To analyze Progressivism and its effects on today’s world we must first; as always, look at its beginnings, its first principles. Any endeavor to clear the intellectual field of virtual and theoretical debris is a complicated process, for clarity more often than not is lost to emotional meanderings, mismatched definitions, philosophical dissociation and of course the more self-involved agendas that look only to obfuscate any path that does not hold them at its center.
To put it succinctly Progressivism is a philosophical subset of Relativism, that process of thought whereby any point of view has no absolute truth, that all values are subjective according to ones perception. From this view any social morphism i.e. ethical or moral constraint becomes malleable to any human need or want.
This is a rather simplistic definition or description, but I’ve found that concise, but simple definitions do inherently describe basic principles. Confusion occurs more frequently when we attempt to describe first principles as a function of our agenda driven rationalizations, or we find ourselves incapable of being objective in the process of understanding the nature of the lesser or greater emotional bias we all have.
When we talk of Progressivism we naturally have to look to the roots of what the movement and its associated followers are progressing from. In brief Progressivism is the action of rejecting the philosophical idea that the nature of man has any rights other than those that man himself can render from the world around him.
Dewey the most strident of Progressives defined his arguments against the Bill of Rights, specifically as it concerned the ‘Rights of Freedom’; he promotes the idea that Freedom is not an individual right, but one dependent on the social aspects of a society. He writes:
“Thus these rights are ‘natural’ in some sense, although not in the frequently advocated sense of being a series of fundamental human powers that were inherent in individuals prior to their entry into civil society. While this sense of rights was historically progressive and contributed greatly to the power of the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution’s Bill of Rights, it became a drag on social progress when these specific formulations were decreed inalienable. In Dewey’s view, rights should not be “defined as inherent in an original and native fixed structure, moral or psychological,” nor, relatedly, should their definition feed a political stance that is required on the side of institutions and laws is to eliminate the obstructions they offer to the ‘free’ play of the natural equipment of individuals.”
Dewey alludes to a belief of natural rights up and to the point that civil society supersedes them or limits the nature of social progress, that progress determined by the institution and not the individual. This is in opposition to what Thomas Jefferson laid out in the Declaration of Independence where: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The crucial words here are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Jefferson was expressing his faith as well as the spiritual syllogism that man by definition requires to rein in or limit our natural tendency to succumb to the vagaries and vicissitudes of our wants over our needs. He understood that man by definition has a spiritual need to believe in something greater than himself.
Whatever you may term spiritual to mean it does become the nature of a guide to the path we walk in life. The founding fathers understood this, as well as the need to incorporate such limits within the fabric of the Constitutional philosophy that defines the core of our Republic.
The Declaration of Independence was a brilliant expression of John Locke’s work where:
“we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.”
The expositional history of ‘Natural Logic’; that logic, that defines the rights of man, closely parallels the cooperative evolutionary biology of all human beings in general, where the specific challenges to man from his environment; while Darwinian on the individual, collectively forced him to work together with others of his kind to survive, the strength of the one that survived, became the strength of the many of the ‘Republic’ we now hope to save.
The Darwinism of physical adaptation to our environment can also said to be rooted in our sociological adaptation to those political systems we have experimented with over the years, each one a battle for finding a balance between not enough freedom for the individuals within the collective, and too much to the point of anarchy.
The key to this social evolution of political philosophy and the rendered creation of our Constitution was the recognition of Freedom being an inalienable right, but with a rule of law balanced and powered by a collective agreement between individuals of the Republic. Our Republic’s Constitutional Formulary defines these rights and laws into a balance that when removed undercut’s the very nature of the American Exceptionalism that has always defined us as a people.
When Dewey; like so many others of the day, expounded on their political theories they did so with the innocence of the times, scientific thought was developing rapidly in its applications to the world, so it’s understandable that the nature of their Newtonian thoughts, would give them the idea that explanations of how the world worked would extend itself into workable theories of the mind.
Darwin for many was the link that catalyzed a new age of thought, whereby science would become the harbinger of understanding where we came from, and from that an understanding of how great our future could be. What has come to be misunderstood today and even then was that the theory of evolution; what many term Darwinism today, was a theory of man which it never really was.
It was a theory of biological adaptation that many could and did extrapolate to mean more then the evidence could actually prove; but proof of its application to man is unimportant, for at its core it was the first modern theory that approached the logic of both science and human development as a process by which the whole of our existence could one day be much greater than the sum of the parts from which we sprang.
