The Progressive Era (1890-1920) arose to address great social changes from industrialization, immigration, and urbanization. Efforts to address worker safety, child labor, consumer protection and the effect on concentrations of wealth on the political process were often hamstrung by the divisions of power in our constitution. This created outright hostility to the constitution in some views and the need to reform our processes in others. These reforms were enacted in Amendments such as the Sixteenth allowing a federal income tax and the Seventeenth allowing direct popular election of Senators.
Other reforms followed in statutory legislation, corporate regulation, and judicial interpretations, but the tension with the Constitution and its division of power has remained at the center of our political conflicts. Progressives sought “Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends”. Hamilton favored a more powerful central government that Jefferson feared; Jefferson was more focused on equality and individual rights. Progressives considered the fear of tyrannical central power an anachronism.
The modern iteration of progressivism remains focused on social justice but the growing extreme wing of it has dismissed the liberal norms of the Constitution; identity politics has turned equality on its head and the politically correct, cancel culture has shredded norms of free speech, tolerance, and reason. These perversions in the hands of those in the central government become worrisome to our political traditions.
A few progressive thinkers who thought the fear of central power was dated reconsidered after surveying the rubble of WWII, and that concern surfaces with the extreme wings of progressivism today. There is emerging, however, a new group of progressives who still value the goals and objectives of progressivism, but reject the illiberal means used to pursue them.
Truly Liberal Progressives, or Neo Progressives, are those who have reacted to the worst illiberal tendencies of the far left while acknowledging the worthiness of their objectives. They reject the mob mentality and the zealotry that consumes their colleagues. The French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolutions from 1900- 1917 turned violent and destroyed many of the earlier revolutionaries. Robespierre perished under the blade of his own guillotine.
Some of these Neo Progressives were from the politically left but crossed the radicals and were cancelled, expelled from their professions. Bret Weinstein, a biology professor at Evergreen College, was such a victim, but the spokesman for this movement may be Joe Rogan, the superstar podcaster with an immense following. He recently was signed to Spotify for a $100 million-dollar contract. The podcast format allows him the independence to ignore the PC cancel culture. He engages his guests in an open conversation beyond a simple interview format, contributes without being overbearing, is respectful, cheerful and polite and invites guests from all perspectives. He uses a long format, often two or three hours that gets into far more substance than any other format allows. His immense popularity is meeting a previously unmet demand.
Political power comes from building coalitions; identity politics is the opposite. It will get support from the woke left as long as it serves their interest or until they exhaust themselves. Rejection of institutional norms is soon exhausted; at some point you have to clearly stand for something. The left can take a legitimate cause and squander potential support with the exercise of radical means. Their only hope is to embrace the liberal traditions of our political culture. They could learn from Joe Rogan.