The View From 1776

What Motivates Liberal-Progressivism?

The Case Against Liberal Compassion

The writer probes the sentiments driving individual liberal-progessives’ knee-jerk reactions. 

In politics, however, sentiments are less admirable (if we can consider blind adherence to liberal-progressivism admirable at all).  Politicians supporting the welfare state, on both sides of the political aisle, are merely purchasing votes or rewarding financial supporters.  Politicians who support the welfare state for any other reason are either incompetent or engaging in self-delusion.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/29 at 07:21 PM
  1. Mr Voegeli points to "self-delusion" as the underlying reason so many people embrace excessive compassion. Of course many use it as a ploy to get votes, but the original source of utopian dreams has always come from the most intellectual minds. And from there it has filtered down to many empathetic souls.

    In Scott Adams' book, "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big," he writes: "If your view of the world is that people use reason for their important decisions, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of frustration and confusion. . Few things are as destructive and limiting as a worldview that assumes people are mostly rational." Then he goes on: "You're wasting your time if you try to make someone see reason when reason is not influencing the decision." Adams does allow that there are limits to irrational decisions: "Your reasoning may prevent you from voting for a total imbecile, but it won't stop you from supporting a half-wit with a great haircut."

    Scott Adams then goes on to explain the real crux of the problem in America today: "Politicians understand that reason will never have much of a role in voting decisions. A lie that makes a voter feel good is more effective than a hundred rational arguments. That's even true when the voter knows the lie is a lie." So there you have it! Many people want to believe the promises and dreams and hopes of the demagogue. That is why utopianism, communism, and socialism have had their advocates for thousands of years, in spite of overwhelming evidence throughout history that they do not work.

    Adam's cogent outline about humans made me think of the "beautiful lies" begged for by a love starved woman. The force of a "beautiful idea" was also explained by David Horowirz in "The Unholy Alliance." He writes about Gerda Lerna, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin. Lerner began her career in Central Europe as a communist but emigrated to America in the late 1930's after Khruschev exposed the Stalin massacres. But she didn't move far from the radical Left, taking on the cause of the anti-anti-communist movement. She went on to condemn the democracies of the West, opposing the Cold War against the Soviet Union, and then took on the cause of radical feminism. Her career persisted through three generations, easily transitioning to each new progressive cause.

    Although Lerner later admitted being duped, she never gave up her fanatical dreams: In Fireweed she writes "Like all true believers, I believed as I did because I needed to believe: in a utioian vision of the future, in the possibilities of human perfectability. . .And I still need that belief, even if the particular vision I embraced has turned to ashes. (CG p281)

    Such is the irrationality and fanaticism of the radical Left, a vision attractive to many whose charitable hearts are bigger than their rational heads. But, if the promises of hope and change are seductive, people will vote for them--even if they know they are lies--because it makes them feel good!

    Only a lazy mind will tolerate ideas that are supported merely by noble intentions and allegedly beneficial results. But when most of the faculty in a nation's schools endorse those dreamlike visions, and fail to teach real history, a public, which may be fairly irrational to begin with, will become increasingly more irrational and chase utopian goals that will eventually, but inevitably, destroy their country.

    There was a blog a few years ago that commented on Tyler Cowens' book, titled something like "Are Voters Rational?" The premise of the book was that the average voter is irrational, uninformed, and unpredictable. I found this idea repugnant and hopefully, incorrect. After all, I had recently published a history book tracing the incredible progress of Western Civilization to the efforts of common people, and even argued that the so-called best and brightest did little but copy or undermine what the common people had already done.

    Nevertheless, Cowen's argument is hard to deny--voters consistently fall for demagogues who promise them the world and never deliver. So how can the average person be considered wise with such a poor record of electing undesirable characters and re-electing them for decades in spite of all the harm they may have done. The solution to this anomaly is that the average person is very wise about his or her own self-interest but very unwise in voting. We discussed above Scot Adams dictum, that people will vote for an idea that makes them feel good, even if they know the promoter is a charlatan and the program will be wasteful, counterproductive, and costly enough to bankrupt the nation.

    However, when it comes to their own life choices, most people are much more pragmatic. And those pragmatic actions built America, but as more and more voters accept academia's compassionate line
    there will be more and more Gilda Lerners!
    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  10/30  at  12:00 PM
  2. Bill, a couple of thoughts to add to your comment:

    With regard to the Gerda Lerners of the world, Eric Voegelin noted that they believe it possible to perfect society and human nature here on earth, rather than looking to perfection in the beyond, as in the Judeo-Christian understanding. Obviously their efforts to force human society to conform to their beliefs do not change reality, but those efforts do great harm in the real world.

    Voegelin identified this condition as a gnostic religion, which includes liberal-progressivism, communism, socialism, Fascism, and Hitler’s National Socialism. Among the beliefs of modern gnosticism are:

    • The world was and ought again to be perfect.

    • Gnostics have been uniquely favored by knowledge of the underlying trends of history (see Hegel morphing into Marx’s “scientific” materialism), a knowledge held only by the elite who will lead the world to perfection.

