Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Why Progressives Undermine Civilization

Shellenberger seems to be getting a bit neoconnish. Next up: “Michael Shellenberger on the visionary genius of Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol.”

From electricity and psychiatry to criminal justice and meritocracy, center-Left political leaders are dismantling the institutions our forefathers created. Why is that?

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck; President Joe Biden; Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (Getty Images)

For much of the last 150 years, progressivism was defined by efforts to create the institutions that sustain modern life. In the mid-19th Century, progressives created modern police departments with professionally-trained employees that were controlled by local governments. A quarter century later, Dorothea Dix and her allies rescued mentally ill people from the barns and basements where they were shackled and started treating them in hospitals. And nearly a century ago, progressives led by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority to build hydro-electric dams to make electricity and fertilizer to modernize farming, power factories, and lift millions out of poverty.

Today, progressives are undermining the institutions our forefathers created. Following the lead of California and New York, Illinois is undermining the criminal justice system by eliminating cash bail for most crimes, including second degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery. Green Parties in Germany and Belgium are moving forward with plans to shut down nuclear power plants, despite electricity shortages. And President Joe Biden is blocking the production of natural gas and oil for domestic consumption and for export to desperate allies in Europe and Asia while pushing subsidies for unreliable energy sources that make electricity more expensive.

I’m not suggesting that progressives always undermine institutions, nor that conservatives never do. The progressive Mayor of Boston earlier this year shut down a dangerous open drug scene over the objections of the ACLU; progressive policymakers in California recently re-imposed cash bail after crime surged; and in Illinois, courts will still be able to hold alleged offenders deemed dangerous. Germany will keep open two of the country’s last three nuclear reactors past December 31, as will Belgium. And oil and gas production and exports have been increasing since Biden took office and are set to grow even more in coming years.

But it is progressives far more than conservatives who are today demanding that institutions and services essential to the functioning of society be dismantled. They propose the wholesale elimination of cash bail, not its reform. While Germany will keep open two of its last three reactors, Economy Minister Robert Habeck has said they will only operate as a last resort and will be permanently shut down in April. And while the production of oil and natural gas is rising modestly, progressive activists, courts, and policymakers, including Biden, have successfully slowed and prevented production, pipelines, and export terminals from rising to levels sufficient to prevent energy scarcity from ravaging Europe, fertilizer and thus food shortages, and domestic price increases.


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