Columns / Discourse / February 18, 2015

Breaking through political labels

Do not call me a progressive. If you have been actively reading the discourse section of TKS this term, I have been writing about my so-called progressive views and how they apply to the Knox campus.

Yet calling me a progressive does not do myself or progressivism any justice. Even before my first discourse piece for TKS came out, I have been called as and ideologically identified as a progressive. I have defined this in my first piece for TKS earlier this term when writing that “progressives tend to believe that government can be a force for good.” I go on to defend that assertion by writing about how government is not always a force for good and in response many progressives generally believe that the government should be used as a force for good.

Since I began writing this column, I have become more intrigued than ever about progressive history and ideology. I was frequently described as a progressive.  Yet, the more I read about progressivism the less I tend to identify as a progressive.

When I think of progressive presidents I tend to think of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. While there are admirable things about all of them, there are things that disturb me as well. For example, Theodore Roosevelt was a huge social Darwinist and proponent of eugenics, and expanded our colonial presence throughout much of the world. His distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt interned Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during WWII. Lyndon Johnson expanded presidential war powers to a dangerous degree in order to get the United States involved in the Vietnam War.

Progressivism runs in all of these grave errors. Progressivism and social Darwinism both believe in survival of the fittest, the only difference is that with progressivism there is a moral obligation for the “fittest” to give back to those who are not “fit.” Colonization relies on the progressive idea that some alien government knows best and that even if they do not, they will in the future. WWII era Japanese-American concentration camps relied on the idea that the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps was for the good of the the United States and the world. Lyndon Johnson’s unapologetic support for the Vietnam War was an extension of the idea that the United States government fighting in Vietnam was for the greater good of the world. He thought that even if we weren’t doing our best job presently, we might miss an opportunity to improve if we pulled out.

In short, progressivism has devolved from a means to reign in big corporate interests to a means to impose big government interests. Progressivism frames much of American history as a struggle between government and business. It ignores the fact that most Americans do not hold any important governmental office or corporate position. It fails to incorporate those who do not hold some sort of power into people who do hold that sort of power and are capable of doing so.

Progressivism is not the only ideology that could be implicated for this neglect of the average person. In fact, most ideologies are guilty of this ignorance to some degree. Those ideologies that are not guilty, of even less guilty, of this ignorance towards the average person ignore the obstacles that get in the way of this empowerment. Many of these ideologies deem power as a dirty word. The obtainment of some sort of power is not a dirty word. In fact, I view it as a human right. A true democracy empowers its citizens. Until power is recognized as a basic human right, there is no real truth in the world.

This is not to say I disagree with all progressivism has to offer. It just means I will not be bound to the labels and confinements of progressivism. In future columns I will write about what I believe, without being constrained to textbook definitions of any singular ideology. I will not write as a progressive, but as Sam Klingher. I will no longer use this column to clarify my beliefs as a progressive, but to clarify my beliefs as Sam Klingher.


Sam Klingher

Tags:  american history democracy ideology LBJ progressivism Roosevelt shortcomings

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