Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Progressivism and Socialism

In several of the arguments I've had on the web over the past week or so, socialism has come up, and degree of socialism has come up  ... and I've been wrestling with the relationship of progressivism to socialism.

I have argued from a philosphical standpoint that central planning was a bad thing -- but of course I meant in economics and in cultural matters.  Typically someone then throws up the interstate highway system -- which to me is a different animal and an exception to that general philosophy.   After all, we can't put roads just anywhere and we do need to balance that against property rights. Any coherent road system is going to have to result from large-scale agreement, not individual transactions.  Anyway, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower are brought up -- and I was asked, were they "socialists"?

Well, you know, no.  They were, as all 20th century presidents seem to have been with the possible exception of Reagan, infected with the Progressive bug to one degree or another. 

And basically the Progressive bug's premise is that we need to get a few smart people in power, making all the decisions to allow the rest of society to "evolve" and catch up with the Enlightened Ones.  Teddy Roosevelt certainly abused the office, and he abused it in some cases to preserve some things I rather like -- some of our National Parks and National Monuments - the Grand Canyon being but one of these.  It is something I have a hard time reconciling except for to say this:

The preservation of some wilderness for the enjoyment of Americans and mankind in general is relatively inexpensive and in the long run causes no social malaise.  But the creation of entitlements always becomes much more expensive over time as the programs are expanded in scope and as people who would otherwise me motivated to avoid the socio-economic circumstances that entitlements are justified to address may find comfortable enough to trade off not having to work or work very hard -- it definitely contributes to further social malaise.  National Parks are a one time thing that we then must maintain.  Most of it was wilderness to begin with, and it cost relatively little to fire them up, not that there wasn't controversy.  Entitlements are forever, and they only grow in scope and volume.  The Department of the Interior takes up about 1/3 of 1% of the federal budget, as opposed to Social Security (19.6%), Unemployment/Welfare (16.1%), Medicare (12.8%), Medicade & Children's Health (8.2%).... I mean ... That's 56.7% of the federal budget on entitlements alone.

Peacenicks like to exclude all of this non-discretionary entitlement spending out of their budget comparisons to show how much more Defense spending is than everything that's left, leading people to believe that we spend way too much on defense and not enough on social and infrastructure programs.  But of course they intentionally mislead.  Probably the largest and most legititmate role of the federal government is national defense, which is at about 20% of the total budget, but when you exclude more than half of the federal budget -- of course the defense percentage of the remainder would more than double and dwarf everything else that is left.  But when you see the big picture it's obvious that we'd have a heck of a lot more to spend on highways, national parks, the EPA, and NASA if we weren't so busy buying votes by expanding entitlement programs that arguably shouldn't exist in the first place, or be scaled way, way back for only dire cases.

So no, Progressivism is not Socialism.  But Progressivism is the Mother of Socialism, communism, fascism, and naziism.  It is a worldview that, if logically followed, naturally leads to such systems.

Government programs are not bad just because they are government programs.  When your worldview is that government it a necessary evil that must always be kept in check and people are by and large responsible for meeting their own needs, these little things can be well and good.  When your worldview is that if there is a problem, government must solve it -- well then you're well on your way to totalitarianism.  It's just a matter of time.


Greg Hunt said...

Kinda like Government in general. Limited Government allows for certain things to happen in a more productive manner. It's helpful. Remove the "limited", and it stops being productive and helpful.

Cylar said...

Mmm hmm. Government is by nature a monster, an evil thing, never to be handed unchecked power and never to be trusted.

I'm always slightly amused (and horrified) by modern leftists who seem to think they understand government as an institution...better than did the likes of Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Jay, Adams, Jefferson, and Washington. I never quite understand what it is they think they've figured out, what all those dead white males apparently missed over 200 years ago.

If anything, history has only shown just how right they were to be suspicious of government and of human nature itself.

philmon said...

Well, as one of them argued with me, that's just "YOUR INTERPRETATION of the Constitution." Progressives are all about "relative truth", and like to interpret things differently just to show their open-minded intellectual prowess. Of course, if you read the supplementary words of the founders, THEIR interpretation of it is pretty clear. And I'm gonna go with theirs and not some modern academic who really wants to replace the system with something else.

But you know, A name by any other flower is not a rose, ifyaknowhatimean.

