A good friend of mine and fellow scientist, Dr. Hideaki Page in the UK summed things up perfectly when he said “conservatives have values but no ideology, progressives have ideology but no values.”.
Ask a Conservative what is conservatism, and you will likely get a recitation of values such as the importance of the nuclear family, personal responsibility, limited government, capitalism, equal opportunity, tolerance of differences, property rights, individual freedom, the Bill of Rights, among others.
Ask a Progressive what progressivism is and you often get a list of activities including working to improve society, establishing racial equity, stopping climate change, ending poverty, and promoting social justice – all things to implement a basic agenda of progress toward perfection.
These questions illustrate the differences between Conservatives and Progressives. Conservatives tend to focus on the benefits and products of conservative philosophy – ideology by a different name, whereas Progressives are more focused on implementation of a plan or generally agreed objective.
Cooperation without coordination
Progressives publish plans, such as the Great Reset document, as a way of setting forth goals, objectives, and courses of action that individuals and groups can use as a type of road map to guide their own actions. Having a shared public plan provides them with the benefits of active collaboration – a conspiracy – without actually having to conspire. This is a powerful approach as it engages the creative efforts of large numbers of people in the accomplishment of shared goals without needing a formal organization of activities. At present, Conservatives have nothing like this approach, much to our detriment.
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Conservatives have descriptions of conservatism, as well as specific examples, but it has been a long time since we had the sort of forward-looking statements that provide both a vision of how a truly Conservative based society might look, and how such a society can be established and maintained. The Conservative approach has been successful for so long that its benefits are often taken for granted or as so obvious that they do not need explanation. This complacency has left the door open for Progressive attack.
Like water to a fish
For Conservatives, the benefits of conservatism are often so obvious that we tend to forget there is an underlying philosophy behind them. Consequently, we have neglected the development of and, more importantly, the teaching of that philosophy to future generations. We have left the field open to Progressives to promote their own vision, and their own agenda.
Structure of Progressive exhortations
Progressive plan documents have a consistent structure to them that follows from a long history of persuasive writing. This structure can be summarized as:
- Describe current state with emphasis on problems – thesis
- Describe ideal state with emphasis on benefits – antithesis
- Describe actions/changes to bring about the ideal – synthesis
Progressives then can independently formulate plans and actions to bring about an ideal state without having to co-ordinate activities (no conspiracy) based on a common ideological objective. This is a very powerful approach, as it provides a framework that each Progressive can use independently while still working toward a common goal. The only coordination is through a shared, publicly expressed ideology. It is active, in that it encourages individuals to work toward an idealized end, rather than a passive or static expression of a set of shared beliefs.
Sauce for the goose
There is no reason we cannot apply a similar approach to promote a Conservative movement. Imagine if we were to produce documents such as these:
The Great Restoration – a description of the failings of Stateism and big government, a description of what life would be like with an emphasis on individual freedom, small government, and elimination of homelessness, poverty, climate concerns, and other current issues, and finally the things that would need to be done to accomplish such a restoration
The Capitalist Manifesto – an elaboration of the failings of collective systems and crony capitalism, how capitalism has worked to reduce poverty and enhance opportunity worldwide, a description of the operation of capitalism to enhance freedom, to create and distribute new wealth, and what is necessary to maintain and support proper capitalism
Democratcy in America – the dangers of a Progressive takeover, how democracy is abused and why a pure democracy is a form of tyranny, alternatives to pure democracy that facilitate group decision making while preserving the rights and inputs from minority interests. How to keep Democrats from establishing a Democratcy.
Liberty vs Democracy
Democratcy vs Democracy – The two words are pronounced the same, but the meanings are different. Democracy is the tyranny of the majority. With a pure democracy, 51% of a population can impose their will on the remaining 49%. For anyone in the 49%, their vote or opinion is meaningless. It does not promote discussion or contemplation of different needs or considerations. The majority can often use institutional force to ensure compliance with its wishes. Picture two wolves and a sheep deciding democratically what to have for dinner, or Justin Trudeau vs. Canadian truckers.
Democratcy is democracy with a majority of Democrats. Consider that today, the Democratic party is largely composed of Progressives who favor a big and powerful government able to impose its will against any opposition, and you begin to understand why the Founders were so opposed to a pure democracy. They tried to ensure that the government always had to consider the rights and interests of minorities, all the way down to the level of individuals.
The Democrats complain that Conservatives are trying to destroy the Progressive Democratcy. That is entirely accurate, as the failure to do so would be a huge blow against freedom and individual liberty. Nothing less than the survival of civil society is at stake.