    • The world is not yet perfect, because individualism and capitalism have prevented it.

    • It is thus the aim and duty of the Gerda Lerners to destroy capitalism, along with Judeo-Christian personal responsibility and adherence to a higher moral code, all of which the Gerda Lerners see as evil arising from primitive ignorance.

    I know that you are not fond of Plato and Aristotle, but if one reads their works as a diagnosis of what destroyed Athenian society and their speculations about what sort of societal changes would be necessary to restore good order in a Greek polis, much of what they had to say will still apply today.

    Plato, and Aristotle as well, believed that the political order of a polis was the individual citizen’s moral character, writ large. If society becomes overrun with morally corrupt individuals who are driven primarily by self-centered lust for power and wealth, even the best constitution will not survive.

    How was this to be combatted? Ideally via proper education, guided by good laws and customs. But as you note, that hardly describes our educational regime today. “But when most of the faculty in a nation's schools endorse those dreamlike visions, and fail to teach real history, a public, which may be fairly irrational to begin with, will become increasingly more irrational and chase utopian goals that will eventually, but inevitably, destroy their country.”
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/30  at  03:03 PM
  3. Thomas, your comment brings to mind my understanding that there are two general ways people have sought to perfect human existence--
    One, which the common mechanics and engineers in Western history followed has been to perfect the physical world with labor saving devices, better shelter, and improved transportation; and to soften the biological environment with modern nutrition, agriculture, and medical advancements.

    These advances have made life much more pleasant for us all. Part of these advances, indeed the one that made the preceding possible, was to organize free societies in a way that guaranteed the happiness and liberty of the citizens, a condition developed almost exclusively in the Western democracies.

    The second way people have tried to perfect human existence is by prescribing how people should live. Because this always requires an elite at the top doing the prescribing, individual liberty suffers, and the abstract theories of the elite predominate to eventually suppress the freedom of the people at large. However, the ability to prescribe for others attracts a lot of utopian thinkers who are, as the original post above suggests, motivated by the need to feel good about their intentions. Unfortunately these dreamers do not care whether their ideas work effectively because just thinking them and imposing them makes them feel good about themselves, and confirms their superiority in their own minds!

    On the other hand, the engineers and common workers think concretely, measuring results, and are quick to abandon failed ideas. That is why historical advances have come from the bottom, and destructive ideas have come from the brightest at the top.
    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  10/30  at  06:53 PM
  4. Bill,

    Your theory that the best decisions come from the common men rather than from those "in charge" at the top of the heap raises the interesting question of whether you think this theorem applies equally to those "on top" on the political right and left.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/31  at  12:36 PM
  5. Jay- Those at the top, whatever their political persuasion, do not advance mankind or our comfort and well being one iota! But they can create problems that slow down the advances made by those working in the real world of business, farming, science, etc.

    Note by line that: "Part of these advances, indeed the one that made the preceding possible, was to organize free societies in a way that guaranteed the happiness and liberty of the citizens, a condition developed almost exclusively in the Western democracies." That well designed organization of societies started in the Greek city States and developed for over 2,000 years based on respect for the individual human being, an open and free market place, legal protection of person and property, and the various Rights Of citizens from oppression by government.

    All the political leaders are needed for is to maintain that friendly environment for individuals to pursue their personal and business desires. If that environment is maintained the people will do everything else.

    The main difference between today's right and left is that the latter are more interested in meddling with the environment and thus getting in the way of the citizens who would otherwise make everything happen. Since the need for a proper economic level playing field and a firm rule of law has been well stablished for thousands of years that is all we should ask from the leaders elected.

