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  • Jousting with a Phantom

    Posted by David Foster on July 19th, 2012 (All posts by )

    Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.

    To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’t really believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.

    Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

    Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

    The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

    There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.

    The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton was paid in speaking fees last year, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.

    To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.

    Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.

    The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.

    Related: Paying higher taxes can be very profitable.

     

    12 Responses to “Jousting with a Phantom”

    1. amspirnational Says:

      There is a big difference between progressivism and populism;
      we can restrict that to “left populism” if you wish. I have noticed
      a certain avoidance of the term, if not disdain, from left progressives
      at times for left populists.
      I would prefer to believe these are the type of progressives to which you
      refer.

    2. David Foster Says:

      Amspirnational….what I’m attempting to do is to call them what they call themselves. Certainly, terms such as “progressive” and “liberal” have morphed in their meanings over time.

    3. Ginny Says:

      David,
      I like this; it also points to the difference between the parties in how they expect to be treated by the law.

      What strikes me is how unprogressive progressives are in another way that reinforces your point – they don’t embrace challenge, movement, change.

      The negative reviews of Murray’s Coming Apart often had to do with industries failure to remain static – Fishtown would be okay if the workers were secure in their union jobs in large industries. The materialism of the commenters may be a factor but it also rejects what is; it’s hesitant.

      Stasis – in nature, in climate, in production. For all these people, everything is zero sum. Throw in a golden “natural” past and you get a Gore who keeps looking back to a past where his excellence would have been properly awarded with political power and the climate was static and balmy. They fear the waves of uncertainty the entrepreneurial spirit (and the creative spirit – in business or art) needs to ride. Of course, some get washed ashore, beaten by the rocks they hadn’t known were there – but the ride is movement, exhilerating, producing great energy.

      Old liberalism (the hidden hand, for instance) didn’t value stasis nor do those true inheritors of that tradition. Your argument notes the parallels with the old regiemes – these guys aren’t revolutionaries, they are Luddites & drones.

    4. Norm Says:

      As PJ O’Rourke pointed out in “Eat The Rich”, no matter well a government may level the income playing field, someone has to get the corner office with the nice view.

    5. veryretired Says:

      Collectivism, regardless of the name it picks for itself, occupies an intellectual and moral Potemkin Village as camouflage to disguise its only true objective—political power.

      Shannon Love has posted several times about the envy of the articulate intellectual towards those who surpass that group in money, prestige, and power, cultural or political. I believe it is more than that—the true feeling is one of visceral hatred based on their deep-seated self hatred, projected outwards in a form of self-delusion.

      The 20th century was a global laboratory experiment in the forms and utility of several variations of collectivist ideology. From the so-called right to the equally fictitious left, from Europe to Asia to Africa and South America, over several decades, one society after another fell into the black hole of collectivism, was pulled apart, and then rebuilt to reflect the tenets of the particular flavor of ideology that had come to power.

      The bolsheviks, the fascists, the nazis, the Japanese militarists, the Peronists and their allies, the maoists and their imitators, the many newly liberated colonies around Africa, and elsewhere, who actually believed the monstrous crap they had been taught in all those modern european universities, and went on to form one type of socialist horror or another, see Zimbabwe.

      And, all around the world, people starved and died by the millions, were rounded up in purges, were imprisoned, shot, bludgeoned, and beaten to death, with or without some form of kangaroo court, often for no other offense than belonging to the wrong class, tribe, religion, or some rival political group.

      The current crop, here and in the rest of the worldwide chattering elite class of tranzis and functionaries, of course, disclaim any connection with that sad history. Indeed, they are mightily offended if any uncomfortable comparisons are made between their ideas and policy proposals and those of their intellectual progenitors, as if there could not possibly be any true connection.

      The original posting seems almost surprised that modern collectivists don’t actually believe and practice what they claim to stand for. Assuming for the sake of argument that the surprise is real, there’s no basis for such a reaction.

      The claimed principles have never been anything more than window dressing to draw in the suckers.

      There is an old test standard that says one should judge a process by its product. This, of course, assumes the operation of cause and effect, a relationship the collectivist vehemently rejects, for obvious reasons.

      The results of the last century’s experimentation are clear and overwhelming to anyone who dares to look at them clinically, instead of filtering them through a rose colored ideological prism.

