On being ‘Progressive’
Note: This piece was prompted by a column by David Hetherington, the executive director of progressive think tank Per Capita, in The Australian last week.
What exactly is a ‘Progressive’? It’s a term that’s been used against Tony Abbott – he is not one, apparently – and against anyone who does not support an ETS.
Progressives’ have three things in common (a consistent political philosophy, I argue below, is not one of them).
The first characteristic is hubris. Progressives are confident that any human or earthly problem can be solved – by them. Their hubris is firmly rooted in what psychologists have described as the ‘overconfidence effect’ - a person’s unjustified confidence in the objectivity and accuracy of his judgement.
As a result, they believe that if Progressives control Government, Government can engineer positive change. So a will-to-power is another characteristic, disguised, self-reassuringly, of course, as a desire to serve the common good.
The third characteristic is a willingness to trump any discussion with the term ‘progressive’ – if you are not progressive, or yours is not a progressive position, legitimacy is denied, we need say no more.
When a Progressive so describes his own position, however, he is not pointing to a stable or coherent set of policies. He is merely evincing what in ethics is called ‘moral expressivism’: he is not describing anything objective, but merely expressing a positive evaluation of his own position, and in doing so, derogatively dismissing yours.
For example, progressives have recently told us both that the global financial crisis was caused by neo-liberalism, and that the neo-liberal emissions trading scheme is the only answer to the global climate crisis.
Progressives want a Bill of Rights to empower individuals over against the community, but are opposed to an industrial relations system that allows for individuals to opt out of collective arrangements and directly negotiate their own contract and conditions.
Progressives believe in the role of Government to bring positive social change, except when it involves intervention in dysfunctional communities the Northern Territory.
Progressives demand more action to address global poverty, but resist the movement to global free trade that has provided the path out of poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
If a person inserts the term ‘progressive’ into an argument or claim, know that he doesn’t really want dialogue. He is not seeking further information. He is sure he is right and that you are morally misguided or malevolent.
It seems to me that the designation ‘progressive’ no longer serves a helpful role in democratic deliberation – but then ‘Progressives’ would see me as a ‘conservative’.
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