Gallup polling reveals widespread public uncertainty about the “progressive” political label—a label recently embraced by no less than Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. While Kagan described her political views as “generally progressive” during her Senate confirmation hearings, fewer than half of Americans can say whether “progressive” does (12%) or does not (31%) describe their own views. The majority (54%) are unsure.
Allow me to clear it up for you, fellow Americans.
The Progressive Movement was originally a post-Civil War American political popular movement in favor of statism, regulation, and general (so-called) reform.
The earlier expressions of the Progressive impulse involved the creation of a Civil Service, the gradual expansion of state and federal regulations, the creation of new regulatory bodies, and the licensing of professions. Antitrust legislation, alcohol and drug prohibition, the Income Tax followed.
In recent years, particularly since the West learned of Communist massacres in Cambodia, China crushed demonstrations in favor of democracy in Tiananmen Square, and the Soviet Union fell, persons on the extreme left have become uncomfortable with describing themselves as Marxists or socialists. Radicals never liked being referred to as mere liberals. They despise liberals as dupes, fellow travelers, and useful idiots. And even “liberal,” since the days of Jimmy Carter, has become widely regarded in America as a pejorative and its successful application to someone a potential political liability.
Aspiration to major political office is intrinsically incompatible with describing oneself as a radical or a revolutionary, so the preferred term of art has become “Progressive.”
The progress that progressives are in favor of is directly down the path Friedrich Hayek referred to as “the Road to Serfdom,” toward ever more statism, ever more regulation, ever more redistribution, socialism, and coercion, supposedly resulting in the ultimate triumph of the rule of experts and a world in which the calculative power of human reason will have abolished tragedy, poverty, inequality, all of the ills to which flesh is heir and all the consequences of human vice and folly.
As Edmund Burke observed: “In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.”
If Americans recognized exactly what Progressives really are, they would not be getting elected to much of anything or confirmed to Supreme Court seats.