Wednesday, 28 November 2012 15:34

Inside the Progressive Mind

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Whatever else they disagree on, Republicans and Democrats are of one mind when it comes to paying lip service to the Constitution and its Framers. Unfortunately, however, far more frequently than not, this is just lip service — especially in the case of self-styled “progressives.”  In reality, there is an unbridgeable chasm between, on the one hand, the progressive’s rhetoric concerning the Constitution and its progenitors and, on the other, his attitude toward them.

At best, the progressive views the Constitution as an instrument to be exploited for the sake of impeding the allegedly “unconstitutional” designs of his opponents. At worst — and for the most part — he regards it as an impediment to his own designs. Never does the progressive view the Constitution as the authority that its Framers intended for it to be.

Indeed, according to the very logic of the progressive’s vision, matters could not be otherwise. In other words, the progressive’s disdain for the Constitution and its authors will give way to genuine reverence if and only if he ceases to be a progressive.

What makes a progressive a progressive is that he has his eye forever on the future. The present has significance only inasmuch it supplies opportunities for paving the way for a brighter tomorrow. But for the past — the real past — there can be nothing but contempt on the progressive’s part. It isn’t that he is any more disinclined than anyone else to invoke past events and names when it suits his present purposes to do so. Yet the idea that the past has or can have any sort of authority over the present or future can only be anathema to the progressive.

There was a time when conservatives didn’t need to be reminded of this.

In the eighteenth century, at the height of the blood-soaked Revolution in France, Edmund Burke — “the patron saint of conservatism” — combated tirelessly the progressive conceit that the past is an encumbrance to be surmounted.

Burke noted that if “the temporary possessors” of society are “unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors,” then they are liable to “act as if they were the entire masters” and, thus, bring ruin upon “the whole original fabric of their society.” The ease with which the progressives of his time sought to transform the state according to “floating fancies or fashions” threatened to sever “the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth.”

Famously, Burke declared that “We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason,” for “we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.”

In glaring contrast, Thomas Paine, Burke’s contemporary — and adversary — expressed nothing short of outrage over the notion that the past has any sort of claim whatsoever on the present. “The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies,” he asserted. “Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow.” Paine continued: “Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require.” 

Contra Burke, who he accused of “contending for the authority of the dead over the rights and freedom of the living,” Paine claimed that he was “contending for the rights of the living.” He objected fiercely to “the rights of the living” being forfeited to “the manuscript assumed authority of the dead.” Paine mocked Burke’s reverence for the wisdom of his ancestors by charging him with positing a sort of “political Adam, in whom all posterity are bound for ever.”

Paine’s vision is the progressive’s vision. And we can rest assured that our contemporaries on the left find the notion of a “political Adam” just as indefensible, just as ludicrous, as Pain found it.

But since our “political Adam” is represented by America’s Founders, this in turn implies that, if they are honest with themselves, progressives must acknowledge that it is at once indefensible and ludicrous that their compatriots should defer to the Founders.


  • Comment Link sirburban Thursday, 29 November 2012 20:07 posted by sirburban

    The 49 not the 50 was what I should have written.

  • Comment Link sirburban Thursday, 29 November 2012 20:03 posted by sirburban

    Democracies are "spectacles of turbulance and contention" and as Madison explains in the Federalist Papers #10.They are he said opponents of private property and usually die a violent death. Why would he say that unless he knew history?

    The demagog loves to stir up the mob. It provides the master crowd manipulator a vehicle to stir up the unwise to support foolishness and he uses them to give himself what he wants using the popular vote.

    Other founders saw the pitfalls built into this dangerous form of government. They knew by looking back at the history that these sytems had a very short-life expectancy. The majority, unless they were checked by a rule book or a set of codes would fly off the deep end and vote themselves and the minority into the hands of the few who were waiting to enslave them.

    Tyrants don't care which way the people give up their freedom as long as they give it up! Democracies do provide the semblance of the law in that a majority of one vote can mess it up for the 50 who voted to stop and deliberate on the consequences of said proposal. That is what a republic does: provides time to cool off and doesn't let mob action destroy it all for everyone.

    The Patriot Act was passed in such an environment. Had the Senate deliberated and said the Patriot Act is an assault of the 4th Amendment we would be better off as a nation. They chose instead to go along with the consensus that the conniving media conspired to get Americans to believe was for their own good.

    Conservatives felt safe since a so-called "man of God" was the president and he wouldn't do the nation harm by signing a law that wasn't a good law! That is what direct democracy does: it gets you into trouble. Now they are beginning to wake up a little since another person whom the Bush idolators mistrust is in office. But notice how often Obama will use the word "democracy" to get what he wants.

    Those that work the congressional district to awakenb more of the electorate to elect pro-republic congressmen have to speed up their political proselytizing before the "direct democracy" destroys this nation.

    Wisdom and wise men from the past:

  • Comment Link Daryl Davis Wednesday, 28 November 2012 14:47 posted by Daryl Davis

    One need not be a liberal progressive to disdain a blind adherence to the past -- a now dangerous adherence in the face of the obvious decline and the eminent fiscal fall of our system. I agree with Paine: every generation, not just that of the Founders, breeds many wise men capable of fashioning a polity worthy of their own time.

    It's a disgrace that so few attempt better.

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