Must Read: Progressivism’s End (and renewal)

I highly recommend reading my good friend David Eaves‘ article Progressivism’s End co-written with his frequent collaborator, Taylor Owen. The analysis is very strong and it is the most effectively written articulation of what I believe to be the emerging realignment of policy and politics as influenced by web technology, the creative class and the steady transition of power from Boomers to Gen Y.

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Because I love it so, a couple of excerpts. On how the Left is killing Progressivism:

Seeing their hard-fought accomplishments under threat, traditional baby boomer progressives began to prioritize the survival of New Deal policies and institutions over the idealistic outcomes they were built to promote. Thus the central paradox of progressivism was born: its older-style advocates, entrenched against innovation and reform, even in the service of progressive values, had unwittingly become the new conservatives.

And on Obama’s internet fundraising and engagement strategy:

…[it} creates a network of people directly and meaningfully invested in his campaign. The millions of visitors to mybarackobama.com are encouraged to use, remix and contribute to the Obama message, which in turn facilitates its breadth and scope. They are given some control and made to feel ownership over the very identity of the campaign. During the primaries alone, 30,000 completely independent Obama events were organized through the website. This is not command-and-control politics. It represents a decentralization of governance that is a harbinger of things to come: Obama’s online network was leveraged to assist victims of last spring’s midwestern floods.

Eaves and Taylor go beyond a simple reading of Obama’s influence to the underlying forces that created such fertile ground for Obama’s emergence. From technology change, to social movements to demographics – there is a compelling case that we are the cusp of a epochal change and realignment of politics, with Obama himself an early signal of the future and a midwife to this change.

But what of Canada?

It is unclear whether any Canadian party is currently able to have this discussion. The political landscape is limited. The Progessive Conservatives are gone, and the NDP, because of its statist model, and Liberals, because of their years in power, remain caught in the progressive paradox — more often than not defending old institutions and approaches.

Readers will know that I am one of those swept up in the neo-progressive hope that Obama represents. I am also one of the many Canadians looking at our own politics with profound disappointment at the state of political leadership and politics in our country. As we enter our own election, we see a fractured “progressive” slate of four parties splitting votes and lacking coherence. We need political leadership with roots in social movements, as Eaves and Taylor suggest.

In the search for such a leader, we should all have a look at Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada. Check out the full interview of her on Question Period, where she describes a post-ideological position that reflects her roots in the environmental movement as well as the Progressive Conservative party. With the entry of a Green Party MP into the House of Commons, and with a movement and a lawsuit to get May’s participation on the slate of future leadership debates, we may finally hear an articulation of a post-ideological neo-progressive agenda that embraces Canadian values of environmental stewardship, without the statist baggage of the NDP, the historical privilege of the Liberals or the separatist non-starter that is the Bloc Quebecois.

3 thoughts on “Must Read: Progressivism’s End (and renewal)”

  1. Your post-ideological neo-progressive agenda is actually extremely ideological and neo-liberal. It shocks me as to just how blind you are to your own stridency and rigidity. History cannot be discarded as easily as you like.

  2. Josh> Hmmm that’s what I hear from NDPers when I tell them why I can’t vote for them anymore. Nobody is discarding history, but things change, or ships sink.

  3. I supported the NDP when Jack Layton took the leadership, filled with Obama-esque hopes for change. I retired my short-lived party membership when I realized that it was not going to be a vehicle for change at all.

    The NDP (and to a lesser extent the Liberals) take exactly the kind of defensive conservative New Deal positions that Eaves/Taylor talk about in the article.

    And to Josh’s point, I think we do have to acknowledge that if you can call something an -ism, it IS an ideology. Of course it is, it’s a set of ideas.

    Ideologies are not bad in themselves, but they should serve some end and when they are no longer useful should be discarded or reimagined and reconfigured.

    That’s what I think we’re talking about – the need for new approaches that meld the justice values of the Left with the respect for individual responsibility and entrepreneurship of the Right. Post-ideological is one way of describing a space beyond the traditional Left-Right dichotomy.

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