    Unfortunately both Parties manage to constantly screw that arrangement up, but, clearly, the Left has been much more intent on "Remaking America" than the right has been. Note that America became great from 1620-1920--without an intrusive government. There may have been an ongoing need to make fine adjustments, but anyone who wants to "Fundamentally Remake America" is going against all the demonstrated lessons of history.
    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  10/31  at  02:59 PM
  6. Reasons people vote liberal-socialist (from A-Z)
    a) Ignorant of the great socialist deception (i.e., the deliberate conflating of socialism with liberalism, progress and democracy), of socialism’s many failures and abuses, and largely disinterested in connecting the dots
    b) Excessive belief in and reliance on ‘human goodness’ (which is something of a contradiction given how easily these same folk are duped into thinking of ‘the opposition’ as uniformly and undeniably ‘evil’)
    c) Don’t see politics as important enough they should pay it more attention
    d) Voted Republican last time, so feel they must vote Democrat this time ‘to restore balance’
    e) See little to distinguish between parties other than the one offers something the other doesn’t
    f) Think in oppressed-minority terms (i.e., solidarity key to having a strong voice, block-voters)
    g) Don’t think their vote matters as to outcomes (i.e., ‘game is rigged’, low voter turnout)
    h) Vote what they think gives them the bigger ‘safety net’ should they fail in life
    i) Few opportunities to grapple with government at the local level (which would open many an eye to political realities); early-Americans were highly engaged
    j) Think that intentions matter more than results (at least in politics)
    k) Bush killed the economy, so now you vote only Democrat (which made things worse)
    l) Sensitivity to group-think (don’t want to be the lone contrarian among peers; PC ostracizing)
    m) Lazy and satisfied having others decide for them (at least until things go contrary to expectations)
    n) Automatically assume bigger is better; and government is, by far, the biggest game around
    o) You are unmoved by the long-term problems government typically creates (and leaves to others to fix), but are greatly perturbed by minor near-term, vaguely defined, obviously-hyped (as dire), nuisance, and ‘social-injustice’ issues you regard only government qualified to solve
    p) Was all set to vote Republican – until stampeded by a false report given out by the MSM alleging fraud one week before Election Day (turns out the fraud was real, but Democrat in origin; for which the MSM issues an unnoticed retraction two days following the election)
    q) Voted once for Nixon, and now refuse to ever make that mistake again
    r) Democrats are sexier, and don’t confuse you with long explanations
    s) You have been conditioned from birth to regard one political party as a bunch of ‘fascists’, dangerous misfits, and intolerant yahoos; and refuse being shown otherwise
    t) Don’t see the close relationship of fascism to socialism, so are easily duped into believing them polar opposites (false); and that the latter is vastly different from and superior to the former
    u) Are a big fan of freedom, but only until something threatens your nanny-state safety net
    v) Favor the ‘status quo ante’, despite the SQA you imagine is largely one-hundred years of utopian hype, and because you think this socialist swill and our founding ideals are somehow equivalent
    w) Think Republicans tend to militarize more than Democrats (untrue, Republicans gird the country against foreign attack, Democrats gird against fellow countrymen)
    x) Are jealous of those better off, so see nothing wrong with a little redistribution
    y) Are so guilt-ridden over being ‘well off’ that you believe you ‘owe something’ to those unwilling to work half as hard as you did getting to where you are today
    z) Honestly believe the DNC represents the traditionally ‘liberal wing’ of American politics because a) it is the party of Jefferson and/or FDR, b) it was good enough for mom/dad, and c) no one has ever challenged you to think otherwise
    While this young HuffPo blogger ( ) is clearly naïve and out-of-touch with polls in his assumptions regarding the youth-vote, he does provide us with some insights into his particular demographic (i.e., young Democrats) and why they vote as they do. The same cannot be said, however, of older democrats and left leaning independent voters; and does not explain the frequent right-to-left voting spasms of older independents.

    Dennis Prager correctly identifies the main reason (see ) decades long smear campaign by leftists that has put voting Republican beyond the pale for low-information voters. More than that, however, that they indiscriminately target anyone standing in the way of their agenda as well, and it is this ‘outside-the-Beltway’ harassment that has been most effective, and was perfected by the Nazis and Cold-War communists against their own citizens and subject peoples to keep them inline. Most Americans believe this demagoguery to be focused on a well-defined if narrow subgroup (aka, ‘conservative extremists’) without realizing ‘conservative’ is merely a term assigned by the left to anyone opposing (however minimally) its agenda or has failed to ‘get with it’; which is to say – everyone not yet or fully radicalized.

    Most of us who are admittedly ‘conservative’ did not realize we were conservatives until some rabidly socialist ideologue came down hard on us for holding traditional (aka, ‘politically-incorrect’) views. For some, that has led to an entrenchment behind vaguely defined clichés associated with the term, but for most it leads to a deeper and broader understanding of what it means to be an ‘American’, of which ideas deserve our support, and toward greater criticality regarding new ideas as they are presented as we will or won’t accept as being useful or dangerous nonsense.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/01  at  07:37 AM
  7. Bob,

    On your item "k", the economy is actually doing quite well, thank you very much (particularly in comparison with the rest of the world) although if you listen to the conservatives, you would think we are headed for hell in a hand-basket.

    1. Gas prices are down - now below $3. When the price of gas went up, the Obama and the democrats were excoriated. When the price goes down, does the party in power get the credit? You would think so, unless you listen to Fox News.

    2. Wages are up.

    3. U.S. inflation is below the Federal Reserve's 2% target for the 29th consecutive month.

    4. 248,000 jobs created last month, up for the 55th consecutive month.

    5. Productivity up 2.3% in the non-farm sector.

    6. U.S. trade deficit has declined.

    7. Unemployment is down to 5.9% the lowest in years.

    8. The federal deficit is steeply declining. The 2014 deficit was the lowest since 2007. It appears we are finally digging out of the hole dug by the Bush administration.

    In contrast, Europe, using the Chicago austerity theories that Thomas loves so much, is headed into a steep recession. Europeans have insisted on tight monetary policies for "moral" reasons, and they are reaping the whirlwind. Thank goodness, the Fed's embrace of Keynesian theories led to cycles of a "quantitative easing" monetary policy that have saved our bacon. Even today, Japan announced similar measures in an attempt to emulate our economic fortunes under Obama.

    "It's the economy, stupid!" was the battle cry in previous elections, but, unfortunately, in this election the good economic news has been overshadowed by a cascade of world events.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/01  at  06:41 PM
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