Progressive Regression

We should not think that everything happening today with American liberalism is a logical conclusion of progressivism

“Progressives have given us this very large state that cultural radicals, multiculturalists, people involved in identity politics grab on to. They used the Supreme Court rather than the legislatures to overturn gay marriage bans. They use the apparatus invented by early 20th-century progressives for the benefit of movements and ideas for which those progressives would not have had any sympathy.”


Kim Holmes, a former assistant secretary of state and Heritage Foundation vice president, is the author of The Closing of the Liberal Mind.

Your new book examines a stream of liberalism going back several centuries, and shows that postmodern liberals are very different from classic liberals.

Yes, classic liberals believed in limited government, individual liberty, freedom of the press, and the like. That all started to change in America at the end of the 19th century with the rise of progressivism, which directly challenged the classic liberal tradition of the American founding, particularly the Constitution. Liberals started importing from Europe social democratic and socialist ideas.

Where do those European ideas come from? You say the 18th century brought us two Enlightenments?

The British, Anglo-American, and Scottish traditions, from John Locke and people like that, yielded a moderate Enlightenment, which became manifest in the Constitution and the American tradition. The radical Enlightenment—mainly French, from Pierre Bayle and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—gave rise to the liberal tradition of the French Revolution.

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