Semantic Progressives & Progressive Abstractions
This week on Facebook I decided to post some research on what is meant by a progressive politician. It’s hardly a new word in any political movement, the 19th century liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill thought people to be progressive beings. Certainly post Mill; politicians have invoked the word progressive to imply their commitment to modernity and fairness.
Despite their claimed adherence to a contemporary version of these progressive abstractions, any attempt at progressive social engineering has never been fair and is never going to be fair. Nevertheless, the political assumption is that being a progressive implies that a politician is imbued with altruistic motives and moral certainty. Of course it is also intended to imply that conservative is the antithesis of progressive.
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on I am not too sure. H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
In the UK we have yet to celebrate the centennial of our universal suffrage but we have been governed by those laying claim to being progressives since, possibly, The Third Reform Act of 1884. Perhaps little thought was given to the notion of what universal suffrage and the onward march of progressives could do to a nation without a written constitution and the consequential unfettered power that the supremacy of parliament bestowed on any government.
Constitutional reform is always going to be difficult and any government laying claim to being a government of the people by the people for the people¹ should ensure that they represent the majority view of all the people that they represent while seeking not to infringe the constitutional freedom of the minority. Constitutional change made by the UK parliament has rarely, if ever, achieved this.
NOTE: — In the UK a simple democratic vote has ensured that no political party has achieved governing power since 1945 with more than 50% of the popular vote (votes cast) and more than 40% support from the registered electorate (all those eligible to vote).
Administrations achieve governing power with 40% or less, of the popular vote and 30% or less support from the registered electorate. Given the supremacy of parliament, progressive administrations are the inevitable outcome of all UK parliamentary elections.
Monday — What is a progressive in politics? In the SOED, a progressive is an advocate or supporter of political or social progress. Mill also wrote that a people may be progressive for a certain time and then stop when it ceases to posses individuality, which is perhaps why those who would call themselves progressives rely so heavily on semantics and political abstractions.
Tuesday — What does it mean to be a progressive in the US? Politicians in the USA are fighting to claim the high moral ground that the term progressive now infers, but it wasn’t always always so. It seems to me that in the USA there is little understanding of the difference between a democracy and a republic (other than perhaps by those wishing to make progressive political capital out of the difference).
Wednesday — Last Words on Democracy Originally written in 1926 by H.L. Mencken, a libertarian who would eschew being called a liberal progressive in any contemporary use of the words and deeply resent being called anti-American in any retrospective analysis of his works.
Thursday — Why are today’s progressive political heroes still old white men?. When applied to the state, do these progressives conflate the liberal with the illiberal, moral virtue with immoral means, fiscal deficits with fiscal prudence and, perhaps most significantly, conflate Bernard de Mandeville with Peter Drucker.
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