Progressivism’s turn toward violence and mob justice in recent weeks has been remarkable and sudden. However, it can be understood in the context of a progressive utopia.
The extraordinary outbreak of disruptions of the U.S. Senate, the vandalizing of Republican offices across the country, and the harassment of government officials and elected representatives—as well as their families—in restaurants and other public places represent a breakdown of the most basic standards of decency and civility in public life.
Every big political party has its extremist fringe. Most striking in this case, however, is the condoning, minimizing, and even endorsement of such tactics by Democratic Party leaders.
Passions have been stoked by a number of Democrats, among them Rep. Maxine Waters of California, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and others, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who announced that civility would return when the Democrats regained power.
There are several explanations for this. Here, I want to explore the anti-Democratic core of the assumptions behind it. Such thinking dangerously combines a utopian vision of a future ideal society, a deterministic view of the forces that will produce it, and a strong will to speed up the inevitable, to enforce the transformation.
Utopian schemes, whether literary creations or practical attempts to form model communities, have one thing in common. As Hal Draper put it, “Utopianism was elitist and anti-democratic to the core because it was utopian—that is, it looked to the prescription of a prefabricated model, the dreaming-up of a plan to be willed into existence.” Such schemes depended on the will of those who planned or created them, and little, if at all, on the wishes of those who peopled them.
Most of the schemes came to little in practice and didn’t last long. However, they functioned as a critique of existing society. They invited comparison of their ideal intentional community to the ills and evils of actually existing society.
When a view of history as preordained is added in, we have a potent mix. One form of this kind of determinism is the view that progress toward the ideal is inevitable, an onward and upward movement “toward the hope of a better day,” as President Barack Obama put it. Talk of success is inevitable because “we are on the right side of history” and our opponents on the wrong side became a constant theme of Obama’s rhetoric and that of his team.
In this view, history has agency and progresses in a single direction, as if it had a set course independent of people’s striving and struggles. It’s what historian Herbert Butterfield diagnosed in 1931 as “The Whig Interpretation of History”—just a decade before World War II with its slaughter of millions, the Holocaust, nuclear weapons, and other horrors that seemed to dash such illusions once and for all.
A Potent Mix
Now, when you add a utopian vision (an ideal society, one that has never existed in the real world) to a belief in a predetermined course of history (with you on the right side of it) and both of those to a political movement to support history along its preordained course, you have a potent mix indeed.
You might think that if the world were heading on a predetermined course, you would have no need of human will. However, when progressives root the inevitability of victory in actual historical forces, the enlightened elite or the working class or the “woke,” the next step is to see themselves, their party, and their leader as the embodiment of those forces.
They stand on the right side of history, while those who stand in the way of its arc, which bends in the preordained direction, are enemies of progress, whatever their intentions.
All these features are seen in extreme form in the totalitarianism of the last century, in Communism and Nazism (with its thousand-year Reich). The revolutionary party becomes the ruling elite and imposes its will in every nook and cranny of civil society, subjugating family, schools, and churches to the all-powerful state it controls.
Violence is key to such movements.
Democratic institutions, through which the “enemies of progress” may seek to slow or halt the inevitable, must be undermined. We see these tendencies already, though still in mild form, in the United States, not least, paradoxically, among those “progressives” who accuse the elected government of “fascism.”
For example, those progressive guardians of the Constitution, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, are expected to ignore the Constitution itself and impose their will to hasten progress. By an act of will, the unelected justices from the narrowest conceivable of elite circles thus removed all legal protections from the unborn child and redefined marriage to break the link between sex, children, and parenthood.
The court, under progressive control, becomes a means to undermine the Constitution and override democratic processes that stand in the way of a secular-liberal vision of “progress.”
Supreme Court Versus Legislation
Through such means, almost all the advances of the sexual revolution were imposed initially by the Supreme Court, not adopted by legislation.
However, the court isn’t, in the end, immune to democracy. When a president is elected who is committed to judicial restraint and the return of legislation to the legislature, the defeated progressives are enraged.
They see the defeat of all they have worked for through a liberal majority in the Supreme Court and control of the administrative state—hence, their determination to ignore democratic norms and processes, to de-legitimize and defeat the elected president, and to bring him down by any means necessary.
Paul Adams is a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawai‘i and was a professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of “Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is” and has written extensively on social welfare policy and professional and virtue ethics.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.