Peter Lawler looks at Elizabeth Warren’s eleven points and concludes, “So the effectual truth of progressivism is contained to the realm of ‘autonomy’ (a basically sophisticated issue) with some Green stuff. It’s Silicon Valley or left-corporate capitalism.” Carl Scott argues that it is premature to think the left has abandoned the progressive understanding of liberty: the social justice of the national community (number 4 in his fivefold typology). I would say the rhetorical truth of progressivism now leans toward Carl’s fifth category: personal autonomy liberty (see, for example, the reaction to the Hobby Lobby decision). In addition, the current environment is not (to say the least) hospitable to big government. It’s tough to sell liberty as social justice for the national community in light of the Veterans Affairs debacle, a rogue IRS, the NSA and big data, the immigration crisis on the border, and the wonders of Obamacare. But the effectual truth of progressivism (its heart and soul) is still social justice. Jonah Goldberg’s description below thus still fits the current crop of progressives:
Bureaucrats and other planners need — or at least want — ever more power to decide how economic resources are arranged and allocated. That doesn’t mean they’re socialists, it just means that corporations need to follow their lead. Indeed, good “corporate citizenship” means acquiescing to the priorities of progressive state planners and whatever their latest idea of “public–private partnerships” might be.
After Obama lawlessly empowered himself to un-ban the plans that Obamacare had banned by law, insurers weren’t happy, so the administration responded by paying them off. It did so by changing the rules regarding two programs buried in the bowels of Obamacare — its risk-corridor and reinsurance programs. As Jay Cost and I wrote this spring, the administration changed the rules “to funnel more money to insurers. Put simply, the administration lowered the threshold at which insurers become eligible for reinsurance money, and it made more generous the formula by which insurers get paid under the risk corridors.” In the process, Obama effectively turned the risk-corridor program into his own personal slush fund.
If contemporary progressivism is some combination of progressive liberty and personal-autonomy liberty, must one of those conceptions eventually win out? Or is there some stable hybrid developing? James Poulos thinks he’s identified the hybrid: what he terms the “pink police state” or what Carl might call “statist-autonomy liberty.” Poulos explains the strange combination of hyper-autonomy/permissiveness and hyper-statism/interventionism:
In a culture where social or interpersonal freedom is valued much more than political freedom, government becomes assertive in restricting “unhealthy” and “risky” activity, but assertive in broadening the ability of individuals to pursue pleasure in “healthy” and “secure” ways. That means both more permissiveness and more intervention in sexual life: a bigger portion of society is “sexualized,” and a bigger portion of society falls within the official sphere of life.
But Poulos emphasizes the instability of this system. Why? Because
there is no logical limit to how intrusive the new regime will get. Because political freedom is disvalued, once “public” and once “private” sector surveillance and monitoring may become completely comprehensive and permanent. This result is encouraged by a culture which feels increasingly fated to do what it is apt to do anyway by choice: put interpersonal, hedonic freedom far above political freedom in our relations with the state.
He also argues that these official freedoms will never be enough and people will continue to find new boundaries to cross. It seems to me that Poulos’s argument absolutely depends upon the devaluation of political freedom by the American people. This affirms what Carl argues in his essay about the importance of what he terms “classical-communitarian liberty.”