Jonah Goldberg on Progressivism on National Review Online

Friday, June 30, 2006
Jonah Goldberg on Progressivism on National Review Online: "Progressivism is not merely the faux populism of the Internet. Nor is it solely the label for whatever policies self-described Progressives prefer. It is a faith — often grounded in Christianity, but not necessarily so — in the redemptive power and professional competence of the state. And, frankly, I despise it."


Fresh Air said...

Very true. The Progressive strain the early part of the 20th century (and its antecedent, Mugwumpism) that Teddy Roosevelt belonged to was highly charged with religious fervor.

The difference is that Progressives today get their fervor from the Church of Liberalism. They believe their morality to be no less superior now than they did then.

Rick Ballard said...

It may be a faith but it's not "grounded in Christianity". It borrows any number of aspirations regarding what is "good" from Christianity but the moment in which it collectivizes those aspirations (which is the first moment) it departs from any semblance of Christianity.

Progressivism is "grounded" in envy and covetousness with theft by collective action being the principal aim. Dressing up its true aspirations in pseudo-Christian finery is a clever tactic but Goldberg should really know better than to identify a tactic as grounds.

I won't argue that it is not a religion but it adheres more closely to a definition of philosophy than theology.

Skookumchuk said...

in the redemptive power and professional competence of the state.

This grew in an atmosphere of wonder at the pace of technological change and scientific advancement - the same climate that created "technocracy" and that motivated so many, not just Marxists, to think that a society should be managed by a new priesthood according to "scientific" principles.

We can't go back to that now. The old priesthood might try, and in Europe for example may succeed in preserving the old ossified faith, but too much has changed to return to it here.

Knucklehead said...

Both are avid believers in dogma. But there are distinguishing characteristics that help me, and non-believer, distinguish.

Christians tend to be much nicer to the people around them. Christians don't tend to be as standoffish and condemning of those who don't belong to their congregation or sect. Christians aren't as universally fond of fire and brimstone delivery.

Those are some of the ways I distinguish among the two generalized groups of believers.

Rick Ballard said...


The real difference is that between "give" and "take". The world has no lack of hypocritical Christians but generally they lie about how much they give - they're not talking about how much needs to be taken.

Knucklehead said...


Undoubtedly. But that isn't readily apparent to the casual observer ;)

The casual observer is stuck with:

- reasonably nice? Yes, probably Christian. No, probably Liberal (they are one angry gang of folks!)

- willing to readily engage in civil pleasantries or other discourse with stangers? Yes, probably Christian. No, probably Liberal

- spittle flecked? No, probably Christian. Yes, probably Liberal

The more matches you get the the more accurate the quick and simple tests are likely to be.

Rick Ballard said...


I just listen for the collective pronouns.

I agree with Goldberg's larger point - conservatism is being redefined to the point where it has little to do with its original meaning. Bush never actually sold himself as other than a "compassionate" consevative and I have certainly never considered him to be a guiding light with respect to conservative principles. I can't regard him as betraying principles that I never believed he held so I don't get upset with him. No buyers remorse on my part - I knew I was getting an Oldsmobile.

Seneca the Younger said...

It may be a faith but it's not "grounded in Christianity". It borrows any number of aspirations regarding what is "good" from Christianity but the moment in which it collectivizes those aspirations (which is the first moment) it departs from any semblance of Christianity.

Hmmm. I'd like to see you extend this thought --- there's an awfully long history of Christian communalism and collectivism.

who, me? said...


There's monasticism, a deliberate embrace of poverty and obedience, opt-in, specifically alternative to the larger society. There's an awfully long history of various writers and thinkers (Chesterton among them) arguing for several varieties of collectivism and communalism. There's quite admirable fringe stuff like Mennonites and Quakers (though I don't think they have goods in common.)

But actual Christian Church collectivism and communalism as practice and doctrine? I don't think so, particularly as to the progressivist claim of immanentizing the eschaton. Liberation Theology is not approved. Subsidiarity is the closest idea, a kind of smallest-possible-group self-determination.

There is a bit of a public discourse gap between understanding Trinitarian Christianity, the doctrines and the many balances of interest under the patronage of and in service to Jesus, as a path to the recovered-wholeness of mankind via individual free will and Divine intervention; and off-the-cuff summary rules of thumb and generalized Received Wisdom from an above-it-all hermaneutic-of-suspicion viewpoint as to what it constitutes.


Rick Ballard said...


I am unaware of any Christian "community of believers" existing today which restricts members from leaving. There is also no scriptural warrant that I am aware of that even implies that Christianity is for "everybody" whereas I can find scriptural warrant in abundance that declares the opposite. The parable of the sower comes to mind as the most explicit at the moment but there may be others more on point.

