I was going to post this as a response to Jeff Dege's comment on my earlier reaction to Craig Westover's "The problem with progressives," but it was starting to edge into full post territory, so it's here instead.
Jeff, whose contrary comments here I do appreciate because he's civil and often raises provocative questions, said:
"A “progressive” is someone who acts on the belief that life can be improved."
No. A progressive is someone who believes that people can be improved. That the only reason that we don't live in a utopian society is that we haven't yet remade man in the right way.
The progressives collectivist dreams of how society is organized have always faltered on the discord between how they believe people should interact and how they always have interacted.
And they always will.
To quote Lileks:
"The other day I was talking with a Democrat friend about the election. She'd remarked, with equal amounts of sarcasm and good-natured ribbing, that the GOP had two years to build utopia. I thought about that later while walking Jasper around the block, and thought, no; they're not about building utopia. Personally, I'm interested in keeping other people from building Utopia, because the more you believe you can create heaven on earth the more likely you are to set up guillotines in the public square to hasten the process."
See, that's the trouble with libertarians. They pretend to get the irony employed by us self-appointed elites and then turn around and accuse us of being humorless executioners behind our backs.
However, since we lost Mussolini as our glorious leader, the progressive record on public executions has been rather slim. (And you really can't count Hillary Clinton dropping the hammer on Vince Foster.) We really lack the experience to carry out that aspect of our plan for total world domination.
Jeff may be right, that as a progressive I believe life can be improved is by helping people improve. Otherwise, I'd be mostly limited to planting trees, pulling plastic bags out of ponds and eating three balanced meals a day.
Believing — and acting on the belief— that people can improve is still not the same thing as thinking I can perfect humanity or that government should enforce all manner of human relations. But Jeff and Lileks and Westover won't grant me any moderation or incremental progress. Once I start believing that society is better off if it sets goals to reduce poverty or pollution, for example, it's only a matter of time before I'm driving the black van that hauls off Family Lileks to Twins Stadium for a little publicly funded entertainment.
I guess if you see the world in absolutes, it's hard not to believe people who talk about "progress" are really trying to trick you into the oven if you dare want to bake your own cookies.
Though personal and political change is one premise of this blog, one only needs to read Jonah Goldberg and Craig Westover to see how deluded I am about humanity. And I am not just talking about their arguments.
Still, no one has even asked me to help put them in Guantanamo or Camp Wellstone Two. Some "collective!"
No, instead of worrying about everyone having the same leg kick in the May Day parade, the progressives I know are concerned about all kids getting educated, courts that work fairly and efficiently, good jobs, good government, and maybe once every four years, bringing the Republican National Convention to a complete, anarchic standstill.
Compared to doing that good work every day, I can't imagine wanting to live in a heaven on earth. Progressives like having something to look forward to.