Fighting the soul-killing, wealth-destroying acts of progressives over the long term is going to take much more than winning an election or two. It will require neutralizing their influence throughout the culture. That’s much harder, of course, but essential if we’re to have to a country that does more than seesaw between two power-hungry parties while spiraling ever downward.
The reasons that wider change is a must are not hard to find. Even where their relative numbers are low, progressives have come to dominate much more than just the Democratic Party and the major news outlets.
They control curricula for public K-12 education almost everywhere, despite the presence of a great many teachers who disagree with their views. Progressive educators’ numbers are bolstered by the roughly 70-85% of college educators and administrators who identify as liberals. They dominate credential-required education courses, and strongly influence textbook selection.
Clearly, postmoderns have long been the decision-makers and creators for most mainstream film and television, even while they make up a minority of total participants. Major films and television programs are made by many thousands of writers, actors, technicians, and so forth, who line the bell curve of viewpoints. Yet it’s a rare movie that doesn’t blithely depict entrepreneurs as rapacious, or anti-pharmaceutical crusaders as saintly.
Even TV advertising often shows the influence of John Muir’s grandchildren. One Ad Council commercial asks: “What do forests mean to you?” The question spurs absurd answers like “sparkling clean water” and Native American tree worship. Fairy-tale “green” commercials extend even to truck ads these days, as if a half-ton Dodge Ram pickup could — or should — be “eco-friendly.”
Magazines like Scientific American, once upon a time offering real science for the layman, have become organs for anthropogenic global warming propaganda. Smithsonian runs features on the alleged superiority of primitive cultures. National Geographic touts how negligibly modern humans are in advance of apes. That would’ve been unthinkable as recently as three generations ago, yet for today’s followers of Rousseau, it’s so obvious as to be beyond debate.
As these examples show, the influence on American culture of progressive ideas goes far beyond and far beneath politics. They represent a full-scale assault on all classical liberal values: reason, objective ethics, natural rights, capitalism, and their products — freedom and industrial production. Cleaning up Washington will be the barest beginning to reversing a century-long slide in America, one that has accelerated in the last four decades.
Ending bailouts, lowering federal spending, and tinkering with Social Security will give everyone some economic breathing room. But these actions won’t right a country that’s been increasingly tilting left for the past 40 years. And without fundamental change even those victories will be too small, and woefully short-lived.
What to Do, and How?
It goes without saying that changing the culture wholesale is a tall order, given the ubiquitous and deeply entrenched nature of progressive ideas in modern life. And, with the real and significant differences between factions in the pro-freedom, pro-America camp, it’s an even taller order.
Cooperation between the very different types of people that make it up was always dicey and will remain so. No one will ever convince an Objectivist that the Christian deity exists or that Jesus’ Gospels are the proper guide to living or basis for society. Likewise, no libertarian will ever persuade an Evangelical Christian that abortion is not murder.
But there was a time in American history when such things, as important as they were in personal terms, were not make-or-break issues on a social level, much less in politics. A hundred years ago progressives were a tiny minority, and their views very sparsely infected the law. As a result, most Americans of very different viewpoints could live and let live, disapproving as they may have been of those who thought and chose differently.
But with the intrusion of the federal government into every aspect of life, everything has become political. Amit Ghate made the point well in a recent PJM article, “Ideas and the State.” Getting the government out of those thousands of intimate personal decisions, and limiting it to constitutionally enumerated powers, will create a large penumbra around the individual.
Fortunately, returning America to a land of individualism and freedom with a Constitution-limited government does not require complete agreement on every thorny topic. Reducing government involvement lets each person try to peacefully persuade his neighbor without it becoming a matter of life and death, prosperity or poverty, freedom or parasitism, all or nothing.
First, Take Back Education
Pushing back against progressives in the public school system on the way to privatizing it entirely is one of the most important things freedom-loving individuals can do. When you’re fighting a serious outbreak of virus, the first priority is to stop spreading it. That means never being indifferent to what’s taught there. It means challenging school boards on textbook selection, teachers on essay topics, and more.
That will also have the most long-term impact, since the progressive views pumped into children there each year generate new vectors for the disease. Every year, millions of schoolchildren become new unwitting inductees into the progressive camp. Protecting kids there inoculates them against college professors who later inject more of the same, in more concentrated form.
At the same time, drain the swamp. That can be accomplished through more homeschooling when feasible. Parents can pool funds and expertise to start more private schools. That will decrease the cost, and help depopulate the public schools. Taxpayers can form ad hoc committees to push for returning curricula to the basics, insisting on mind-developing education in mathematics, reading, and writing. At minimum, an absence of progressive propaganda is a must.
Even public school boards are not always hopeless. Insisting on a broad body of historical and scientific facts, with real-life examples showing biased teachers and textbooks, can actually impact school officials. A calmly delivered, well-reasoned case that children need certain hard-won basic thinking skills — not automatic passing grades, self-esteem boosting exercises, or “green living” projects — can influence semi-reasonable administrators.
Dealing With Debate
There will be disagreements about how to shape the culture in a better direction, of course. To define “better” necessarily means adopting a certain set of values. It will help reduce the friction among the different demographics of the pro-liberty coalition if everyone kept in mind a few historical facts and some key agreed-upon goals.
One is: religious conservatives might consider that Christianity played an important role a hundred years ago in the creation and growth of the progressive movement. That fact alone is enough to show that the contemporary secularism they detect and decry has little to do with our current problems. They might also consider that there are literally millions of Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and the merely indifferent or confused who also want the blessings of liberty for themselves and their families.
Similarly, the libertarian-minded should give serious thought to whether “anything goes” (provided only that no one initiates coercion) is the alpha and omega of a sound program for a free, just society. That subjectivism was, after all, the rallying cry of the 1960s, which midwifed so much of what we currently ail from. There’s no escaping the fact that all political decisions are ultimately moral choices, selections among competing values, and some really are objectively better than others.
Restoring America to a free country, one where the dominant ethos is respect for the individual’s rights and free exercise of judgment, won’t be easy. But despite the Pandora’s box of horrors visited on citizens by Washington the past three generations, the odds have never been better for a renaissance. The latest progressive heating of the melting pot so fast, so far has millions waking up to the hot water and looking for the knobs. Let’s turn more than just the one that registers a vote.