Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Populism Through Patriotism or Progressivism?

"Your love of liberty -- your respect for the laws -- your habits of industry -- and your practice of the moral and religious obligations, are the strongest claims to national and individual happiness."
George Washington

My post, “Progressives Want to Control Information” got this response, which I found needed more space than I had for a simple answer. Here was the comment and my answer follows.

Gaia said...
"Self proclaimed elitists?" Would you cite sources, please, because I've never come across a progressive so proclaimed. On the contrary, we want comprehensive health care for everyone; we want a good education for everyone; we want everyone to vote; we want everyone to pay a fair and reasonable amount of taxes; we want a fair judicial system for everyone. That's not elitist: that's an all-embracing populism."

It is such a simple and reasonable question, but it opens multiple avenues of responses. So I will pluck and pare down the volumes that popped into my head. First, you are intuitive in questioning my phrase “self proclaim elitists” and for good reasons. Anyone who would boldly claim such a title as elitist would come off as very egotistical and contrary to “serving the people”. I was using the term loosely, which I should have defined, to mean someone who acts upon and lives out beliefs of elitism. Self proclaimed in the sense that we act upon our philosophical beliefs. More on that in a moment but because I said it, I’ll give a couple of examples of this elitist attitude.

George Bernard Shaw has many interesting comments. Here is one. “I think it would be a good thing to make everybody come before a properly-appointed board, just as they might come before the income tax commissioner, and say every five years, or every seven years, just put them there, and say, ‘Sir, or madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?’"
John Dewy – “Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent.”

God forbid we have no great answer for a “justify your existence” board or should we learn to think for ourselves. By the way, these two are considered fathers (of many) of the current progressive movement.

There are many others but it is really not the point here. What is actually interesting is that you ignored the fact that I tied elitism to the progressive movement and you seem to equate it to populism. Modern progressive populism is almost like saying frozen fire. It is a great creative word picture but not realistically possible. This is obviously my opinion based on my understanding of Progressives, which I’ll elaborate on later below. I understand your use of populism because it is a good argument against elitism and the philosophy seems to fit your true values.

Populism – “A type of political-social thought that juxtaposes "the people" against "the elites", and urges social and political system changes. It can also be defined as a rhetorical style employed by members of various political or social movements. It is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as "political ideas and activities that are intended to represent ordinary people's needs and wishes" - Wikipedia

We probably can agree to the idea of populism. I say right now that I don’t necessarily embrace the full concepts and the far reaching ideas related to the whole populism, but for the purpose of this apologetic I will address the simple definition above “intended to represent the ordinary people’s needs and wishes”. Where we greatly diverge is from our theoretical root for the idea. It is no secret that I get mine from our nations’ founding rooted in Judeo-Christian theology: that all men are created equal and that they have certain inalienable rights. All are also obliged to obey the natural law, under which we have not only rights but duties. We are obliged "to respect those rights in others which we value in ourselves" (Jefferson). This is my idea of an American patriot, borrowed from the Heritage Foundation.

How does a Progressive support populism? First, the predominant view and my understanding of a progressive view is one increasingly radicalized by its transformation into contemporary liberalism. Here are a few points comparing a “progressive” view from a patriots’. (I respectfully use much of the following from the Heritage Foundation)

As mentioned above, “all men are created equal and they have certain inalienable rights” is a patriot’s view. The Progressives rejected these claims as naive and unhistorical. In their view, human beings are not born free. John Dewey, the most thoughtful of the Progressives, wrote that freedom is not "something that individuals have as a ready-made possession." It is "something to be achieved." In this view, freedom is not a gift of God or nature. It is a product of human making, a gift of the state. This is a very important and contrary viewpoint.

Government's main duty for the Founders is to secure that freedom: at home through the making and enforcement of criminal and civil law, abroad through a strong national defense. The protection of life and liberty is achieved through vigorous prosecutions of crime against person and property or through civil suits for recovery of damages, these cases being decided by a jury of one's peers.

The Progressives regarded the Founders' scheme as defective because it took too benign a view of nature. As Dewey remarked, they thought that the individual was ready-made by nature. The Founders' supposed failure to recognize the crucial role of society led the Progressives to disparage the Founders' insistence on limited government. For the Progressives, freedom is redefined as the fulfillment of human capacities, which becomes the primary task of the state.

The American Founders tried to promote the moral conditions of an independent, hard-working citizenry by laws and educational institutions that would encourage such virtues as honesty, moderation, justice, patriotism, courage, frugality, and industry. Government support of religion was generally practiced with a view to these ends. One can see the Founders' view of the connection between religion and morality in such early laws as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which said that government should promote education because "[r]eligion, morality, and knowledge [are] necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind."

