Liberal Versus Progressive

Reading this article by Wick Allison, while very interesting of itself, got me thinking about how Conservatives are always ranting against Liberals (though not the topic of the article itself). Mr. Allison gives an interesting definition of Liberalism.

Liberalism always seemed to me to be a system of “oughts.” We ought to do this or that because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether it works or not. It is a doctrine based on intentions, not results, on feeling good rather than doing good.

I’ve said it before: I’m not a Liberal. I’m a Progressive. But what does that mean to me? I think both would be considered “left of center” if you want to use the very bad, linear view of politics. So how are they different?

Both ideas deal with what ought to be. There ought to be equality of the sexes, the races, the sexual orientations, economic prosperity, healthy and educated citizens, etc. The difference between Liberal and Progressive is subtle and it deals with reality and time, with culture/society as a crucible.

Liberalism dreams up the end goal and immediately tries to implement it, regardless of real world elements that oppose it or make the goal simply unattainable. Therefore liberals often fail in attaining their goals despite their best intentions. They cannot simply wish something into reality and make it so. You can think of it as trying to force a round peg into a square hole. Maybe the peg should fit into the hole but it just won’t and wanting it to fit doesn’t change the reality of the situation. The only way to make it “work” right now is to bang it with a hammer… until something breaks.

Progressives think of an end goal and make plans, step by step, to bring that end goal into reality. Instead of going straight to the end goal they take things in stages. This takes patience which Liberalism inherently lacks. Each incremental stage of change is designed so that society understands the change and benefits. When the next step is taken the previous step is already a part of the culture. Society sees the new changes as a normal continuation… A progression. You still have the round peg and square hole, but you use some tools to make the hole a bit rounder and less squarish, and later you might lathe the peg to be a little smaller. Eventually you could have them fit easily though you no longer have a “square” hole or exactly the same peg.

My thoughts haven’t exactly gelled with this idea, but I think it’s rather valid. Liberals are, in a sense, quite extreme in that their method is to skip to the end and the end justifies the means. Progressives know that the means justify the ends, and that it has to be taken in stages. In this sense I can almost hear Mr. Allison in his article calling the current batch of “so-called conservatives” the most Liberal of them all.

7 Comments Categorized: political  thoughts

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7 Responses to “Liberal Versus Progressive”

  1. Zapski says  (September 23rd, 2008 at 10:34:59 )

    I’ve always viewed politics as a struggle between the values of egalitarianism and individualism. There’s a sliding scale, though, and each side borrows tactics from the other, but for the most part, that’s what it boils down to. If you slide more towards the egalitarian side, you’re probably Liberal, the individual side, you’re probably Conservative. Though NeoCons screw that up by being highly individualistic, but only if they’re all the same kind of individuals.

    Regarding the whole Liberal vs Progressive, I see that as a way for Liberals to dodge being sneered at by Conservatives who managed to turn the “L word” into a disparaging term. Rather than owning the word, standing up and saying “Yeah, I’m Liberal, what of it?” they got all pussy-faced and whinged “No, I’m a Progressive, we’re different somehow, please don’t hit me. I promise not to filibuster and I’ll cave to all your threats.”

    I never viewed it as any kind of procedural, or ideological distinction, just a pussy way of running away from a label.

    It first came into common use during Bill Clinton’s campaign, when one of his spokespeople said “we’re not Liberals anymore; We’re Progressives!” as a means of deflecting criticism. Reagan had sneered the word Liberal at Carter enough to poison it for wimps too spineless to stand up to it for twelve years.

    In reality though, Clinton was anything but Liberal, he was a Centrist, who dragged the country and the Democratic party so far to the right, that the Republicans had to react by going even further to the right in creating NeoCons, just so there’d be a distinction. They courted the religious nut-jobs who previously had been viewed as religious nut-jobs and gave them power.

    So anyway, if there is a distinction between Liberal and Progressive beyond the running-away-from-a-label one, I would say that Progressives are more conservative than Liberals, and only slightly left of pre-religious-nut-job Conservatives. Following your premise, from left to right, Liberals, Progressives, Conservatives, NeoCons.

    But that’s just me.

  2. Zapski says  (September 23rd, 2008 at 10:36:39 )

    Oh, and I consider myself a Liberal. Wanna make something of it?


