A Modern Progressive Manifesto,
by Giovanna Laine
(This is a follow-up to my previous piece, “The Name ‘Progressive’ – Its Proponents, Would-Be Usurpers, & Wannabe Exploiters,” published here, here, and here.)
A specter is haunting America — the specter of Progressivism. All the powers of the US establishment have entered into a devious alliance to exorcise this specter: Democrat and Republican, corporation and mainstream media, internet trolls and USIC agents provocateurs. Where is the candidate who has not spoken contemptuously of Progressivism or tried to claim the mantle of a Progressive?
Two conclusions emerge from these facts:
I. Progressivism is already acknowledged by all American powers to be itself a power.
II. It is high time that Progressives should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish our views, our aims, our tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Specter of Progressivism with a manifesto of the movement itself. U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (Democrat from the State of Washington) called attention to this second conclusion in early December of 2018, and, a little more than a month later, in mid-January of 2019, a “Progressive Agenda” was published in CounterPunch. The authorship of this piece is not entirely clear; it was published under the name Ted Rall, who is indeed a writer, but the body of the piece contains some ambiguity, which might be taken to suggest that Rep, Jayapal and some of her fellow Democrats who have sought to claim the mantle of Progressivism might have had some share in drafting the said agenda. At any rate, the final paragraph begins with the assertion:
Progressives: you are no longer the ugly stepdaughter of the Democratic Party.
which is, bluntly, historically inaccurate, as my previous survey of the history of Progressivism (also published here and here) has shown, and as will be evident from the ever-growing non-partisanship of Progressivism for more than 120 years. The piece in CounterPunch is also not entirely satisfactory for other reasons. A proper manifesto for Progressives, specifically Modern Progressives, is thus still in need. To this end, I have looked at what Progressives have advocated from the beginning of the Progressive movement among those who might be called Proto-Progressives in the People’s Party of the 1890s and followed that through the Historical Progressives who found a champion in the person of Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, through the birth of Modern Progressivism via Henry Wallace in 1946 and its toddler phase and growing pains under his influence and subsequently till 1952, its adolescence under the influence of Star Trek, Julia, Bewitched, and other forward-thinking television series, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and George McGovern, not to mention Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, the Jefferson Airplane, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and other voices of Soul and “the counterculture,” up through Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich, to today, and have thereby sketched the following manifesto.
Chapter I: Posers and Progressives
The word “Progressive” has a long history in American politics, going back over a hundred years, but its meaning has often been vague, or intentionally perverted, much like other such terms. In the United States today, there are no less than four different groups using this name for themselves, and one of those differs from the other three rather significantly, not merely in terms of having an actual legacy from the original Progressives, but also in terms of its approach to challenges and its focus on economic concerns and not social concerns alone. What is this one, which I have called “Modern Progressivism,” which takes as what many view as the main part of its name a term both beloved and despised? It frightens some, this word “Progressive,” while others seek to wrap themselves in it without understanding its import. It is these latter which have actuated me to distinguish Modern Progressivism by the addition of the qualification “Modern,” for not only is Modern Progressivism, the actual successor of Historical Progressivism (and indeed first came into its own led by one of those Historical Progressives, whose image is seen above), Modern in the sense of being in the present, but it is also Modern in the sense of Modernistic.
Chapter II: Civic Responsibility
Objectivists and Neo-Objectivists talk often about a struggle between individualism and collectivism. I say that this is a bifurcation fallacy. Collectivism is often used as a synonym for communism (as a general thing, not necessarily Marxist Communism, although that would fall under the header). Objectivists and Neo-Objectivists also generally lump tribalism into the category of collectivism, but this is a rather serious misunderstanding of what tribalism is (unfortunately, few seem to have any real grasp on the meaning of tribalism, and sociologists haven’t helped with their semantic revisionism turning the word into a pejorative describing something more akin to sectarianism than tribalism). It also betrays the fallacy involved, for tribalism is not collectivist, not communist. Tribalism is, rather, cooperative. It involves a Cooperative economy, in which the tribe benefits the individual and the individual benefits the tribe. A tribe is a community, not a commune. The people of a tribe work together, they cooperate, for the good of the tribe and the individuals who make up the tribe. One might even say that it is a midway point between collectivism and individualism, although I wouldn’t say that. It is not, to me, a blending of collectivist and individualist attitudes, but rather, something different from both.
Almost any question has at least three answers, and the third is not simply a moderate position between the other two. That would still be an acceptance of the dichotomy, the dualism, involved in the bifurcation fallacy. It would be merely an in-between position, taking some from one side and some from the other side. Such is not a unique position or perspective, but simply a blending. Some would even say that it is fence-sitting, although such a claim would be simply an attempt to reinforce the polarization and the bifurcation fallacy which are products of dualism.
