‘Progressive’ or ‘Regressive’ Politicians?

December 12, 2019 Updated: December 24, 2019
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Commentary

I remember my high school in Massachusetts, where we could debate political issues.

Massachusetts was always a heavily Democratic state, and I assumed my teachers were mostly Democrats. However, no one could be certain, as they were neutral and encouraged discussion, and therefore Republican-leaning students weren’t afraid to state their opinions.

More and more college courses are focusing on politicized identity politics. Speakers are shut down by rowdy students and violent groups if they disagree with the content, rarely paying even a minimal price.

That’s not the only problem. Grade inflation is rampant. What’s clearly compelling discrimination against Asian people is justified by judges on the grounds of “diversity,” as if Asian people can be viewed as uniform in character, interests, and life experiences simply because they share a common ancestry, and that diversity of appearance is more important than diversity of thought.

Speech codes abound and lives are ruined based on unproven accusations.

In the larger society, we see several related, alarming trends. Basic rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and the right to bear arms are increasingly questioned. Serious talk abounds about prohibiting “hate speech,” which means anything the self-appointed censors don’t like. The Constitution itself is questioned, as if human nature has changed in the last several centuries (or ever). The term “racism” and other similar terms are used promiscuously, in an attempt to shut down debate. Political conflicts, which used to be resolved on their merits, are increasingly decided on the physical identity of the parties to the disagreement.

These views are being implemented. In New York, using the wrong term to describe undocumented migrants can result in fines of up to $250,000 if used in a “derogatory” way, even though it is specifically used in federal law. Speech is being restricted on social media, which is the new “public square.” American society is increasingly viewed by the left with revulsion, even though millions want to come here. Reporters openly abandon journalistic integrity, as if disagreeing with someone should change the standard of truth that should apply to every person and every situation.

We see the dumbing down of many major issues into a simple framework of “intersectionality,” in which a large number of contemporary issues that have many different aspects are explained by racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination. By definition, these charges cannot be disproven.

Anti-Semitism is being mainstreamed at the United Nations, universities, and even the halls of Congress. The state of Israel, having one-tenth of 1 percent of the world’s population, is being demonized for defending itself, while violent totalitarian regimes get a pass. One interesting example of this trend is leftist groups linking complaints against the police treatment of minorities with Israel’s policies.

Although Jews have contributed extensively to the civil rights movement, including investigating allegations of police misconduct, somehow Jews are the bad “white” guys in the Middle East. The premise is false: Half of Jews in Israel are of the same Middle Eastern ancestry as Arabs, because when modern Israel was founded in 1948, these Jews were expelled from the neighboring Arabic countries.

Ideologies

Is this communism? Fascism? Socialism? The problem is that these terms are imperfectly defined and lend themselves to hyperbole. Let’s briefly summarize each system.

Communism was a totalitarian system in which the government planned the economy and tried to directly run industry. It has been largely abandoned as a system, although one Democrat has proposed federalizing large corporations. It emphasized economic resentments over ethnic ones, though ethnic resentments were also exploited extensively. Communism failed because no one was wise enough to make the millions of detailed decisions necessary to run businesses. The degree of control necessary to impose this system was horrendous. Communism also had unrealistic views of human nature and expectations as to the capabilities of technology. Communists used sophisticated propaganda to justify their ideology, but reality eventually caught up with their illusions.

Socialism is government control of business enterprises and, in theory, could be either democratic or tyrannical. However, because the system doesn’t work, governments have had to abandon it or enforce it by restricting freedom. The Scandinavian countries where it is presumed to thrive have moved in the direction of more free-market capitalism. While in theory, the expansion of federal entitlements doesn’t in itself mean we aren’t still capitalists, the fact is, given its enormous debts, the United States cannot absorb a greater government burden without substantively restricting freedom.

Fascism was another totalitarian ideology, but it differed from communism in two respects. First, fascists didn’t try to run businesses, but rather controlled them through favors and intimidation. Often the relationship between business and government was synergistic. Second, fascists emphasized racial and ethnic demagoguery over economic ideologies. Supporters came from those with compatible ideological leanings or those who benefited from government.

Nazism was an extreme form of fascism. It stands for “National Socialism.” It’s a phenomenon of the left, not the conservative right.

In my view, the best way to think about these issues is to use an analogy to automobiles. Cars are easily identified even though they differ in power, size, and appearance. Similarly, oppressive governments can be divided by ideology, degree of control, and whether they directly run businesses or just control them.

While Western leftists refer to themselves as “progressives,” their worldview most closely resembles an evolving fascism, differing only in degree—so far. Their programs include increased government control, the reduction of civil liberties, and the transfer of power from the people, state governments, and Congress to federal bureaucrats, courts, and international institutions. The left draws on private intimidation groups to suppress speech. It uses simplistic analyses, such as intersectionality and pie-in-the-sky economic programs. It advocates greatly increased control of corporations.

Since these individuals see law as a form of politics, they view civil liberties lawyer and lifetime Democrat Alan Dershowitz as “supporting” Trump, even though Dershowitz is only arguing for a rule of law.

Regressives

All we now need is an appropriate new name. The term fascism has been dreadfully overused, and therefore isn’t suitable. So the term to use, in my judgment, is “regressivism,” the opposite of the term “progressivism”; the adherents are “regressives.” All of the items discussed earlier are included in their programs, and are therefore retrograde, not progressive. This is especially true of intersectionality, which is just a variation of ethnic resentment.

That may seem surprising, but I maintain these ideas are old, not new.

While modern technology, particularly electronic devices, may seem to change the debate, it doesn’t. Technology doesn’t guarantee wisdom. Some of the cruelest societies, such as those in late ancient Rome and Nazi Germany, have been technologically advanced. One third of the people who ran death camps in World War II had medical degrees or doctorates.

We live in what is called the “information age,” although much of this information is incoherent or false. People forget that, while they like their cellphones—and their electronic devices make life easier in many respects—the “technology of tyranny” that these devices enable creates a compelling danger.

The ability of government and businesses to monitor citizens, investigate their behavior with complex analytics, and suppress speech on social media, which is the modern “public square,” is alarming. Many companies are working with nations hostile to the United States, while refusing to work with our government. Businesses are assisting in speech suppression when it suits their purposes. This isn’t only happening on the internet, but in the financial sector where we are starting to see the cancellation of credit cards and accounts of those with inconvenient views or products.

The last question is, why now? What has happened? My answer is that as societies become wealthier, more and more individuals are isolated from the consequences of their decisions. I speak particularly of those in government and academic institutions, in which there is little consequence for failure.

This trend has been developing over a long period of time. For example, both the extensive use of exaggerated terms like “fascist” and “Nazi” to stop dissent and the suppression of speech on college campuses are practices that have been around for decades. The election of a president who is serious about implementing change has undoubtedly accelerated this trend, but didn’t start it.

A characteristic of modern society is that the easy problems get solved. Therefore, political demagoguery will create many more new problems without solving the old ones. People tend to take the line of least resistance, and therefore prefer to avoid confrontation and complex analytical thinking. Accordingly, society will suffer greatly from regressivism.

And because of the technology of tyranny I noted above, we should all be very alarmed.

Arthur Wiegenfeld is an independent investor in New York. He has training in economics, finance, physics, and computer simulation. 

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