtue of the Founders’ natural-rights doctrine are now subject to public control in whatever measure government, as the agent of moral progress, deems necessary. “There is no limit to the right of the State,” Ely declares, “save its ability to do good.”

Back in the time of segregation, this meant the progressives viewed it the job of government to take care of the “black problem” who weren’t really up to the task of self rule. They needed “training wheels to freedom”. Charlotte Perkins Gilman (who I was forced to read in college) offered up this solution:

Question: How can Race A best and most quickly promote the development of Race B?” Gilman’s solution was that all blacks beneath “a certain grade of citizenship” — those who were not “decent, self-supporting, [and] progressive” — “should be taken hold of by the state.” The government should compel them to live and work in labor camps until they proved they were able to make better decisions. The blacks living in these camps would be forced to labor productively for themselves, and their children would be educated in a progressive manner.

This is the mentality that we are dealing with today. Freedom from debt that you accumulated “unfairly”. Free healthcare. Free college education. Nanny-staters are attempting to limit what we eat, drink, and smoke -unless we’re talking about Pot, of course. The “people” are simply too stupid to make decisions about their life -too busy clinging to their bibles and their guns- and the government needs to step in. Nudge.

Since the reformers’ approach to the governance of the more “primitive” races differs only in degree, not in kind, from their approach to the governance of Americans generally, it is instructive, for it casts in sharp relief how utterly paternalistic their conception of government is.

And that concept revolves around the idea that the we need to be ruled by the elite. Class A, up there. Technocrats. They prolly went to Harvard, and they simply know better.

Let’s not forget, the EU is run by elite technocrats.

It worries me that so many folks bandy around the term progressive, without realizing exactly what the term means and it’s history. And that it has an agenda.

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2 Comments on “What “Freedom” Means To A Progressive”


  1. The “people” are simply too stupid to make decisions about their life -too busy clinging to their bibles and their guns- and the government needs to step in. Nudge.

    It isn’t an accident that they have to attack religion. Francis Schaffer talked about this, and pointed out that in order for the technocratic world-view to impose a tyranny of the expertocracy, they had to take away man’s personal relationship with his creator in order to sell him on the idea that he is but a cog in a machine, rather than a unique indvidual.

  2. Car in Says:

    Just like Marx. An Mao.


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