      Collectivism is an utter disaster, not because people aren’t good enough for it, but because it is an inhuman ideology grafted onto a human host.

      Collectivism is an intellectual form of the Andromeda strain, inherently deadly, and constantly mutating from one toxic variation to another, as circumstances require.

      The current regime is merely the latest incarnation of collectivism-lite, the sheep’s clothing which American ideologues must don to hide their true nature and beliefs.

      Make no mistake—it’s all about power, only power, and never anything else than power.

      Rhetoric is meaningless. Actions are all that matter, and the actions of any collectivists will always betray their true purpose.

      And that purpose is acquiring unrestrained and absolute power.

    6. David Foster Says:

      VR….”The original posting seems almost surprised that modern collectivists don’t actually believe and practice what they claim to stand for.”

      I think some of them *do* believe it, in the sense that someone finds it very convenient to believe his neighbor is a witch when it will give him an excuse to confiscate her property for his own use. Believing that witchcraft is real, and that this particular individual is one of the witches, allows him to feel self-congratulatory rather than guilty at his act of theft.

      Mainly, though, my point is that the Republicans need to **call them on it** and not allw the assumption that “progressives” are simply naive idealists.

    7. Furytrader Says:

      Great post, and I appreciate the feedback from VeryRetired as well as the others. Thanks for saying this.

    8. Robert Schwartz Says:

      I think after BO’s Roanoke rant, we can just call them socialists. And they can stop denying it.

    9. veryretired Says:

      David, I was not criticizing your excellent post, only making a point that expecting collectivists to live up to their claims of a higher morality is unrealistic.

      As to your point about republicans, well, I find it hard to imagine the current entrenched party cadres ever actually doing any of the serious things that need to be done to resolve the mess we are in, and avoid, or at least mitigate, the very real economic collapse that is looming on the horizon.

      There are some factors that could lead to a more optimistic assessment, especially if the blatant collectivists of the current regime were turned out in November. The energy potential of the recently discovered fields of oil and gas could make an enormous difference in our future economic resurgence, if the watermelon crowd is simply not allowed to construct an endless series of obstacles to their development.

      My personal belief is that it will take a long, difficult campaign by the various groups now subsumed under the tea party banner to reform the parties, and institute a set of policies to reduce the size, scope, and cost of the government at all levels. The current endlessly expanding leviathan state is clearly unsustainable, and several of the major programs which make it so all-enveloping will have to be massively reformed.

      As Lincoln said regarding slavery, it may take one day’s effort, and a matching quantity of sweat, to dismantle the monstrosity the last century’s misguided policies built up, for every day and drop of aweat that was expended to construct it.

      Perhaps our grandchildren will be able to finish the job. Major historical movements need time as well as devotion and energy. Nothing good will happen in some sudden, explosive manner, and the same careful, painstaking work that is needed to perform any important project is needed even more in this instance.

      The future will belong to those who are committed to and work consistently toward realistic goals.

      The realistic part pretty much eliminates the collectivists and their dupes.

    10. David Foster Says:

      Roger Simon has a piece this morning in which he points out the degree to which “progressivism” (although he uses the term “liberalism”) is a fashion statement, an assertion of one’s own coolness. He notes that Anna Wintour’s magazine, Vogue, published a glowing article about Syrian dictator Assad’s wife (“Asma al-Assad, A Rose in the Desert”), and that Wintour is a leading advocate for the Obama campaign.

      “The determined embrace of Barack Obama — thought not nearly as odious as Assad, of course — comes from the same form of blindness, a kind of sexualization à la Vogue magazine of our political leaders. Coolness is all. Substance is nothing. Who cares what Obama really thinks? He’s in vogue (small and capital v). Who cares about the content of the healthcare legislation? Nobody knows what’s in it anyway, but it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s also in vogue.”

      http://pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon/2012/07/20/liberalism-as-fashion-statement/?singlepage=true

    11. David Foster Says:

      A related piece from the always-interesting Virginia Postrel:

      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-19/how-the-elites-built-america-s-economic-wall.html

      ..focused on how land-use restrictions, usually enacted under an “environmental” banner, have made certain cities prohibitively expensive for those of modest or lower incomes.

    12. dearieme Says:

      If you must have elite educational institutions, surely business school and law school are the worst sort?