And of course, they love to bring up the point that Obama is a "constitutional scholar" ... to which I usually respond with "I could be an expert in the history of Nazi Germany, but that doesn't mean I'm a Nazi or believe in Naziism."

When you can re-define what the meaning of the word "is" is, you can just re-define the meaning of the Constitution to mean the opposite of what it actually means.

Which is exactly what he intends to do.

Cylar said...

Yeah, I begin to wonder if these people have ever heard of The Federalist Papers. There's ample commentary there for anyone to determine what was meant by the various clauses in the Constitution. Madison wrote most of it, so special attention should be paid to anything else that he said on the subject.

mkfreeberg said...

Here's the thing: If you adhere to "sensible moderation" and show some balls when you do so, so it means something and you aren't just tying to avoid a disagreement or confrontation - you are a conservative. Progressivism is like the bowling ball in the gutter. It is like the loogey in the soup. It goes one way only. It is extremism by nature.

Nobody ever says "Of course we have to have SOME centralized planning," and means it. It's like taking a gallon jug of kerosene and setting just an ounce of it alight. Can't be done.

philmon said...

Yes, exactly. With progressivism, each act of "moderation" is just a foot in the door, paving the way for the next "moderate" step ... always in the same direction.

Gutter. Yup. That's about the size of it.

mkfreeberg said...

I was thinking some more about this. The "P" word is not serving your quest of knowledge well. You shouldn't call it progressivism. The "L" word - that's bad too.

Unconstrained vision, Keynesian economics, collectivism, entitlement policies, identity politics: fewer people understant those terms, to be sure. But they are specific.

"Progressive" is pure confusion+cowardliness. They started using this word because the synonyms were starting to be understood too well.

philmon said...

Well, I see what you're driving at, but they started using the "L" word back in the late 1930's and 40's when the "P" word became a dirty word. They're just switching back to the original.

Why I use the "P" word rather than the "L" word is that the "L" word was stolen from us. If you read Hayek's forward to the American edition of "The Road To Serfdom", he talks about this.

Our founders founded a Liberal Democracy, and Liberal used to have a meaning closer to Libertarian before the Left hijacked it in the wake of how things turned out in Germany, Italy, and Russia. They were embarrassed. And they hijacked "Liberal". Clever of them.

I want to deny it to them. It would be awesome if we could grab it back somehow.

philmon said...

They soiled "Progressive". Then they soiled "Liberal". Everything they touch, you know.

King Midas in reverse.

(now that's an obscure musical reference for ya! - The Hollies)

mkfreeberg said...

For your relatives.

With my compliments.

Cylar said...

When you say "progressive," all I can think about is those annoying commercials for car insurance.

philmon said...

@cylar: I know this won't make me popular, but I'm one of those wierd guys who think she is kinda hot in a really cute way. On the other hand, I know that "Progressive" Insurance is a big donor to progressive causes and candidates and on that level, well, of course, I think my virtual girlfriend must be a a virtual harlot and that irritates me.

philmon said...

Morgan ... I think I've figured it out - there may be a post coming on this. But this woman has literally been taken care of all of her life. She has been sheltered from the consequences of her beliefs and supported by good men -- and even after the death of her husband -- a great man -- is left with the money he made (and to her credit, she invested) from the successful small business he ran.

She's used to being told what to believe, but she doesn't see it that way. She sees it as ... she's gone to experts to form her opinions. But what she's really done is gone to "experts" whose credentials are given by progressive institutions that she respects because ... spouting the things they say, she believes, makes her look thoughtful, open-minded, and forward-thinking (which to her means ... "progressive") ...

Like I sent her an article by Michele Malkin yesterday on the manufactured hate epidemic.

Her FIRST question, right out of the chute... "who's Michele Malkin?"

If the word "conservative" or "Fox News" come up anywhere in the description, she will immediately dismiss anything she has to say, fact or opinion.

Because I think I've figured out, she really doesn't distinguish between the two. She pretends to know the difference, but in practice, a fact presented by someone she doesn't respect is an opinion, and an opinion presented by someone she respects is a fact. Ergo, facts are anything presented by someone she respects. Anything presented by someone she doesn't is an opinion.

And can therefore be dismissed.

So really discussing anything with her is a waste of time. However, she is my elder and holds a position of respect in the family, ergo, I don't push too hard and I back off pretty quickly when I do push.