Progressivism is rather explicit in its aim for inclusion of "everybody" in the mass collective. No one is allowed to choose to be a member and no one is allowed to resign their birth membership.

I suppose that an argument might be made that there is little difference between involuntary and voluntary servitude but one would have to make it on the basis that black and white are the same in essence.

loner said...

Brailsford did not become a “rural sociologist.” But his encounter with “rural sociology” led him back to his own roots, to the communal religious socialism of England’s dissenting tradition—the Diggers and the Levelers of the seventeenth century. They had been treated with contempt by historians, including most Marxists. They were seen as crude, ranting, unscientific yokels, impeding progress. Brailsford was perhaps the first writer to see them as forerunners and pioneers of a humane, compassionate, and loving socialism. A few years after Brailsford died, the Czechs called their attempt to reform communism “Socialism with a human face.” It is a phrase Noel Brailsford might well have used to describe his own unsystematic but deeply felt dissenting socialism.

Brailsford was never a Fabian, nor did he have much use for what, to him, was a bunch of power-hungry ultra-rationalists out to make society over into their own bureaucratic image. He had only contempt for the brittleness and cleverness of Bloomsbury—a contempt that was amply returned. Trade union leaders he deeply distrusted. He was bored by Marx and not much interested in economics anyhow. And he loved the English language far too much and used it far too well to tolerate the illiterate jargon of the Marxists. His socialism was based on faith and morality rather than on “scientific” laws of history. His was a socialism of the heart rather than of the head or the pocketbook.

He was thus very much a “loner.” But he also represented an older English tradition than Fabians or Bloomsbury or trade unionists or Marxists: a tradition going back to Wycliffe and Piers Plowman in the Middle Ages; to the Levelers and the Diggers in the seventeenth century; and to the Chartists before 1850. It is a tradition that invokes the “bowels of compassion” rather than the “solidarity of the proletariat”; a tradition that asks for justice for the poor rather than for revenge on the rich; a tradition of individual conversion rather than government action, of dignity rather than welfare; a tradition of conscience, not of power. It is a tradition of radical dissent. Brailsford was a “loner” indeed. But he was not a “crank” or an “eccentric,” he was a conscience.

Peter F. Drucker, “Noels Brailsford: The Last of the Dissenters” Adventures of a Bystander

Stalin’s Russia did Brailsford in. He allowed himself to be used, despite doubts, until, well, you know, Hitler turned on the Russians and his good friend, the Russian ambassador, showed him the door. Drucker concludes:

When Noel was finally ushered into Maiski’s office, the ambassador called him “Brailsford”—where for twenty-five years it had been “Noel,” as Brailsford wrote to me. “Brailsford,” Maiski said, “don’t call here again. If you do, I won’t see you. We don’t need you anymore.” “Now,” Brailsford wrote, “I know how the Dissenters felt when Cromwell dismissed them after they had won for him the war against the Stuart king, and when he told them that they had ceased to matter.”

Stephen Blackpool, the Dissenter and the hero of Charles Dicken’s most powerful and darkest novel Hard Times (written in 1854), is discredited, driven into exile and destroyed, because his conscience forbids him to compact with power. Even his death is defeat. It changes nothing, moves nothing, accomplishes nothing. The Dissenter of Dicken’s nineteenth-century vision is not even a martyr; he is a casualty.

Noel Brailsford, the Dissenter of twentieth-century reality, tried to accommodate conscience to power for the sake of effectiveness. He ceased to matter.

Interestingly enough, another of the leading lights of the last century, who I read when I want to read something worth my time, put Cromwell to somewhat different use toward the end of a television program whose conclusion I regard as the most powerful moment I've witnessed on that most-powerful medium. In the episode of Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man entitled “Knowledge or Certainty”, Bronowski says:

In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.’

Let me introduce myself. I find certainty amusing and ambition a bore.


Luther McLeod said...

Loner, good comment and quote, much food for thought. I can empathize with certainty and ambition. Unless and until it interferes with the survival of Western Civ.

But, where are you going (or coming from) here? I say this in thinking that we are far removed from simpler days, and they were.

loner said...


I'm forty-eight. Am I coming or going? Shakespeare and Tennyson (there's Western Civ. for you!) perhaps?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Though much is taken, much abides; and
We are not now that strength which in
old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we
are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong
in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to

More Hamlet than Ulysses as I grow older I think, but perhaps not. There's some of this and some of that and all things, including firm opinions, in moderation.

And damn if I'm not thinking about another poem about another legendary warrior in the same war and by another poet born on that "blessed plot."

Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

Simpler days? I don't know.