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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cliches of Progressivism – Introduction

Clichés of Progressivism is a joint project of Young America’s Foundation and FEE. A new chapter is published weekly. Click here for the chapter index.

Clichés are tired, shopworn, and often misleading. So why have we compiled a book of them? Because when they are deployed in the service of a flawed ideology and dressed up to appear new and refreshing, they lead well-meaning people to make costly mistakes.

Progressivism is a dead-end philosophy. Its central notion is that an educated elite should plan and engineer societies by the use of centralized power. Progressives reject many of the principles upon which America was founded, including small and limited government, individual liberty and choice, the sanctity of contract and private property, and a free market economy.

In many respects, there’s little that’s truly “progressive” about Progressivism. One of the crucial lessons of history is that human progress happens when humans are free, yet the Progressive agenda would substantially diminish freedom while promising the unachievable—a gargantuan but somehow wise and compassionate State. Because Progressives can’t succeed if they level with people in clear and accurate terms, they resort to an endless stream of half-truths. They’ve been at it for so long—more than a century—that many of those half-truths are now clichés that are widely familiar but often ineffectively answered.

Think of this collection as a handy reference guide no matter what your level of education or choice of profession may be. You don’t need to be an economist or philosopher to understand what’s written here. Progressive clichés are presented, then stripped of their deceptions with compelling arguments for a broad, lay audience. For people who are actively engaged in advancing liberty and combatting the fallacies of Progressivism, this will be an indispensable addition to your arsenal of intellectual ammunition.

It is more than a happy coincidence that the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) should collaborate with Young America’s Foundation (YAF) on this important project. The antecedents to this book are two classic FEE publications that YAF helped distribute in the past: Clichés of Politics, published in 1994, and the more influential Clichés of Socialism, which made its first appearance in 1962. Indeed, this new collection contains a number of chapters from those two earlier works, updated for the present day. Other entries first appeared in some version in FEE’s journal, The Freeman. Still others are brand new, never having appeared in print anywhere.

Our two organizations are delighted to provide Clichés of Progressivism to a large audience of both newcomers to the ideas of liberty and older friends who want updated answers to the evolving deceptions of the statist Left. Beginning in April 2014, chapters will appear first on the websites of the two organizations, one per week, and when the series runs its course in a year or so, the best of them will be printed and distributed in hard copy book form.

The FEE/YAF connection takes on a personal perspective with FEE’s president, Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed, as the editor of this project. At age 15, Larry was deeply affected by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Within weeks, he participated in a YAF demonstration against the invasion in downtown Pittsburgh. He joined YAF and devoured the information packet provided to new members, including a subscription to The Freeman, Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law, Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, Henry Grady Weaver’s The Mainspring of Human Progress, Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and yes, an early edition of Clichés of Socialism. As Larry himself has put it, “The message was, ‘If you want to be an anti-communist, you have to go deeper than just being against tanks and guns used on innocent people. You have to know economics and philosophy, too, backwards and forwards.’ YAF introduced me to FEE, and now, almost half a century later, we both are introducing our shared values to new generations of young people.”

At about the same time Larry was getting his start in the movement for liberty, I was doing the same, working my way up from chapter founder to leadership positions within YAF. I can attest to the power of the publications and seminars FEE produced then and still does today, for they were instrumental in the evolution of my thinking, too. It’s been a pleasure in recent years to work with Larry to rekindle our association and, thereby, magnify the influence of both FEE and YAF.

Clichés of Progressivism is not meant to be the final, definitive response to a harmful ideology. Progressivism, if nothing else, has proven to be a slippery, clever beast. It’s like the arcade game “Whack a Mole.” Smack one myth, and another one rears its head. And the one you smacked never really vanishes; when people forget its underlying falsehood or a new generation comes along, it just reappears. This project will require our attention as far into the future as the best eyes can now see. 

  • Ron Robinson has served as Young America’s Foundation's president for more than three decades.