Progressives are Reactionaries

Tibor R. Machan

The simple answer to why progressives are reactionaries is that they tend to want to empower governments to solve all of the problems that face people in their social lives and that is just the authority that kings, tsars, pharaohs, and other rulers have claimed for themselves throughout history. The literally progressive position is that no one gets to rule anyone else without that other’s permission. So a football coach or physician or orchestra conductor may rule only because he or she is permitted by those being ruled. But no one else has such authority without such consent. Today’s pseudo-progressives, however, want to assign such authority to governments without anyone consenting to being ruled about a great many matters that their favored governments want imposed on the citizenry.

More generally, governments that rule people have been the norm throughout human political history. Here and there and now and then this practice hasn’t prevailed but mostly it has. In contemporary times the term “ruler” is still used in, say, Libya and Dubai. It was the American Founders, or the majority of them, who demoted the English king and along with him all monarchs–no longer were they deemed the sovereign but a servant of the citizenry.

It is true that American conservatives, often associated with traditional values, have embraced much of what the Founders installed here and this may make it appear that what the Founders believed was itself conservative or traditional. Not so. In American it is the distinctive tradition to champion limited government and not the bloated state. So that is why American conservatives are really more radical than their modern liberal, welfare statists opponents.

The confusion is understandable but foes of the fully free society like to engage in discrediting what they do not like instead of arguing about it. In any argument there is no question that the political vision of the American founders wins hands down. It is a superior system to all those that went before which have all been more or less statist, gripped by the governmental habit. It is just this habit that modern liberals have reaffirmed, what with their wish to make government the caretaker of society, the nanny and ruler of us all. That is the old idea of politics and there is nothing truly progressive about it at all. Let’s just get this straight.

Sure the statism embraced by contemporary liberals, socialists, fascists and the like is somewhat different from the older kind, from mercantilism, from monarchism, from the rule of Caesars and tsars. Not all statists are the same. But what is crucial about all of them is that they are statists. They do not favor certain particular version of statism such as monarchism that had been demoted, overturned by way of the American revolution. The Founders were nearly libertarians except for some matters they probably didn’t know how to handle without some coercive laws, such as the funding of law enforcement and maintenance via taxation. But taxation is the feudal kin of serfdom–the treatment of those in a society as if they and their resources belonged to the government. That idea is not knew at all, nothing progressive about it whatever. It is however the idea that is close to socialism in which system all the major means of production are publicly owned, belonging to government (which goes by the euphemism of “the public”). And what does socialism see as the major means of production in a society? Human labor. So human labor–which is to say every human being–is owned by the state. The hallmark of serfdom and slavery.

Progressive my foot. This is thoroughly reactionary, taking contemporary politics back to an era that was prominent before the American revolution challenged it good and hard. This is crucial not just for purposes of political rhetoric, which can delude people who are not all that well versed in political history, but also for dealing competently with public policy. Any such policy that treats the citizen as a subject–subject to the will of the government, that is–must be rejected without any compromise.