Progressive, Liberal, or Fascist - The Left According to the Right

Courtesy of Jonathan Chait, Michael Lind's look at the academics behind Glenn Beck's condemnation of contemporary progressivism is a fascinating read. The part Chait highlights:

The problem arises when these scholars, and their popularizers like Beck and Goldberg, treat all American liberalism and leftism from World War I until the 21st century as the continuation of early 20th century progressivism, the better to denounce today's liberalism as "historicist" and "relativist" and lump it with the Confederate and Nazi ideology. This ignores the profound differences between the Progressive movement and subsequent movements on the American center-left.

New Deal liberalism broke with progressivism in many if not most respects. Progressives wanted technocratic economic planning. By the 1940s, New Dealers dropped planning for Keynesianism. Most progressives were nativists who supported immigration restriction on ethnic or cultural grounds. New Deal liberals celebrated the melting pot and liberalized American immigration laws in the 1960s.

Wilson resegegrated Washington. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security and Johnson created Medicare. Wilson opposed national health insurance.

It is even harder to find any traces of Wilsonian progressive DNA in the New Left of the 1960s and '70s or the neoliberalism of the 1970s and '80s. Wilsonian progressives idolized the impartial expert administrator. The New Left denounced bureaucracy and academic hierarchy. Wilsonian progressives wanted a state-directed economy. Neoliberals like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers celebrated deregulation and free markets.

For Straussian scholars and popularizers like Beck and Goldberg to denounce modern progressives because long-forgotten WASP political scientists in the early 1900s favored eugenics or economic planning is absurd. It is as though today's liberals denounced today's conservatives on the grounds that in the late 19th century the McKinley Republicans favored excessively high tariffs.

What I wonder, though, is if the modern center-left didn't give the right permission to lump it in with turn of the century Progressives when it ran away from the word "liberal." Choosing to adopt progressive when the right made "liberal" synonymous with "weak" was an understandable move, albeit one that seems to have created a slightly inaccurate label for the movement. Certainly, the modern left/center-left coalition has elements perhaps more appropriately termed as progressive, but, for the most part, the Roosevelt at the heart of the movement is Franklin, not Teddy. Liberalism triumphed over Fascism and Communism, helped forge the modern world, and is the philosophy at the center of virtually all relevant policymaking in America today. Reinvesting the center-left in the word liberal is a tall task, but liberal is ultimately a more meaningful, relevant word than any other to describe our world view.