Tags: Carl Scott

What is Progressivism in 2014?


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.

Jeffrey Anderson in The Weekly Standard gives us a bird’s eye view of this process under Obamacare. Lots of meetings with CEOs of the largest insurance companies at the White House to ensure public relations coordination (among other things). And then there’s this:

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.”

Tags: Carl Scott , James Polous , Peter Lawler , Progressivism , American Liberty

Thoughts on American Liberty


I’m happy to add my praise of Carl’s fine article. I sure can’t think of a more accurate taxonomy of American liberty. For those who haven’t read it (or read his previous PomoCon posts on the subject — not sure if these are available given our recent move), here are his 5 kinds:

  1. “natural-rights liberty”: liberty as the protection of natural rights
  2. “classical-communitarian liberty”: liberty as the self-governance of the local community or group
  3. “economic-autonomy liberty”: liberty as economic individualism
  4. “progressive liberty”: liberty as the social justice of the national community
  5. “personal-autonomy liberty”: liberty as moral individualism

 Here are some points for further discussion.

  1. A libertarian might ask: Really how much distance is there between No. 1 and No. 3?  Is the emergence of  No. 3 caused only by the decline of  No. 2, or is there a substantive philosophic distinction between the two?
  2. No. 4 seems to me to be most at odds with the others.  It is certainly the most destructive of our constitutional framework for limited government and federalism.  Yes, it’s been around now for more than a century, but given its antagonism to #1, #2, and #3, does it really deserve a place at the table?
  3. Is it true that No. 1 was bound to develop into No. 5? Was this development merely prevented or postponed by our pre-modern inheritances and the practice of No. 2, or does Locke’s conception of natural rights contain resources for its own limitation or moderation?  That is, might Locke himself have wanted to stay in the Locke box (it was probably nice and cozy in there . . .)?
  4. What is the place of the Constitution in all of this? Is the ordered, formal liberty of the Constitution a potential sixth category? Or could a “liberty of forms” be a sort of independent variable to graft onto the five kinds? It seems to me that a liberty of forms is related intrinsically to No. 2 and perhaps to No. 1. But No. 4 and No. 5 are hostile to the liberty of forms. Thus the very idea of constitutional government might be abandoned to the extent that 3–5 dominate. Harvey Mansfield once put it this way: “The trouble with modern constitutionalism is that civil liberties and man-made constitutional forms are made subordinate to the natural end of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are means to that end, not united with it; the form is not united with the end, as in Aristotle’s constitutionalism. Hence we are willing to jettison our liberal constitutional forms if they do not achieve their end.” Or, to put this problem in the language of another favorite thinker of the PomoCons, Pierre Manent: Modern liberty (especially the hyper-modern version) is suspicious and even dismissive of all “mediations.” Forms — by demanding our participation and/or shaping our behavior with an eye toward others — prevent any individual claim from becoming absolute. But all individual claims now demand immediate recognition (see No, 5).

Tags: Carl Scott , American Liberty , Constitution , Locke

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