From a reader:
I bought your book a few days ago and so far am enjoying it immensely. I read the American Conservative’s review on your blog, and felt compelled to offer a comment on this sentence: “Progressivism, for example, did not in any meaningful sense lead to liberalism.”
If that’s the case, I think somebody had better tell that to the modern-day liberals, because they worship the old Progressives. As I currently attend the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and graduated from Robert M. LaFollette High School in the same city, I feel I’m in a position where I can confidently state this as fact. My teachers seemed to have a particular love for Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the first real welfare state. Of course several of the instructers at that institution were also unabashed fans of the Soviet Union (I graduated in 2005, by the way), so take from that what you will.
Yeah, I think this is nonsense on stilts with tiny jet packs attached to the stilts. I hear this every now and then and I keep waiting for someone more serious than Bramwell to make the case that progressivism didn’t lead to liberalism or that they aren’t really different names for the same ideology (which, again, isn’t to say that today’s liberalism/progressivism is identical to that of 80 years ago) or at least inextricably linked ideologies. Hillary Clinton rejects the liberal label in favor of progressive. The leading liberal think tanks refer to themselves as progressive. Paul Krugman uses progressive. The lefty bloggers call themselves progressives. The New Republic started out as a progressive magazine and when the label changed they called themselves liberal. David Obey’s book is called Raising Hell for Justice: The Washington Battles of a Heartland Progressive, and therein he talks about how the Wisconsin Progressives were his heroes. Richard Rorty wanted to revive the lost progressive tradition of liberalism. I can do this all day. I spent a lot of time looking for a definitive history of when progressives started using the word liberal instead. I found lots of bits and pieces, but never what I was really looking for. But I also never found any reason to believe that liberalism was much more than rebranding of progressivism. Of course, by the 1930s and 1940s there are other folks using the Progressive label — Communist stooges. But the mainstream of progressivism — FDR, Croly, Lippmann, et al — simply changed names, not ideologies.