Monday, January 17, 2005


Because their behaviour has so polluted the name with an air of dishonesty, hypocrisy and failure, there is a considerable tendency these days for American "liberals" to return to an older and more-self-congratulatory label for themselves -- "Progressives". The label also has the advantage that it facilitates a "united front" (to use an old Communist term) -- it enables both moderates and far-Leftists to march under a common banner.

Probably the major thing that holds the American Left from wider adoption of their alternative name however is the legacy of the last major American political movement to use that name -- the "Progressives" of around the beginning of the 20th century. Let me note what an embarrassment THEY are:

Like all Leftists, they were a fractious lot so there is no fixed list of what a Progressive believed but here are some of the notable features in Progressive doctrine: They were (of course) anti-business, pro-welfare and believers in central government management of the economy but as well as that they believed in eugenics, racial superiority, war as a purifying force, nationalism, imperialism, conformity, discipline, book-burning, loyalty oaths and straight-armed salutes. And they despised the Jews, of course.

Does all that somehow ring a bell? Where else have you heard of such a set of ideas? You've got it! All of those ideas were also Hitler's ideas. And THAT'S WHERE HITLER GOT A LOT OF IT FROM. The American Progressives were the first Fascists of the 20th century. In America they were mostly unable to put those ideas into full practice but Hitler showed what happens when you do.

For full documentation of all that I have just said see my article on the "Progressives" here. I have just added a fair bit to it so I reproduce below the new conclusion:

So although the American Progressives developed most of the thought that we would recognize as Fascist today, their immediate predecessors were undisputably German. So while Mussolini got his basic ideas from Marx, the work of developing those ideas and adapting them to the early 20th century had mostly already been done for him by the Americans.

So however you look at it, the connection of Fascism to Leftism is quite seamless. Its origins were in the intellectuals of the 19th century German Left, it was developed and made politically influential by the American Left around the beginning of the 20th century and it reached its full implementation in the hands of one section of the European Left in the 1920s and 1930's -- i.e. Hitler & Mussolini. And both Hitler and Mussolini campaigned as socialists and never ceased advocating socialism. See here and here for more on the latter point.

Because they are so embarrassing to the Left of today, there are always attempts to deny that the American Progressives of a century ago were Leftists. Attempts are made to treat them as somehow outside the normal flow of history -- as a strange aberration that somehow exists all by itself. This is absurd on two grounds: 1). Far from being a marginal group the Progressives were in the mainstream of American intellectual life at the time -- with only the courts and the conservative wings of the political parties standing against them. 2). Although the militarism, imperialism, racism and stress on discipline may seem abhorrent to the American Left of today, such ideas were perfectly at home even within the thought of Marx and Engels. And if Marx and Engels are not Leftists, who would be?

For deep background on the American Progressives see this essay on Croly, one of the leading lights of Progressivism. Note the agony caused to Croly by the need to keep within democracy.


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