Cooperativism is not a collective; it is individuals working together for the common good, and that means the good of the individuals as well. This is something which has largely been forgotten in our society, the ideal of civic republicanism, the Commonwealth. The ideal is enshrined in the Preamble to the American Constitution:
“We the People, in order to… promote the general welfare …”
This is an ideal of Enlightenment Liberalism, as well as of the Historical Progressive movement and Modern Progressivism which arose at the end of World War II (which must be distinguished from the Fauxgressivism of Democratic Party loyalists [which is mere partisanship] and the Regressivism of outrage mongers [which is a loss of the plot, focusing on the superficial instead of the substantial, and which would, through presumptuous ignorance of history and the zeal of youth, undo progress which has already been attained], as well as from the Fauxgressivism of opportunists, which is ephemeral and survives solely so long as it supports their self-serving psychology). Classical Liberalism taken to extremes, especially in its economic aspects under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, abandoned this ideal, leaving it to the Historical Progressives who were later succeeded by Modern Progressives as well as to the original Social Liberals, who also became a distinct thought-current at the end of World War II (in the US; it had already become distinct in Europe). But somewhere along the way since then, the Liberals lost sight of that ideal, while the Conservatives began to move away from Social Conservatism in the direction of Right-Wing economics (via the euphemism “Fiscal Conservatism”), eventually falling into the pit of Neoliberalism, the Liberals themselves soon following them into the same Extreme Right pit, and both imagining that Neoconservative foreign policy will save them from the unsustainable economic dystopia to which Neoliberalism invariably leads.
This left only Modern Progressives to bear the standard of civic republicanism, which remains to this day one of the features of Modern Progressivism. Civic republicanism may also be regarded as civic responsibility, a responsibility of the individual to the local area in which he or she resides, a responsibility to the community, and by extension, to the wider society of her or his nation. This is a salient feature of Progressivism since the 1890s. It is not the only salient feature, however, but the others do tend to encourage this kind of civic responsibility on the part of the individual to her or his community.
Chapter III: Enduring Ideals, or Salient Features, of Progressivism
What, then, are the salient features of Progressivism, or more precisely, what does a Modern Progressive stand for?
To answer this question, we must look at what Progressives have advocated from the beginning of the Progressive movement in the 1890s and follow that up to today. Looking at the Progressive Party platforms from 1912, 1924, and 1948, as well as things which have been advocated by personalities such as Franklin D. Roosevelt (in particular in his “Second Bill of Rights”), George McGovern, Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and others, we can deduce certain enduring ideals, which for Modern Progressives can be summarily expressed as follows:
1. Economic Reform (including Spending Reform and Banking Reform). This would entail advocacy for labor and global environmentalism, as well as Fair Trade practices, and the restoration of anti-monopoly laws and policies. Included in this would of course be the implementation of a living wage as well as a Federal Job Guarantee (while a Basic Income as an improved and expanded Welfare, SSI, and Social Security would be provided to those unable to work; a UBI, although deriving from Objectivist/Neo-Objectivist thought, would serve Neoliberal interests, and is not what is here being advocated). Banking reform would include FULL nationalization of the Federal Reserve System (no more private banks owning shares of the Fed, the origin of which, according to Warren Mosler in a Twitter private message on 17 July 2019, “was probably the need for convertible currency back in the gold standard days, which today is inapplicable” — Mr. Mosler further agreed that private banks should no longer hold shares in the Federal Reserve and that it should be fully nationalized, made purely a creature of the federal Congress), in order to, among other things, realize the full potential of our fiat currency. Spending reform would include the use of funds to restore, repair, and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure via, among other things, the elimination of waste and “pork.” In addition, the operational realities of our currency system should be acknowledged: the US federal government is the monopoly issuer of a sovereign, free-floating, non-convertible, fiat currency, and thus cannot run out of money or go broke, nor does it have any need to tax or borrow to fund spending; federal spending is not funded by federal taxes or by loans (bonds), nor by both together.
2. Electoral Reform (including Campaign Finance Reform). Among other things, this would involve the restoration of the representation of the people instead of a representation of corporations, as well as a change in the way elections are determined, ending the first-past-the-post model and replacing that with ranked-choice voting, single transferable vote, proportional representation, or perhaps some combination thereof. Progressive positions on the Electoral College vary, with some wanting to dispense with or abolish it entirely, while others see value in the Electoral College as a safeguard against the excesses of factions following after fads and trends (I find myself in the latter camp, agreeing with James Madison and the other Founders that democracy can too easily devolve into mob rule, what de Tocqueville named “the tyranny of the majority,” just as I also agree with them that republic too often devolves into empire, and so a new system was needed, a democratic federal republic).
3. Healthcare Reform, or, more precisely, Reform to Healthcare Insurance. Specifically, Progressives have, since the Progressive Party platform of 1912, called for “a national health service.” By the time of the 1948 Progressive Party platform, this had become an explicit call for “a national system of healthcare insurance,” and today is explicitly a call for Expanded and Improved Medicare for All. Some opponents of this goal imagine that it removes individual liberty, but if individual liberty should be taken to mean only the freedom to allow greedy profit-seeking corporations to take advantage of the individual with costs to that individual which are far greater than those of the national system of healthcare insurance to that same individual, then that is a rather unusual understanding of liberty.
