Presidential Elections and other Stories in the Meat Market
We will get nostalgic for another progressive era one of these
days. A large one, like the infamous 60's, is many decades
away and will sneak up with hardly a clue. Some kind of unpredictable convergence
has to happen to make the times ripe for change.
In our time all the progressives can do is strip themselves
bare of assumptions they carry from the infamous time and
rediscover the society they want to change. I've also recommended
beggar bowls and ash on the forehead to silently slip through
the towns and cities of the fair land. But, it's just as well
that the progressive types lick their wounds and start all over
Progressives depend on good ideas that are developed over decades. The infamous
60's had a two-pronged aspect to it. It destroyed the liberal, enlightenment foundation
that had been the hallmark of other progressive movements. This foundation went back into
European humanism, American transcendentalism, as well as American idealism. It championed the
"little guy," the "underdog," and used a fundamental tactic of change; the "social arts."
In other words, volunteerism, creative use of the tax code, welfare, training, and so forth. This was
not a radical idea so much as one that connected the bottom with the top and moved the bottom
toward the middle with incremental policies.
This brand of liberalism was smashed to bits by the radical 60's that wanted a romantic
transformation of society, "all at once," through the tactic of politicizing every aspect of
life. One would be forced to choose the road of progress or the road of reaction. This tactic doesn't work well in the U.S. because it is a fluid, dynamic culture where people's loyalties
flip-flop and the self is rushed along in a wild growth that knows no bounds. In fact, the alert Americans begin to understand that they have a perfect right to throw off the Manichean beliefs of either the left or the right. And at that moment progressive movements are doomed unless they prove to be as fluid and dynamic as the culture itself.
They rarely are because they need a persistent world view and a unaltered picture of the "enemy," or the structure of power and this is incompatible with a democratic society.
Time moves on. The young become middle-aged. The media empties whatever propaganda it can on behalf of the generations belief, but it's thread-bare and the new-young rejoice when they throw it off.
In truth, though, the progressive era is usually the type of adrenaline that a nation-state the size
of the U.S., can afford once or twice in a century. The rest of the time it returns to the steady-state and then decays until another era of adrenaline is necessary.
A good mind; honest and truth-seeking would try and assess the nature of the culture without a single desire to change it.
No true ideas have arisen in the American scene to deal with the complexity of problems.
Ideas, that is, that would rally intelligent support and ignite their own brand of imagination. Such would be the necessary foundation for a new progressive era. And they will
have to come from America itself and not Europe. That is the task of the American thinking class, still mired in one shining moment that came and went thirty years ago.
Posted November 3, 2003