How Progressives Are Retrogressive

January 6, 2022 Updated: January 6, 2022


How often do we hear political commentators and Republican officials use the terms “liberal” and “progressive” interchangeably when discussing Democrats? Yet the meanings of the two terms could not be more different.

Liberalism as a political philosophy emphasizes individual freedom, agency, and choice. Human nature, in the liberal view, is a mix of qualities: energy and sloth, selfishness and generosity, creativity and habit. Society exists to provide the maximum of freedom to individuals, with the constraints necessary to limit the encroachment of one on another. Inequality in a liberal society reflects the differences in capabilities and motivations among individuals. Liberalism favors free elections of public officials and limited government. For liberals, economics should be based on contractual relations freely entered into by producers and consumers, entrepreneurs, and labor.

Progressivism emphasizes equality and rights. Human nature, in the progressive view, is basically good, with vices resulting from imperfect and oppressive social arrangements. Society is perfectible, and the perfect society is one which guarantees equality and equal rights. The economy should be owned and run collectively, by the society at large. The government must be strong, able to control all aspects of society. Political parties unjustly divide the society, and are unnecessary when the government represents all of the people.

The liberal vision supports liberal democracy and capitalism, while the progressive vision supports socialism and government economic planning. It’s no accident that some members of the progressive caucus in the House of Representatives are members of the Democratic Socialists of America. The caucus favors collectivism, as seen in government control of all major institutions and programs, such as welfare support, pre-schools, education, medicine, and the organization of labor. Progressives prefer government monopolies in all of these fields, which is why they oppose school choice, labor choice, and medical choice (except abortion, which they love).

Progressives see liberal democracies as systems of unjust inequalities resulting from inherited privilege and oppression of the weak. Liberals see progressives as crushing individual liberty by vesting all functions in an all-powerful government, and thus favoring authoritarian rule.

Progressivism rests on the idea of progress advanced by Karl Marx: a movement driven by class conflict from capitalism to socialism and then to communism. In classic Marxism, classes are defined by economic position, by control over the means of production. The bourgeois class are the owners of the means of production, and the propertyless proletariat are the workers who must live on the pay provided by selling their labor.

In the classic socialist society, equality is advanced for most people, although the governing elite are all powerful and rank high above the multitude. While equality increases, and in the eyes of progressives, justice is advanced, it’s an equality of poverty and misery, because the all-powerful government’s central economic planning fails to build the economy and stimulate innovation, motivation, and entrepreneurship. And, notwithstanding the century-long claim that “real socialism has never been tried,” all of the socialist societies—the USSR, Soviet Eastern Europe, China, Albania, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela—were or are oppressive authoritarian regimes and economic failures of stagnation and poverty.

Progressives in North America, with the exception of old-line socialists such as Bernie Sanders, have innovated in ideology, jettisoning the economic class struggle and replacing it with identity classes: gender, race, sexuality, religion, nationality, ableness. Now it’s (allegedly) whites (including “white adjacent” Asians and “hyperwhite” Jews), males, and Christians who are oppressors, and people of color, women, LGBTQ++, Muslims, and the disabled who are the oppressed victims.

The progressives’ identity class conflict has not only not led to “progress” in any discernible form, but also has led to social regression, resuscitating ugly forms of prejudice and discrimination while undermining public order and national sovereignty.

With the “social justice” trinity of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” progressives have returned us to the days of deep Jim Crow, with some races seen as virtuous and others as evil, the only difference being that the colors have changed. Progressive “inclusion” means including preferred races and genders, and excluding the others, as we see in hiring, college admissions, funding, promotions, and awards. The latest example is New York State ranking people for COVID-19 medical treatment according to their race.

Equity, meaning the statistical equivalence of races and genders, in practice means more of the preferred and fewer of the despised. Objective measures, such as standardized tests, and advanced education programs, are cancelled, because they don’t produce the desired “equity” results. Now institutionalized racism and discrimination are regarded as desirable by progressives, as long as preferred categories benefit.

Because certain racial minorities are heavily overrepresented among criminals (and victims), progressives have advocated “justice reform” to alleviate the price that minority criminals pay. Progressives thus have advocated defunding and disbanding the police, handcuffing police operations, releasing prisoners from incarceration, a halt to holding the dangerous accused prior to trial by means of no-bail release, and district attorneys who refuse to prosecute criminals, because they view criminals as “victims of society” rather than as victims of their own bad choices.

The result, a surprise to progressives but to no one else, is a major breakdown in public order, with violent and nonviolent crime surging, particularly in Democrat-led cities, but also more broadly. For progressives, public safety is systemic racism, so they’re happy to do without it. Even though the vast number of victims of violence are racial minorities, the progressives continue to obsess over the tiny number of police killings rather than the victims of crime. Progressives prefer criminals to victims of crime. They even encourage people to engage in illegal acts, as when they encouraged rioters in 2020 to loot, burn, and assault police, and then bailed them out until progressive district attorneys refused to prosecute them.

Progressives particularly favor illegal aliens who have, uninvited and against our laws, entered the country. For progressives, illegal aliens are preferred to citizens, because many are people of color, because the country is “systemically racist,” and the racial balance needs to be changed in favor of people of color, and because progressives think that they can capture illegal aliens as future voters by plying them with privileges paid for by tax-paying citizens. Progressives have coddled illegal aliens with sanctuary states, cities, and universities, thus protecting the criminals among the illegal aliens, a two-for-one benefit for progressives.

Progressives are not fond of fair elections, which they always have a chance of losing, so they favor “electoral reform,” which means a federal takeover of elections, contrary to the Constitution, and wish to remove all safeguards against illegal voting. They particularly hate the voter ID requirement, which they label “voter suppression,” although IDs are heavily supported by the public and in use in most democracies around the world. When progressives say “voter suppression,” they mean the suppression of illegal votes, such as those cast by illegal immigrants, or multiple votes by individuals, or votes inscribed by third parties. The manipulation and undermining of voting is another manifestation of progressives’ authoritarian tendencies. Progressives don’t really like democracy; they prefer the dictatorship of the proletariat, or, in today’s identity politics transformation, dictatorship of the “marginalized and underserved” minorities.

To sum up: Liberals favor individual freedom, limited government, public safety, and national sovereignty. Progressives favor some races and genders over others, criminals over victims, illegal aliens over citizens, and authoritarian rule over democracy. Progressives are about illiberal as they could be. Don’t call them “liberals.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Philip Carl Salzman is professor emeritus of anthropology at McGill University, senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, fellow at the Middle East Forum, and president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.