Patrick Garry
The progressive left’s corrosion of self-government
By Patrick Garry
March 28, 2022

If one listens closely enough, one hears the faint but steady hum of envy buzzing through American society. The envy is directed toward Ukraine, a country being pummeled by Russian tanks and missiles. A country where children, the elderly, and the sick are being targeted with bombs. And yet, it is also a country bravely standing up to one of the largest and best-equipped militaries on earth. This courage, this love of home and country, this willingness to sacrifice life and fortune – this is the subject of American envy.

The progressive left in America has levied a constant barrage of warnings this past year about the demise of democracy in the United States. But its lectures about the threats to democracy bear no resemblance to the proclamations of freedom and democracy emanating from Ukraine. Instead, when the progressive left complains about the state of American democracy, it is more or less complaining that it might not win the next election, that the unmanipulated will of the people might actually be expressed, and that all the progressive bureaucrats might actually lose their government jobs.

In reality, the progressive left is no defender of democracy. Instead, it has worked to erode the self-government foundations underlying democracy. The progressive view of democracy is when the Democratic Party wins elections. But the real test of democracy lies in the strength of a self-governing society that in turn uses the democratic process to control and direct government policy. Unfortunately, over the past several decades in America, progressives have steadily weakened our society.

On many different levels, progressives reveal that their goal is not a vibrant self-governing democracy, but rather a passive society complying with the legal mandates of an elite ruling class. The past two years of Covid dictates demonstrate the progressive intolerance for anything short of unquestioned obedience. The virulence of progressive intolerance toward any dissent reflects a complete lack of respect for the wide spectrum of diverse viewpoints underlying a truly healthy democracy.

But even more than their desire for unquestioned obedience from a compliant citizenry, progressives have shown their disregard for the principles of self-government through their attempts to dissipate notions of self-responsibility, which underlie notions of self-independence and freedom, which of course underlie notions of self-government and democracy. Take, for instance, the progressive proclamations on crime. If a police officer is shot, it is never said that a violent individual committed the act. Rather, the act is attributed to an “illegal” firearm that should otherwise have been outlawed by an empowered government. When an infant is abandoned on a street corner, it is attributed to the shortage of government health facilities. When urban youths engage in theft, burglary, and assaults, the cause is attributed to the lack of sufficient government social programs. There is no individual responsibility because individuals have no power. The events of the world – progressives believe – occur as a result of impersonal forces that only a powerful government can address or remedy.

The progressive left never places any responsibility on individuals who might belong to the left’s collection of preferred constituencies. But this lack of responsibility then leaves those individuals with no capacity for self-government. They are, instead, simply victims in need of a patronizing powerful government run by elites who will dictate the array of rules and benefits applicable to the waiting victims. Without responsibility, there can be no authority; and without authority, there can be no self-governing.

Besides removing responsibility from individuals, progressives also undermine the social and community cohesion necessary for vibrant self-government. For decades, progressives have attacked religious institutions that for centuries had provided individuals with a strong sense of community bonds and civic engagement. Progressives now tell parents that they have no meaningful role in their child’s education, that they are subversive terrorists if they question education bureaucrats about the learning environments of the public schools their children attend. Progressives deride any neighborhood or volunteer organization that doesn’t meet its prescribed parameters of appearance diversity. And so what is left? A society of atomized individuals having no connection or bonds with each other, aside from being passive consumers of a manipulative media.

Such a society of atomized individuals actually serves the goal of the progressive left – e.g., a weak society in need of an increasingly active and domineering government. The weaker and more isolated the individuals, the greater the need for a stronger government that can in turn try to replace all the ways in which civil society once supported and nurtured individuals.

With its all-consuming focus on diversity and on the ways in which the past fell short of the expectations of the present, the progressive left never looks at what unifies people, only on what differentiates them. For decades, sociologists have shown that social trust increases as shared traits and values increase. That is not to say that the best society is a homogenous one, nor that homogeneity should be preferred over diversity. Rather, it simply recognizes a reality – that people’s trust levels increase as their shared values and traits increase. Diversity energizes and enlivens a culture; but for a necessary degree of social trust or social cohesion to exist in a diverse society, certain unifying goals or values need to exist. This is where patriotism comes into play. Only patriotism can provide a unifying cohesion in a highly diverse society. Only patriotism can inspire the kind of courage currently on display in Ukraine. But the progressive aversion to American patriotism is well known.

Through their aversion to patriotism – or, as Michelle Obama put it, their pride in America dependent on who gets elected president – progressives tend to discredit their very goal of a powerful government commanding allegiance from its citizens. Progressives call for individuals to cede their independence to them to support a more expansive government run by a progressive elite. They call for individuals to sacrifice their self-interests. And yet, progressives do not seem to value that for which they are calling others to sacrifice.

Two recent polls are instructive. One Pew poll reveals that only ten percent of young Democrats believe America stands as exceptional in the world. Another alarming poll shows that just forty percent of all Democrats would act as the Ukrainians are currently acting – e.g., staying and fighting if the United States were invaded by a foreign power, just as Ukraine has been by Russia. In other words, if America was beset with a plight similar to what Ukraine is experiencing, sixty percent of all Democrats would run.

But if Democrats do not see the United States as exceptional in the world, then why should Americans pay burdensome taxes to support all the progressive projects undertaken by the U.S. government? And if Democrats wouldn’t even fight for their besieged country, why would an otherwise patriotic public look to them for leadership?

© Patrick Garry


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Patrick Garry

Patrick Garry is a professor of law at the University of South Dakota, and Director of the Hagemann Center for Legal & Public Policy Research... (more)


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