The nature of Darwin’s theory can be compared to that of the development of our constitutional document. Both were not about the bits and pieces of biological or social theory as the case may be, but a step into a theory of processes, a theory of cause and effect, both inherently an extension of our collaborative effort to extend the essence of who we are.
For Progressives it was a misunderstanding into the nature of man, where the concept ‘survival of the fittest’ was taken to have more of an individual application to man, where the thought of ruthless disregard for their fellow man was seen as a strength, instead of the weakness it inherently is.
Darwin defined the processes of nature as a collaborative effort within species that when taken collectively found balance within the ecosystem. It is my thesis that the collective social development that defines our Constitutional Formulary is of the same developmental process, the Constitution came to be a representative document that found the same inherent balance that all of nature tries to find. That our biological need to collaborate imprints our collective behavior and extends itself into the nature of our society.
Dewey among many made the mistake that the individual ‘Rights of Freedom’ are socially dependent; that is, intellectual achievements i.e., rational theories could not move beyond the biological template from which our innate logic springs. He had no way of knowing that the patterns of life we see all around us, from the individual components of our cells, viral and bacterial vectors to the largest animals are all intrinsically dependent upon one another within the biosphere we inhabit.
Just as our biology is dependent on the Darwinian mechanisms of adaptation and collaborative efforts, so too are the social patterns we develop to stabilize our society. Progressivism is a rejection of the evolutionary crucible that over time created a set of first principles that connected the individual rights of man to the cooperative nature of our biology; natural law, and from this defined a social formula that does not just work as a list of sterile rights, but as a formulary process that when actively used, creates a social fulcrum whereby even one individual can change the mechanism of their minority over that of the collective majority.
This is the United States Constitution; a document that the Founding Fathers believed gave power to the concept that all men were created to be equal with certain self-evident or inalienable rights that as universal, hold true for all humanity regardless of the diversity of their background.
This is the document that Progressives, by the nature of their actions, reject.
It started as such things started, with intellectual elites in the Universities after the Civil War. The rage of German Hegelianism had imprinted itself on much of academia, budding itself into the minds and spirits of the American youth of the day. Something we see happening today templating the nature of its rebirth from the still-born liberalism it created to begin with.
Hegelianism is the philosophical ideal that all of reality can be described through the rational mind, and that ultimately it would provide us with the ability to create our world within the context of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism. In essence the argument does come down to the understanding proposed by Kant, that reality is defined by the manner of our perceptions, the opposing view, the thought that the things of reality around us exist in and unto themselves independent of the human mind.
This may seem overly complex and superfluous, but at its core how we approach any problem with success is defined by our ability to objectify our perceptions, to understand its limits and too cooperatively meld our perceptions into a more coherent picture of reality more accurately then we could possibly do by ourselves.
The argument comes down to the “tale wagging the dog” or the “dog wagging the tale” concept in our endeavors of how we approach a problem. The bastardizaton of Hegelianism and its sedge-way from Relativism to Progressivism and Liberalism that our own native born academics rendered from it, tells a story of an agenda driven logic of the day more than the analysis of reality independent to the subjectivity of the rational mind.
In truth that is the trap of rationalism, the loss of objectivity to egocentrism, the thought that the emotional aspects of humanity are of no consequence when compared to the intellect, the calculating aspects of ourselves. It is the emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of ourselves that give the practical test of the virtual concepts of our mind.
While we use our intellect to calculate, to process an analysis of the data we collect from our world, it is a conscious process of assumptions that are Newtonian based that lose their significance in our calculations. The emotional and spiritual aspects of our nature are the mechanisms by which the syllogistic aspects of our reality are formed in the subconscious, feeding our conscious mind the context to the problems we solve. It is the art of our success in our calculations that builds the wisdom we gain over the years of our life.
For when the confusion of our thoughts becomes the nature of our actions, and our actions fall short of the nature of our hearts, and we’ve lost that center or balance of ourselves that defines the essence of any objective truth, then we have no recourse; but to look at those basic truths that define the nature of the path we have come to walk.
Progressives seek to find these truths in the rational mind, a rational mind that is wholly dependent on our ability to know the truth of our assumptions, and where those assumptions can be tested, argued over, and supported in an open society.
The Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence were the evolutionary end-result of man’s cooperative need to find the power of the individual expressed collectively to the benefit of each. Progressivism removes the power of the individual to the group dynamic, whereby the committee animal eventual rules only for itself.