Have Progressives Won?


Despite the advance of Progressive philosophy in our government, modern progressives cannot ultimately succeed, because at the heart of Progressivism lies a fundamental contradiction: If it can simply be agreed upon that there is no permanent standard of right and wrong, everything can be made better.

The following video is a clip from Q&A 10 of Hillsdale’s online course, “Constitution 101,” featuring Larry P. Arnn, President of Hillsdale College and Professor of Politics, and John J. Miller, Director of the Dow Journalism Program.

Watch the full Q&A


John Miller: Have the progressives won? Are we all progressives now and we just can't help that we can't even recognize the ways in which we're progressives?

Larry Arnn: I think not only have they not won, I think they cannot win. The reason is some things have happened in American government in the last hundred years that are wonderful things, tremendously good things, right? Segregation is over. Important respects. We've won two world wars. What if we hadn't had won them? They're enormous achievements of the American government in the last hundred years. Some of the things that are on the progressive agenda are good things to have happened. There should be a social safety net for people who have problems. Education should be strong. The founders wanted that very much and they made it strong.

There are good things about it, right? But progressivism starts with a contradiction and the contradiction is if we will but agree that there's no permanent standard of right and wrong, we can make everything better. What then, in that formulation, do we mean by the term "better"? Just whatever we want? Because people want all kinds of things, right? And they contradict what they want. If there's no standard outside their wanting, to settle what the right thing is, then the strongest is going to prevail. It descends into the rule of force.

That's why there's a consistency and an integrity to the thought of the American Revolution which, in vital respects, is like two thousand years of western civilization. There's a consistency and an integrity to it. There's a contradiction in it and it sets up in the government a direction and the direction is towards arbitrariness and strength alone. That breaks out all over the place, all the time now.