Lost in the maze
The situation now has gone far beyond a simple power struggle to control the nation, or even the world. It has now become a struggle around the very nature of reality itself. Not only is it the Progressive goal to gain enough power to make everyone else conform to their agenda, but they also seek to force compliance with their definition of reality – where reality is whatever the State says it is.
We already have seen some of this in the government response to questions around Covid. Our own government has labeled disagreement with the official positions of the CDC and FDA as misinformation, or disinformation and called on media and internet technology to censor any such expressions. If successful, then only the “official” version of “reality” will remain. Anything else will be considered a lie.
Conservatives are struggling against this attempt to impose what to them is not only a manifestly false version of reality, but also the redefinition of reality as something determined by consensus.
How did we get here?
The roots of the division are deep, as deep as human history. On one hand there is the idea that man is born imperfect, into a flawed world, and driven by survival needs to dominate and control. On the other hand is the view that man is born pure and innocent, is corrupted by an imperfect world, but can be restored to perfection by diligent progress toward a better world.
The consequences of these views are clear. In order to curb the desire of individuals and organizations to increase power and control, Conservatives act to reduce the size of government and put blocks in place to stymie the acquisition of power. Conversely, Progressives see power as beneficial in that it can be used to “improve” society, and a large government is necessary to regulate activities that are counter to progress toward perfection.
The founders were influenced by the discussions during the Enlightenment period regarding the nature of man and his origin. Rousseau with his Noble Savage, and Hobbes with ” …man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, among many others, including Fichte. A Progressive precursor can be found in phrase “… to form a more perfect union…” in the preamble to Constitution, as well as the phrase “Novus Ordo Seclorum” printed on our dollar bills.
A marriage made in hell
Recently there has been a marriage of Progressivism with Postmodern philosophy which teaches that even if there is an objective reality, we cannot know it, so it is irrelevant. This union has led to the idea that reality is a product of consensus. This means that reality can be made to be whatever enough people agree upon, and that reality can be changed by changing the narrative. This is why Progressives are so insistent on establishing their explanations of how things are, and are so resistant to Conservative objections.
Appeals to objective evidence have no effect on Progressives because, for them, there is no such thing as objective reality – such appeals are simply proposals of an alternative narrative that is attempting to supplant their reality. While this idea sounds bizarre to most Conservatives, it makes perfect sense to Progressives as it forms a consistent theory and explanation that supports their views and objectives.
Truth and Consequences
One consequence of this is that disagreement cannot be tolerated because it is a threat to the Progressive reality. They must ensure conformity to the narrative and to the idea that reality is created by consensus. In their view, the Conservative idea that there is an objective reality is simply a competing narrative to be rejected.
In psychology, there is the concept of reality testing that is used to evaluate the presence and extent of certain mental illnesses. In Conservative circles, a person’s world view is tested against an objective reality. For example, does the person believe they can fly by flapping their arms with sufficient vigor? For Progressives, the test is against social consensus of other Progressives. An example, in this case, might be: Do they believe that there is an impending crisis because of human use of fossil fuels.
For Progressives, anything that agrees with the current consensus is true by definition. Consequently, anything that disagrees must be false and a lie. Furthermore, since the Progressive always operates from pure and beneficent motives, any objection or attempt to block them must be a result of evil and is to be treated accordingly. Thus, Conservative opposition is not just wrong but is evidence of evil intent and worthy of hatred. Conservative attempts to argue on the basis of consistency with an objective reality are considered meaningless at best, and dishonest or lies otherwise.
Lack of recognition of objective reality is reason most Progressive ideas fail in practice. Progressives live in a magic kingdom where things can be spoken into or out of being. The fact that they deny the significance of objective reality explains why their grand ideas and plans often fail or even result in disaster when they attempt to implement them.
Checking it out
This idea that modern Progressives define reality by consensus is a radical concept, and one that most Conservatives have difficulty understanding. For this reason it is important to offer some justification for the assertion.
One easy test is a simple question anyone can ask. That is: “How do you know something is true?” A Conservative will usually give an answer that relates back to some objectively observable fact. In other words, for something to be considered true, it must be grounded in objective reality. This is the basis of science, much of law, engineering, architecture, auto repair, and anything that has to actually produce tangible results.
Conversely, ask the question of a Progressive, and you will generally get an answer that relates to a consensus of opinion, such as “everyone believes”, or “a 97% consensus”, or “I heard it on CNN or BBC”. Even if they claim that they “believe the science”, their view of science is where a majority of scientists believe something to be true. Seldom, if ever, will there be a tie back to an objective fact, and if there is, the tie is often to an interpretation of an observation, rather than the observation itself.
An example is the claim that increases in CO2 are causing climate change. Progressives claim this is an established fact, where in reality it is an interpretation of results from a limited data set where there are many other equally good or better interpretations of the same data and more.
