Progressivism as a social and political movement in the United States has its roots in the late 19th century, temporarily winning the presidency with the election of President Woodrow Wilson in 1912. Progressives rejected conservative constitutionalism which imposed limits on government to safeguard individual liberty and the creative spirit and efficiency of a private enterprise market economy. Instead, progressives shifted to their vision of social justice and unlimited government.
Wilson sought to create an “administrative state” with power centralized in the federal government to suit the superior wisdom of unelected bureaucrats. Of the same mindset was Beatrice Webb, a British social justice activist and intellectual, instrumental in the founding of the socialist Fabian Society in England. Webb envisioned a British government administered by “an elite of unassuming bureaucrats.” (An oxymoron [contradiction in terms] if ever there was one.) As Winston Churchill once noted, “After a time, civil servants tend to become no longer servants and no longer civil.”
True elites are those whose talent, objectively, is at the very top of their field. Arnold Palmer was an elite golfer; Albert Einstein, an elite physicist; Michelangelo, an elite artist. “Elitists,” on the other hand, are those who simply imagine themselves to be elite and want to subordinate others to their will. When it advances their political agenda, progressives are unabashedly elitist. They profess to be the champions of the common people but don’t trust them to make the right decisions. As inveterate busybodies and nannyists, they presume to protect us from ourselves through government mandates and regulations on everything from what we eat, to how we travel, to where we live, to what we say, all decided by liberal elitists who know what’s best for us.
If I need open-heart surgery, I certainly want to be operated on by an elite surgeon. And I believe in meritocracy. Individual excellence deserves to be suitably rewarded and doing so breeds more of it in others. This is economic justice based on skills, effort, and performance. The progressive notion of “social justice” is based not on merit but on Karl Marx’s socialist maxim, “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” With that mentality, progressives wield the heavy hand of government to penalize those who have earned elite status while rewarding mediocrity, sloth, and failure. We already do more than enough redistribution of income to the needy with progressive tax rates and a cornucopia of government spending programs.
Pompous progressives declare they want only the “best and brightest” in government to “run our country.” Obviously, individual judgment varies widely about who are the best and brightest. But I don’t want anyone, much less government or politicians, to “run our country.” That’s a statist view, and the state is not the whole of society. Government is only one piece of our society, along with our economy, culture, and religious freedom; that last piece specifically separated by the Constitution from government control. It’s the height of pretentious progressive elitism to believe that any group of bureaucrats or politicians is smart enough to run our intricate market economy. The Soviet Union tried that and failed miserably.
I’m not an anarchist. I recognize the need for government, as long as it’s limited government. Our society should mostly run itself within a reasonable body of laws, living with the risk that some people will make poor choices. That’s the nature of a free society. It was William F. Buckley Jr. who once stated he’d rather be governed by the first 400 people in the Boston telephone book than by the (best and brightest) faculty of Harvard.
Sometime before the Obama presidency, leftist Democrats and their media echo chamber ditched their traditional “liberal” label which had tarnished in the general public eye. Symbolic of the party’s leftward lurch, they magically translabled into neo “progressives.” Radical leftist outliers like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren suddenly became the Democrat mainstream with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a squad of even crazier lefties taking their place on the lunatic fringe. President Biden’s handlers have embraced their ideology and advanced this progressive agenda. Sadly, so has Denver and Colorado state government, to our detriment.
How could this happen? Well, a hundred years ago, Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, the founder of Italy’s Communist party, differed from his fellow comrades declaring socialism would come to pass without the need for violent revolution. “In the new order,” he prophesied that, “socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches, and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.” Looks like he was right. I hope it’s not too late for enough American voters to come to their senses.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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