The Totalitarianism of the Progressive Mindset

Article by Anthony Gregory.


The left loves to talk about humanitarianism, putting people above profits, and saving the poor and disadvantaged from the inequity of private enterprise. Yet behind the rhetoric of all economic interventionism is the iron fist of the state.

The statists will usually try to obscure this fact, or even deny it. They will perform philosophical gymnastics to argue that, in fact, they do not favor state violence at all, since we all live in a community ruled by a government by consent.





Sometimes, however, the naked brutality they endorse is clearly on display for everyone to see. Witness Michael Moore, paragon of modern progressive liberalism and egalitarian social democracy. The target of his hateful demand for violence? The CEO of S&P. For the crime of running a company that lowered its credit rating for the United States, this man should be punished, thunders Moore: “Obama, show some guts [and] arrest the CEO of Standard & Poors. These criminals brought down the economy in 2008 [and] now they will do it again.”

Moore is calling on the president, the head of the American ruling class, the man occupying the most powerful office in the history of the world, to use executive prerogative to throw a businessman in a cage. Is S&P a questionable operation in bed with the corporate state, whose ratings cannot be trusted? Surely, and yet at worst S&P is a junior partner in crime. If anything, its sin has been exaggerating the solvency of the establishment. Its credibility is today questioned since it gave high marks to Lehman Brothers three years ago, yet this was due to the exact kind of political pressure and intimidation that Moore is demanding in the wake of S&P’s belated and mild chastising of the American state for its obvious lack of trustworthiness.

The demonization of S&P is a scary sight to behold. Paul Krugman has contributed to the left’s hate-fest in an article that Jeff Tucker astutely calls “the most evil column ever.” Krugman almost seems to blame S&P’s rose-colored glasses for the whole recession:

America’s large budget deficit is, after all, primarily the result of the economic slump that followed the 2008 financial crisis. . . . Notoriously, S.& P. gave Lehman Brothers, whose collapse triggered a global panic, an A rating right up to the month of its demise. And how did the rating agency react after this A-rated firm went bankrupt? By issuing a report denying that it had done anything wrong.

“If there’s a single word that best describes the rating agency’s decision to downgrade America,” writes Krugman, “it’s chutzpah – traditionally defined by the example of the young man who kills his parents, then pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan.” Of course, these credit-rating agencies were always the welfare state’s darlings in giving unrealistically high ratings to mortgage-backed securities, with the federal government and most vocal Democratic politicians right there with them, cheering on these totally reckless loans, saying the Keynesian balloon economy was fundamentally healthy. For years, such agencies have doubtless been too sanguine about the U.S. government’s debt addiction as well. Turning to the budget deficit, was it really “primarily the result of the economic slump” – or does the welfare-warfare state that Krugman cheers and loves deserve some share of the blame? No domestic spending program ever seems to fail to meet his approval, and Krugman famously said the Iraq war was good for the economy. As for the financial crisis itself, I guess we are to pay no attention to the Nobel laureate behind the curtain who repeatedly called for Alan Greenspan to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.

In the deficit madness and the midst of the downgrade, we see in all its glory the progressives’ nearly invincible faith in the state, the only problem they identify being the state’s detractors. There is no slump that more deficit spending can’t fix. There is no deficit crisis that more taxing can’t remedy. Bailouts are to be blamed on those being bailed out, never the looters and distributors. If a rating agency downgrades the U.S., this is a problem with the agency, not the politicians. If the economy is not recovering, it is to be blamed on the people who hate the president’s domestic policies, not those policies themselves. If the president does have any fault, it is that he has been insufficiently active, has not bullied business nearly enough, or spent enough trillions we don’t have to get the economy rolling. If all the social democratic plots to protect the economy have been a flop, surely the adversaries of social democracy are at fault.

Some might find it ironic for Moore’s love of the democratic state to be so all consuming that he will actually petition the president to unilaterally jail a CEO for no clearly defined crime in particular. After all, the president he wishes would bring his hammer down on the heretic is overseeing a set of war policies that Moore very sensibly condemned when they were conducted by President Bush. Obama has not only continued the rampage in Iraq and Afghanistan, spread the war to Pakistan and Yemen, and bombarded Libya; he has also covered up torturers, spied on the American people without warrants, escalated the drug war in Mexico where tens of thousands have been slaughtered on his watch, and claimed purely tyrannical powers to detain and kill people without due process. Add all this to Obama’s dozens of other similarities to the Bush regime and it may seem odd indeed that a progressive would so shamelessly defer to the chief executive with the blood of thousands on his hands, much less call on him to convene an inquisition for enemies of the state.

But it is not ironic at all. Although we who believe in liberty must always defend the rights of our political opponents – such as in my article from years ago condemning the Bush administration for censoring Michael Moore – those who love the progressive state will almost to a man throw any enemy of the regime under the bus if it suits his agenda. The president might be a war criminal, even a Republican, yet if he prosecutes a corporate scapegoat like Enron’s Kenneth Lay, we must cheer on the persecution. The Justice Department might be a conservative nightmare headed by a reactionary like John Ashcroft, but we are still expected to side with it against an independently wealthy entrepreneur, even a gracious and peaceful woman like Martha Stewart. The federal government might be the greatest force for destabilization in the world, yet to question its solvency should literally be made a crime ex post facto.

The state is God to the progressive mindset, although it is not infallible, and can sometimes be overtaken by people with bad intentions. But it is not the government itself that corrupts. It is not state power itself, like Frodo’s ring, that is unavoidably prone to evil. No. It is those who hold the ring of state that corrupt it, not vice versa. At the core of the democratic state, the very essence of the public sector, is holiness, sacredness, the greatness that unites the collective will behind a purpose higher than that of any mortal individuals acting in their regrettable, pathetic, and fallen self interest. Even an imperial corporatist police state that does more to prop up Wall Street than bolster Main Street, that incarcerates minorities more than it educates them, that does a thousand other things abusive to progressive sensibility, is in the end the highest of all institutions, the source of our salvation on Earth. The state is, at the same time, an institution of coercion and brutalization. Those enamored of it usually conceal this truth but on occasion concede it without apology. For them the central state’s violence is the very feature that allows all their collectivist dreams to be pursued by a planning elite leading us mere subjects lockstep on the road to secular redemption. The jail cell lies in wait behind all the schemes and dreams of the progressive mind, and those honest and reflective enough in this tradition will occasionally admit this with unsettling clarity. It is no wonder that even when a relatively decent and thoughtful lefty like Michael Moore sees that someone dares to say the emperor is not only nude but can’t afford a new set of clothes, his only reaction is: “Off with his head!”

August 10, 2011

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is research editor at the Independent Institute. He lives in Oakland, California. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

Copyright © 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

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