Another test is to look at how people argue. In a disagreement between Conservatives, a dispute can usually be resolved by presentation of objective data, aka facts. In most cases, Conservatives are looking for truth that is based in objective reality. Both sides will present various facts to support a position, the facts will be evaluated to gage their relevance to a topic, and occasionally they may seek additional evidence to resolve an issue.
For example, there may be a dispute around the idea that more guns give rise to increased crime. In a Conservative dispute on the issue, the parties would look at statistics on gun ownership, crime rates, types of crimes, and perhaps even draw on evidence from other countries on correlations between gun ownership and crime, as well as before and after studies of that correlation.
Progressives arguing the same topic will usually begin by attacking the sources of data, claiming that any source presenting data that is contrary to their beliefs must be dishonest and biased. They will seldom or never present alternative data, often because such doesn’t exist. Since their arguments are based on their own model of reality rather than on objective measures, the argument becomes one of who can present the most persuasive or unassailable explanations.
One of the currently most favored assertions is that something has been “debunked”. When presented with an objective fact they don’t like Progressives will frequently assert that the fact has been refuted (debunked), but no supporting evidence of refutation is presented. In other words, the reality of the fact’s existence has been denied as inconsistent with the consensus or desired “reality” of the Progressive, and it is therefore wrong by definition.
Facts ain’t facts
The ways that Progressives and Conservatives use the word “fact” is illustrative of the profound differences between the two polarities.
For Conservatives, a fact is a statement that has provenance – that is to say it can be traced back to some bit of objective evidence or observation. One can argue about interpretations of that evidence, or bring into discussion other objective observations, but always the requirement is that in order to be considered a fact rather than an opinion, a fact must always tie back to objective reality. A fact may be evaluated on the basis of the quality of the observation that produced it, and may even be refuted by showing that there was an error in the observation, but its existence is otherwise not a matter of dispute.
For Progressives, though, what is called a fact is often simply a point raised in support of an argument. What is called a fact need have no relationship to objective reality, only to the “reality” of the consensus model. As such, Progressive “facts” can simply be made up. We see an example of that in the assertion that the “fact” of “white supremacy” is responsible for the observed disparity in incomes and other factors that one sees in comparisons between minority and mainstream populations. That the concept of “white supremacy” provides a plausible explanation for the disparities is considered sufficient proof for its acceptance. No requirement for any further evaluation or experimental validation is necessary for its incorporation in the Progressive “reality” model.
The mainstream media is infested with Progressive elements, and often will construct “facts” in support of their narratives which have no basis in objective reality. Witness how they claim that the 2020 election was fair and without significant fraud, in spite of the massive and growing evidence of malfeasance sufficient to alter the results. The Associated Press (AP) would frequently manufacture “facts” of whole cloth that would cast Donald Trump in a negative light. There were no apologies issued when the “facts” were exposed as baseless.
Where it leaves us
Attempting to dispute an issue with a Progressive by introduction of objective fact is a futile exercise. Any facts presented will be dismissed as simply an alternative description of reality that does not align with the consensus.
It is likely that those adults of Progressive persuasion are beyond help. Most Conservatives have been shaped by direct encounters with objective reality and have come to accept that there exists a reality that does not answer to their thoughts, feelings, desires, hopes, fears, or any other human expression of will. Yes, reality can be shaped by human action, but only in accordance with its own rules.
The Progressive view of adverse experience, though, is that there is some competing agent acting to impose its own “reality” on theirs. Anything that does not conform to their reality is a result of sabotage or other action by an opponent, and has nothing to do with an objective reality that they deny exists. If Socialism doesn’t work it is because capitalists are sabotaging it, so it order to make it work, capitalists must be eliminated.
While Progressivism is a spectrum, like most human belief systems, and there will be a number of adults who are amenable to change under appropriate circumstances, the most adamant adherents will likely be refractory.
The greatest hope lies in the current youth and future generations who have not yet solidified their world views. That takes us back to the need expressed earlier for the formation and dissemination of solid and appealing expressions of Conservative philosophy and practice. We need to paint a competing and better vision of how Conservatism solves the problems that the Progressives have identified, as well as the new problems that Progressivism creates.
In a struggle for hearts and minds, how shall we speak to the future?
By David Robb
David Robb is a regular contributor to The Blue State Conservative and a practicing scientist who has been working in industry for over 50 years. One of his specialties is asking awkward questions. A large part of his work over the years has involved making complex scientific issues clear and understandable to non-specialists. Sometimes he even succeeds.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Blue State Conservative. The BSC is not responsible for, and does not verify the accuracy of, any information presented.