In Progressivism, the domestic policy of government had two main concerns. First, government must protect the poor and other victims of capitalism through redistribution of resources, anti-trust laws, government control over the details of commerce and production: i.e., dictating at what prices things must be sold, methods of manufacture, government participation in the banking system, and so on. Second, government must become involved in the "spiritual" development of its citizens -- not, of course, through promotion of religion, but through protecting the environment ("conservation"), education (understood as education to personal creativity), and spiritual uplift through subsidy and promotion of the arts and culture.

As can be seen, the paving of a road to populism ethics could be reached by diametrically opposed political platforms: of an American patriot or a modern Progressive. A few final questions come to mind. Which political platform embraces the heart or intent of populism best? Which one has the best proven track record of intentionally protecting the people from elitism? Where should my faith be to bring about such desired principles: man or a higher power? My answer is obvious by the argument outlined. A true American patriot (to quote Gaia) “want(s) comprehensive health care for everyone; we want a good education for everyone; we want everyone to vote; we want everyone to pay a fair and reasonable amount of taxes; we want a fair judicial system for everyone.” Which is the best road to get there?

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader."
Samuel Adams

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque Brings the "P"s Out

“Be religiously careful in our choice of all public officers . . . and judge of the tree by its fruits.”
Elias Boudinot – President of the Continental Congress from 1782 to 1783 and Director of the United States Mint from 1795 until 1805

The ground zero mosque controversy sure deals with “judge the tree by its fruits”. I had a good friend on a social network post a link to a petition by the ACLU, which I disagreed with for reasons other than its stand on freedom of religion. Here was my comment on it.

“As read, no patriotic American would disagree with the obvious tenets of this petition. There is no argument about freedom of religion. No contention of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s or others agreement to this fact. But what is missing is the ethical argument. Yes, they can build the mosque and have the right to do so. Example: The family of my child’s killer has a right to build next door to me, but should they? A majority would question the wisdom of it and protest. They would question the “intolerance” of that family. Why wouldn’t that family understand and not only agree but want to build somewhere not so offensive? The answer to that would be telling. This petition states some truth, but from a perverted perspective of that truth.”

A friend of this friend posted something simple, and I paraphrase, about not trusting the “patriotic American” phrase because it dealt with “hidden agendas”. I don’t know if they even read the rest of post but if they did that phase seemed to close their mind. I replied by copying pretty much what they wrote and inserted “ACLU” in place of patriot to make the point that we all have some kind of agenda and it only differs from the platform we stand upon. My point was missed and they questioned it blankly and then a short time later remarked with a belittling comment. I left it at that. I afraid others on the network did not, but that’s another story.

Oh, what do I mean about the p’s? Well, as I thought about this I couldn’t help but imagine there are many people who stand on issues with differing perspectives. I wore a label on my sleeve when I chose to use the word patriotic. I did this intentionally as to let people know I was coming from, what is generally considered, a conservative point of view. I would much rather be considered a patriot who knows why I believe something rather then a parrot who can talk it but without perception. We all talk from a platform and it is best to fully understand it, rather than just stand on it. Normally what happens with the latter is one ends up just being P-Oed and has difficulty acting politely. I am sure you have witnessed the same thing in the media the last few weeks around the controversy of the mosque. All I suggest is, be open, listen patiently to others’ ideas but know where you stand and be able to give an account with dignity.

Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787

Friday, August 20, 2010

Progressives Want to Control Information

“There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation (clarification), than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.” (Parenthesis added)
James Madison

Nothing irks me more than when self proclaimed elitists (most progressives) claim and work under the impression that they have the only right answers to govern the people. Here is just one recent example of that pious but ignorant philosophical stance.

“With many state legislatures poised to take up some kind of reform-related legislation next year, a group of liberal state lawmakers is preparing Fall events to defend the law in their state houses against “the very conservative politicians and interest groups that are really confusing the American public,” the group's chairman, Iowa State Sen. Jack Hatch, tells PULSE.”
POLITICO Pulse, Aug 19th, 2010

Jack Hatch and all his liberal friends believe the common people are too ignorant to discern appropriate understanding of all views and feel we can only be “confused” by having more than one perspective to choose from. What scares Jack and friends is exactly the issues James Madison addressed above. If the people like the truth and it conflicts with ideology needed to change or annihilate the republic our nation is founded upon, then we shouldn’t be “confusing the American public”.

This doesn’t mean the majority always has it right and our republic has systems within it to help understand and slow process until truth is discerned and people can right any misguided directions that lead us from our great American republic. A great case in point is the majority now feels the direction our present government is headed is not the direction we wish to go. Basically, “we the people” have had time to see and feel the decisions of our current administration and know it is the wrong way. The majority made a mistake November 2008, which led to the Tea Party movement and similar “interest groups”. Jack Hatch, his cronies and the current administration don’t like it when the people “are confused”, which is really people thinking, educated and having choices. The real “confused” ones are them that don’t understand or like the working, living republic we currently have. Now it is up to us to keep it by voting for those who agree with the truth of the American Republic. Nothing will confuse a progressive more.