  3. Nob Hill Ken says  (September 23rd, 2008 at 22:53:18 )

    As to economics, yes, for the most part, things should be handled fairly slowly and methodically; and so, your idea of liberal vs. progessive is applicable. Where social issues are concerned, I agree – vehemently – with Zapski. And I’ll speak to that.

    As I’ve said before, cut the red states loose. The problem isn’t the twats leading the Democatic party, but rather the union itself. Separate from the the red states and let them starve and self-destruct. Really, they can twist in the wind for all I care (and without blue dollars, they likely would). Yeah, I know how much well-meaning patriots want to sacrifice so-called “liberals”‘ rights and money so that America can one day be a “great nation” once everyone finally comes around and deigns to allow social justice and civil rights for all.

    Fuck that. I pay my taxes and I’m tired of waiting.

    I can’t quite stomach the idea of being “progressive” (spineless) instead of “liberal” (pragmatic – and able to sleep at night) just to perpetuate a failed political experiment.

    Unless you’re happy waiting for the conservatives to die, being “progressive” versus “liberal” in the USA is not really a viable option.

    Think about it for a minute: if liberal “blue-state” Americans denied the “red-state” conservatives financial welfare, how long do you think it would take before the right-wingers were ready to suck it up and rejoin the union on liberals’ terms? Creepy – and admittedly – a little fascistic? Perhaps. But a solution well worth evaluating in my opinion.

    “The only way to make it “work” right now is to bang it with a hammer… until something breaks”

    Bang on this country, then.

  4. Nob Hill Ken says  (September 23rd, 2008 at 22:59:56 )

    Oops, I phrased a certain something rather unfortunately. Please don’t take it personally. Though you identify yourself as “progressive”, I most certainly do not view *you* as spineless, Doug.

  5. Zapski says  (September 24th, 2008 at 09:38:58 )

    There are many flavors of Liberal, and I suppose Progressive is a flavor. Despite the negative perceptions of the word for Ken and myself it’s all part of the big cat herd. Are you socially liberal, economically liberal, both, etc. Liberal is more a generic term, and Progressive is a brand of liberal. Or an excuse to run away from being called liberal when you really are but don’t want to own up to it. ;-)

    There has been a Progressive Party in America’s past, and they were socially liberal in their views. At the time (late 19th early 20th centuries) the main left wing alternatives were Socialism and Anarchism, so Progressivism arose as an alternative to those liberal economic and governing models.

    Also – I would also like to post a correction to my earlier post. I said ” If you slide more towards the egalitarian side, you’re probably Liberal, the individual side, you’re probably Conservative.” and thinking about that, it was a pretty silly thing to say, considering that Liberalism is very strongly devoted to the idea of the rights of the individual, and that Conservatism is really just about not changing things from how they’ve always been done in your local culture. I need to rethink that premise a bit, and I just wanted to point out that I am aware of the flaw in my comment.

    Oh, and I don’t think Dugh’s a wimp either.

  6. Adeliza says  (September 24th, 2008 at 15:35:41 )

    We have a saying in my family. You’re either a “We” person or a “Me” person. No matter how you choose to label yourself, you generally will find yourself agreeing with other people in whichever of those two categories you are.

    (And from what I know of those of you I know, we’re all We’s)

  7. Nob Hill Ken says  (September 29th, 2008 at 21:53:57 )

    American social conservatives are just so incredibly bonkers and unreasonably selfish that it boggles me the way progressives (who would, I think, be more accurately considered “moderate” rather than “liberal”) are willing to wait indefinitely for them to cave. Yes, everyone has a right to express their opinion, but that *doesn’t* mean their opinion has to be taken seriously.

    The way I see it, the bigots and the selfish people in this country don’t want change because it will either offend their delicate sensibilities or adversely affect their securities portfolios, or, in many instances, both.

    People drop dead in this country because they can’t afford health care; others are too completely batshit insane to support or even take care of themselves and are left to live (or not) on the streets; gays can’t get married because some people apparently dislike the gays; and anti-choice activists are trying to convince the state that a woman’s right to decide whether or not to have an abortion should be revoked. Meanwhile, corporate welfare and the war du jour continue unabated.

    Personally, I think it’s safe to say we’ve waited far too long for “progress” already, and it’s dangerous to wait any longer because things aren’t just staying the same, they’re getting much *worse*. At this point, it’s either forge ahead or fall (way the hell) back.