Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Rule by Decree

Whatever one thinks about polyamorous marriage, this article is a must-read and an excellent discussion of how “our system” actually works.  It also has a pretty good overview of the differences between progressives, liberals, social democrats, and neoliberals.

By Michael Lind, Tablet

Progressives could legalize polyamorous marriage by October even if Congress opposed it. Here’s how the American elite trashes the consent of the governed.

Is progressivism in danger of being locked out of power in the U.S. government? Democrats can legitimately complain about America’s malapportioned Senate, as well as Republican voter registration laws that are motivated in some cases by a desire to disfavor likely Democratic voters. But the idea that progressivism will soon be locked out of power if the Republicans retake Congress and the White House, unless new states are added to the Senate or voter registrars are banned from checking whether voters have fraudulent or stolen identity documents, ignores the real sources of power in modern America. In the contemporary United States, progressives increasingly resort to trying to persuade voters and to win elections only as a last resort, when nondemocratic avenues of social change—judicial rulings, presidential decrees, or policies adopted by giant corporations and multinational banks—have failed to impose progressive policies.

By “progressive” I do not mean “the left” in general. There are a number of distinct and often warring tribes on the political left. By “progressive” I am referring to college-educated social engineers who seek to reconstruct American and global society according to this or that theory of the ideal world.

In this sense, Medicare for All is a social democratic proposal, not a progressive proposal. Imposing variable taxes on food to “nudge” people to eat their vegetables instead of burgers and fries is progressive. Outlawing race and gender discrimination is liberal. Mandating busing for racial balance in the 1970s and race and gender quotas in every organization today is progressive. Source-neutral carbon taxation to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is a neoliberal policy. A complex, 30-year plan specifying the exact proportions of renewables in the U.S. energy mix in 2050 is progressive. Egalitarians want to redistribute power and wealth and then let newly empowered ordinary people do as they see fit; for their part, neoliberals want to allow individuals and firms to decide how best to meet government-set goals. Technocratic progressives, on the other hand, are control freaks who want to concentrate power in an expert elite that will make the right decisions for the rest of us.

This type of progressivism originated in the 19th century in Germany, which had the first Progressive Party (Fortschrittspartei). Its social base consisted of mandarin bureaucrats and professors, so-called “socialists of the (endowed) chair” (Kathedersozialisten). They agreed with Marxists and various liberals that reforms were necessary, but preferred to carry out reform from the top down through an alliance of elite thinkers with political and commercial power brokers. Quasi-democratic, authoritarian Imperial Germany under the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, pioneered the modern welfare state in forms that reinforced rather than subverted corporate and class hierarchies.

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