Culture Wars/Current Controversies

How American Progressives Became French Jacobins

By Michael Lind, Tablet

The iconoclastic gestures of the woke left bear an alarming resemblance to the excesses of the French Revolution.

I spent the first third of my career among conservatives and the next two-thirds among progressives. At first, I thought both parties were equally cynical and instrumental when it came to theories of constitutional authority. The party that controls Congress only seeks to minimize presidential authority, and vice versa.

I no longer think that views of the Constitution are a matter of pure opportunism on both sides. The progressives of my acquaintance—mostly intellectuals and activists, not ordinary Democratic voters—favor the federal government by default and tend to view the states and counties and cities as relics of the past and obstacles to sound national policy. When a public policy strikes them as good, their first impulse is to think that it should be mandated for the whole country by Congress (or the president or the federal courts). The notion that something might be a good policy, and yet should not be imposed nationwide, but adopted or not by states or localities as they see fit, is a strange idea to many progressives for whom a federal law or mandate is always the first resort.

Likewise, many progressive intellectuals and activists of my acquaintance would make every judicial case a federal case, if they could. In their view, the federal government can be evil—albeit only when controlled by Republicans. But few if any progressives I know would argue that, if left-of-center Democrats controlled the federal, state, and local governments, there should in principle be limits on the power of the progressive Democratic Congress or White House to overrule the equally progressive and equally Democratic state legislatures and city councils.

In addition to denouncing nationalism while practicing extreme national statism, progressives talk a good game about minority rights while promoting centralized government by the bare numerical majority. Witness their complaints that federalism and the Electoral College prevent a 51% bare majority of the vote from translating automatically into 100% of power in government.


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