The Corner

Progressive Hubris Cont’d

Some fun comments in my post yesterday. I’ll offer a few responses.

A commenter named Russel says:

What another deceiving post by Jonah Goldberg! First of all, with respect to Eugenics, he is cherry picking the past. I am sure some obscure professor who described himself as progressive professed such beliefs. By no means does that, nor should that, deny the admirable goals that progressivism has long espoused.

Sigh. Some obscure professor? Off the top of my head: Herbert Croly and much of the New Republic, Woodrow Wilson, all of the Fabians, including the Webbs, Wells and Shaw, virtually the entire gang over at the University of Wisconsin (inspirations for Obama’s campaign according to Obama) and an embarrassing number of founders of the American Economic Association (the all-star team of progressive economists), John Maynard Keynes,  W.E.B. Du Bois and Oliver Wendell Holmes. And that barely scratches the surface of the list of progressive nobodies who supported eugenics. Keynes — a name you might have heard discussed by progressives a few times lately — declared after WWII that eugenics is “the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists.”

“Last straw” writes:

Almost 40 years of “legal” abortion on demand, the gay agenda moving forward to the point where gays will serve openly in the military (while those who don’t approve will be forced out) leading to the now inevitable implimentation of gay marriage, judicial encroachment on parental rights, public funding for pornography and blasphemy, unabaited affirmative action…Your right , Jonah, leftist triumphalism is all hubris.

Who said that I wrote it was “all hubris.” I in fact conceded much of Waldman’s basic point that history has moved in a progressive direction.

A couple commenters and emailers were taken aback by my assertion that “originalist” fidelity to the Constitution today than it was forty years ago. Other commenters sounded off on this already, but I’ll just add two cents. Prior to Ronald Reagan’s campaign to revive the founders’ vision of the Constitution, originalism (loosely defined) was considered quaint. The Federalist Society, founded in 1982, has been an intellectual juggernaut, training and mentoring thousands of dedicated, serious, conservative constitutionalists who have had a profound impact on legal and political culture. That’s progress.

QBeamus makes a few good points here:

Technological innovation has mostly been on the side of individual empowerment? Really? It seems to me that it’s been at the root of the growth of Leviathan. Today’s tax code wouldn’t be possible without computers. In fact, writing 2000 page bills, much less enforcing the resulting laws, would probably not be feasible without them. And the same technology that makes our military punch way above its weight class in terms of manpower is the same technology that makes our government contemptuous of growing discontent among the citizens. Not to put too fine a point on it, but our Founding Fathers got into the business of revolution over (inter alia) much lower rates of taxation.But, then, maybe Goldberg didn’t mean it, since that claims seems to be in tension with his subsequent assertion, suggesting that progressive victories (also?) depend on technological advancement. Although he doesn’t tackle the issue, surely he doesn’t tolerate the progressives’ efforts to conflate “progressive” with “increasing individual liberty.”

There’s a lot going on here. I agree that technology has helped fuel the size and scope of government, but I don’t it has done so in the way that many mid-20th-century writers, specifically Orwell, predicted. At the same time, the birth control pill did more than all of the books by feminist authors to liberate (or if you prefer a less loaded word decouple) women from their traditional obligations. Technology has freed us all from vast amounts of back-breaking labor, illnesses etc. Who can dispute that the automobile has had liberating effects, for good or ill? There is of course a difference between the freedom we get from technology and the liberty we expect from our political system, but that doesn’t make the technological freedom any less important or tangible. Indeed, for many people, that freedom is far more tangible than abstract rights.

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