Mark, I’ve been saying for decades now that the end result of the “progressive” impulse must always and everywhere be coercion and fascism. In fact, I was saying that one day, years ago, at lunch with my friend Adam Bellow pitching him a book on the subject, when he informed me that Jonah was already writing just such a book.
But my point still obtains. For “progressivism” is rooted in the belief that — under the guise of “serving the public” — a mandarin class ought to have authority over the grubby masses, whose own worst impulses must be constrained for the “greater good.” It’s the whole thrust behind the leftist project to nationalize every issue, to turn Washington, D.C., into the ultimate arbiter (which is why federalism has to be destroyed) and to concentrate all the reins of power in the capital. After all, it’s hard to have a decentralized dictatorship of the proletariat.
We’re all familiar with the “progressive” impulse in the political sphere — the Obama administration is its fullest flowering to date, especially regarding its overt contempt for what used to be regarded as typically American values like personal freedom and individual responsibility — but just for laughs, here’s an illustration from the world of journalism, as articulated by one of its patron saints, Walter Lippmann. From his 1921 book, Public Opinion:
It is argued that the problem of the press is confused because the critics and the apologists expect the press to realize this fiction, expect it to make up for all that was not foreseen in the theory of democracy, and that the readers expect this miracle to be performed at no cost or trouble to themselves. The newspapers are regarded by democrats as a panacea for their own defects, whereas analysis of the nature of news and of the economic basis of journalism seems to show that the newspapers necessarily and inevitably reflect, and therefore, in greater or lesser measure, intensify, the defective organization of public opinion.
My conclusion is that public opinions must be organized for the press if they are to be sound, not by the press as is the case today. This organization I conceive to be in the first instance the task of a political science that has won its proper place as formulator, in advance of real decision, instead of apologist, critic, or reporter after the decision has been made. I try to indicate that the perplexities of government and industry are conspiring to give political science this enormous opportunity to enrich itself and to serve the public. And, of course, I hope that these pages will help a few people to realize that opportunity more vividly, and therefore to pursue it more consciously.
Somewhere, the newest member of the MSNBC stable of “journalists,” David Axelrod, is smiling.