Progressives love to pat themselves on the back for their rampant and consistent tolerance of everything and everybody. There’s just one problem: progressives are intolerant of anything and anybody who disagrees with their worldview.
Consider the parameters the progressives have set for our debate on cultural issues. There is the politically correct, intellectually conformist status quo that asserts which stances on controversial issues constitute the rational, middle ground. They include being in favor of abortion rights, gay marriage, amnesty for undocumented aliens, dramatic climate change legislation, redistributive taxation and an aggressive regulatory and bureaucratic infrastructure. Being on the opposite ends of any of these is to announce one’s status as an outsider, as one not privy to the enlightened inspiration that governs the benighted progressive and wafts through the corridors of the elite. Conventional wisdom in media and academia likewise stand in united opposition to the following: fracking, Christianity, federalism, diffuse power, the Constitution, fiscal sustainability, the Tea Party, the Redskins, Islamophobia, profit, enterprise, individual liberty, prosperity, wisdom, humility, self-awareness and an understanding of basic economics.
On one level, it’s nice to know that progressives are so unified, since it means they operate in a herd mentality and skew towards solidarity more than they champion policy entrepreneurship. The modern Democratic party is nothing if not disciplined. They all hew to the same script and follow the same marching orders. This is the characteristic of sheep, not of leaders. Human history is riddled with unfortunate examples of the willful mass following of charismatic leaders, and it’s not hard to find the corollary in 2007-8. So from a bird’s-eye view, it’s fairly easy to diagram what has been going on in American politics during the Obama era. A party of committed ideologues galvanized around the gauzy populism of “hope and change” and with impressive operational discipline, has deigned to control its narrative above all else. Nothing that the Obama administration does is done through anything other than a political lens. With the help of a shamefully compliant mainstream media, the progressives in Washington have cultivated a broadly toxic story about their opposition. Whether cast as racists, homophobes or xenophobes, or as the progenitors of epic wars on women and the elderly, conservatives have had to weather a brutal five year storm of invective and demagoguery from media and political elites. All the while, we’re told that we’re intolerant, and thus not fit for serious consideration in PC society. The progressive aim is to consign conservatives to the margins of society by convincing the electorate broadly of their malice and indifference to the plight of the common man. It’s slander as old as Napolean (and probably older, but you can trace the term “ideologue” to a pejorative Napolean coined to discredit his foes), and it can be quite effective (see: 2008, 20012 elections).
It can’t be effective forever though. Sooner or later, the public wakes up. Great Britain sleepwalked through forty years of socialism before it woke up and threw Labour out on its ass and gave Lady Thatcher a chance in 1979. America had a similar experience with the election of Ronald Reagan signaling its clear discontent with the failed statist programs of the ’60’s and 70’s. Eventually, people fortunate enough to live in places with institutions and traditions that venerate liberty and the cause of the individual over the cause of the state will course-correct. In that vein, the U.S. and U.K. were fortunate that they shared the glorious heritage of property rights and individual freedom, and so were able to tap into those deep wells of national conscience and rediscover their principles. Countries not rooted in Anglosphere traditions of liberty and the free market always find more difficulty in escaping the shadow of expansive, tyrannical states, because most national identities are ethnic or geographic, as opposed to creedal or propositional such as exist in Anglosphere nations. But even the “special relationship” countries, the ones most responsible for global understanding of things like habeus corpus, rule of law and natural rights, have managed to unlearn the lessons of Reagan and Thatcher and have reverted to collectivist form.
When collectivism is ascendant, intolerance follows suit. When people band together under common cause, it is not inherently a bad or dangerous thing. People can gather to thwart tyranny or to peaceably assemble or for any number of other benign incarnations of civil society. But when people gather under the banner of collectivism, whether communism, socialism, fascism or ethnic nationalism, the results are not just bad, they are disastrous. Every collectivist movement starts out with decent enough intentions, perhaps even noble. Injustice, inequality, oppression are all frequently cited as reasons behind the call for collectivism. And often these maladies are real, and the radicals seeking reform are to be commended at the outset for their altruistic instincts. The problem arises in the execution. Every collectivist revolution or government has failed or proceeds apace in a mire of failure, because it holds no limiting principle. Every collectivist sees the state as an instrument for bestowing good and fairness on the land, but without a limiting principle, how does the collectivist know when government has met its goal. How does it know when enough is enough? It doesn’t know, because it can’t know. Hayek wrote about the “knowledge problem” and affirmed that no man or bureaucracy can ever possess total knowledge. Economies are so dynamic and diffuse that it is impossible for any entity to attain all the knowledge that goes into economic operations, which means the proposition that an economy can be centrally planned by experts equipped with total knowledge is impossible. This is just the first crisis the collectivist encounters when charged with operating society. The next involves the harsh treatment of political opposition that every collectivist administration ultimately resorts to. Just as Napolean needed to discredit his “ideologues,” progressives have for over a hundred years used slander, distortion and dishonesty to achieve their political ends. Since a collectivist society can’t work because it can’t run an economy, the progressive impulse is to keep the grand experiment alive at all costs, that the ends justify the means. Aware of the shortcomings of statism but determined to to adhere to the doctrine anyway, progressives know that they have to lie. About just about everything. Only by keeping the proles uninformed and distracted a la Brave New World can the progressives spin enough fantasies and fear a la 1984 to keep the people blind and in favor of a more bloated, comfortable welfare state. And if there is pushback, then unleash holy hell on the dissenters until they break and get in line or until they are defeated or killed. That is quite literally the historical record of collectivism. And it is repeating itself all over again, with rank intolerance and profound derisiveness directed at conservatives and libertarians at every turn, here and across the world. No entities have been subject to more unfair and disproportionate abuse than the Tea Party in America and UKIP in England. That these nascent political movements have the right of it on just about every count is what makes them targets to be destroyed.
The biggest enemies of collectivism are truth and debate. Progressives know that they can’t allow either to blossom in our public discourse, lest they be truly exposed. Every enemy of free speech today is likely a progressive. Ask yourself, which ideology is truly intolerant?