4. Foreign Policy Reform, away from unnecessary wars and imperialistic, for-profit, military interventions, and an end to ridiculous expenditures on the military, which has not been involved in a defensive war since the end of World War II, thus rendering talk of spending on “defense” rather unbelievable. This is not to say that we should end all defense spending, but merely reform how we spend, and how much we spend. The Cold War ended in December of 1991 when the flag of USSR was taken down for the last time. It’s time to stop living in the past and to progress into the future.
5. Reform of Environmental Policy, such that we take environmental concerns seriously instead of simply giving them lip service. Teddy Roosevelt’s efforts at conservation are well known, nor was he the only environmental advocate among Progressives, Historical or Modern.
6. Education Reform, including restoration of the prominence of the Seven Liberal Arts as necessary studies for all free persons to maintain freedom, and elimination of fees for vo-tech schools, trade schools, and undergraduate colleges and universities. Education, instruction, and enlightenment are the most certain means by which fanaticism and intolerance can be rendered powerless, and it should never be forgotten, that in the poorest unregarded child that seems abandoned to ignorance and vice may slumber the virtues of a Socrates or a Hypatia, the intellect of a Stephen Hawking or a Ludwig Wittgenstein, the genius of an Ursula Le Guin or a Gene Roddenberry, the capacity to benefit mankind of a Washington or a Roosevelt; and that in rescuing her or him from the mire in which he or she is plunged, and giving her or him the means of education and development, the people that do it may be the direct and immediate means of conferring upon the world as great a boon as that given it by Charles Babbage and Hedy Lamarr; may perpetuate the liberties of a country and change the destinies of nations, and write a new chapter in the history of the world. Science and technology have brought us many wonders our ancestors could only dream of, but we will fall if we do not continue to advance, not only scientifically and technologically, but also philosophically and artistically, as of our understanding of history. Without an understanding of the past, we cannot hope to make secure our present or our future.
7. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights. The Bill of Rights to the US Constitution recognizes certain rights and liberties of the people. We believe that the Constitution should never be amended in order to remove recognition of personal rights and liberties, but only to expand such personal rights and liberties, and to extend recognition of other Human Rights as belonging equally to all persons, regardless of ethnicity, skin color, chromosomal sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or creed, not by turning the oppressed into the oppressor and vice-versa, but by dismantling or reforming those structures which have facilitated oppression. We stand firmly, therefore, for all of the rights recognized by the Bill of Rights, as well as the responsibilities associated with some of them.
The basic principles behind these tenets have not changed over the decades, although the ways to actualization thereof have evolved with the times. This, then, is a Modern Progressive Manifesto. Our goal is reform, as it has been since the 1890s. This reform must be done peacefully and democratically, and as such, we reject calls for violent revolution and any other use of violence as a political tactic. Literal violent revolution can end only in disaster and defeat, or in substituting one tyrant for another, or a multitude of despots for one.
Chapter IV: Closing Statements
The Seven Salient Features of Modern Progressivism which I have enumerated here may be compared and contrasted with the Seven Knowledge Areas of Real Progressives. At first glance, a difference may be noticed, namely, where I have included Education Reform and Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, neither of these is readily apparent in the Seven Knowledge Areas of Real Progressives, if only the names be considered, and likewise, where they have included Technology & Innovation and Equality with Justice, neither of these is readily apparent in the Seven Salient Features if only the names be considered. Dig a bit deeper, however, and what I have called Education Reform and Civil Liberties & Civil Rights would cover Equality with Justice (indeed, when discussing Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, I become explicit in the matter of Equality, stating that these Rights and Liberties should be extended equally to all, without regard for “ethnicity, skin color, chromosomal sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or creed” — and likewise become explicit in the need for Justice in such Equality by noting that it must be effected “not by turning the oppressed into the oppressor and vice-versa, but by dismantling or reforming those structures which have facilitated oppression”).
That leaves only Technology & Innovation omitted, and yet, this also fits under what I have dubbed Education Reform. Also worthy of note is the fact that Education is one of the Four Pillars of Real Progressives.
Progressives disdain to conceal our views and aims. We openly declare our ends as the reform of existing social and economic conditions. Let the establishment tremble at our political revolution. The People have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a planet to save.
Join us, and together we shall stop the corporate oligarchs who would become our new feudal lords, and instead, we shall restore our democratic federal republic and bring the necessary reforms to truly make America great for all of her citizens, and not for the wealthy alone. Join us in the reformation of our nation. Join us in Progress.
For Further Reference:
Progressive Party Platform, 1912
Progressive Party Platform, 1924
Progressive Party Platform, 1948
Bernie Sanders on the Issues (updated for 2020 campaign)
A previous version of this piece was originally published here, and republished here.
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