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They are not liberals and they are not progressives

Pro Tea Party writers in the USA still, mostly, call their statist enemies “liberals“. Later in that same piece I’ve linked to, its author, Michael Gerson, also uses the phrase “panicked progressives”, partly because “progressive” is an alternative word for “liberal” that is now doing the rounds with what appears to me, from here in the UK, to be particular vigour just now (having (like “liberal”) been around for many decades), and partly, presumably, because panic and progressive both begin with p and the phrase sounds good. I like pretty much everything Gerson says in this piece, but put it like this: I wish he lived in a world where there already were better words hammered into everyone’s heads to describe the people he is criticising other than “liberal” and “progressive”.

Because, the word “progressive” is just as wrong as the word “liberal”. The statists who argue for the destruction of the dollar and for bank bail-outs (again) and for nationalised derangement of medical care and for green-inspired economic sabotage aren’t “liberals”. They do not believe in liberty; they believe in curtailing liberty. But neither do they believe in anything which it makes sense to anybody except them to call “progress”. Progress is the exact thing these statists are now trying and have always tried to destroy, and just lately have been doing a pretty damn good job of destroying. Progress means things getting better. These self styled “progressives” are only making things worse.

Underneath these unsatisfactory labels, which the statist (a better word for these people in my opinion) enemies of liberty and progress have chosen for themselves and have been using for decades, is an assumption, both by the statists and by those who really do believe in liberty and in progress, that the statists are the people who will inevitably continue to decide about such labels.

But the statists no longer do. One of the biggest events to have happened in the entire world in the last two or three years is that the statist tendency has lost its monopoly control of the media in the USA. The statist media used to be “mainstream”. No longer. Now, their bias is utterly clear and out in the open, because there is now a whole different torrent of different media outlets exposing this bias, every day, every hour, every minute. The statists no longer control the agenda. The statists no longer control the language.

Well, that’s not quite right. Statists are still controlling the language, because they are still being allowed to.

But statist words will go on meaning what the statists want them to mean only if the real liberals and the real progressives allow such foolishness to continue. For the people who really do believe in liberty and in progress can now decide their own language. They can use their own preferred words amongst themselves and they can attach their own preferred words to their enemies, and when they do, there will not be a damn thing that the statists will be able to do to stop them.

In this blog posting, which is centrally about not using the words “liberal” and “progressive” to describe people who are neither, I have instead called these people “statists”. I am somewhat unsure about that word’s rightness, not least because it might suggest greater devolution of power within the USA, in accordance with its Constitution, from the Federal Government to state governments, rather than any sort of generalised opposition to or suspicion of governmental compulsion of all kinds. Comments on that, including comments to the effect that there are much better words than “statist” out there, just waiting to step up or which already have stepped up to verbal stardom, so to speak, which I hadn’t thought of or which I have temporarily forgotten about, would be very welcome. Dirigiste? Centralist? Governmentalist? Despotist?

Whatever. “Statist” (or whatever) is not central the point of this posting, which is a double negative, rather than anything positive. What I am very sure about is that people who really do believe in liberty and in progress should stop calling the enemies of liberty “liberals” and should stop calling the enemies of progress “progressives”.

125 comments to They are not liberals and they are not progressives

  • guy herbert

    I don’t think the linguistic battle is the same, or even overlapping, on either side of the Atlantic.

    The British left has rarely used ‘liberal’ for itself. On the whole it has since the 60s been a term of abuse from the left aimed at believers in free trade and free speech, and those who were not left-wing enough. ‘Neo-liberal,’ meaning, in the eyes of those who use it, “even worse than liberal,” has been the preferred variant of late.

    ‘Progressive’ has been around for a while, but gained its present currency under Blair, among those on the left who have been trying to revive a Broad Left movement against those in the Labour Party deemed tainted by neo-liberalism, but who have now learned that ‘socialist’ frightens the horses.

  • guy

    You say: “I don’t think the linguistic battle is the same, or even overlapping, on either side of the Atlantic.”

    But this is one of the big things that is now changing, now that the media are joining up with each other.

    I wrote this posting mostly for American readers, in connection with an American article, urging Americans to use some words differently to how they do now. Before the www, I could not have done this. Now such things are routine. Which means that there is now pressure to regularise language, throughout each language-sphere.

    Time was when my grumbles about the way Americans use these words would have counted for nothing, because I could not have expressed them to the desired target. Now, they count for something, because I can flash my grumbles all around America, if I am eloquent enough about it and if I get lucky with linkage. They can do the same to us with their opinions, including their opinions about how we use words in ways that they may not like, either because they just don’t, or because how we use a word is different to the way they use it, and want to go on using it.

    So now, whatever may have been the story in the past, it is the same battle, on both sides of the Atlantic.

    If we don’t resist it, the American way with these words will spread to here. In fact, I think it already is spreading, especially “liberal”, despite liberal having in the past meant something quite different here to what they now mean by it.

  • Richard Thomas

    I believe I saw a display in a museum recently that indicated that “progressive” has been in use in conjunction with socialist activities since at least the late 1800s. Fittingly enough, it was in connection with a local commune that only lasted a handful of years.

    A little reading around indicates that “progressive” was, in fact, even more closely associated with Marxism in those days. With Marxism so thoroughly discredited, one can only assume that the statists feel its past connections have sufficiently faded from memory to begin using it to describe themselves again. I’d suggest that rather than try to avoid using the word, we instead reconnect it to its Marxist roots in the public consciousness.

  • PaulH

    I’m interested in what you mean by ‘progress’, it being critical to the definition of progressive. I assume you’re using the common meaning of moving along a path of improvement, i.e. things getting better? If that’s the case then I’d suggest ditching the definition not because it doesn’t describe the people you’re discussing, but because it describes almost everyone.

    If you believe that AGW is real, then limiting the release of carbon is progress. If you believe that universal health care brings the greatest good to the greatest number of people, then it is progress even if it limits some people’s freedoms. If you believe that the individual is sacrosanct, then the diminishment of government is progress.

    So, depending on what you believe, almost anything can count as progress. And many of those initial beliefs are entirely reasonable, even if they happen to be wrong (e.g. it’s entirely reasonable and indeed obvious to think that humans can impact the climate, even if they’re not doing so in a dramatic way now), hence almost anything can legitimately count as progress.

  • Bruce Hoult

    The Wikipedia article seems reasonably unbiased and plausible:


    “Progressivism is a political attitude favoring or advocating changes or reform through governmental action.”

    That pretty clearly describes “them” and equally clearly does not describe “us”, so it’s quite reasonably as a definition of the major point of difference.

    As with all “ism”s, the originators get to pick a word that sounds good to them, and it sticks even when it becomes outdated. For example, “modernism” isn’t actually very modern any more (and Postmodernism is old too).

    While we’re aligning the different dialects of the English language, can we please let the Americans know what “entrée” means in the context of a meal? Thank you.

  • Robert

    What “statists” are is totalitarian. Not totalitarian in the mid-20th century way, but totalitarian in the same way as the medieval catholic church. They believe that the state ought to have total control over society (and they believe that they should control the state); anyone who disagrees is a dangerous heretic. The question you should always ask a “progressive” is: is there any part of society that you do not think the state has a legitimate right to interfere in?

  • David Roberts

    Brian you are in Alfred Korzybski territory here. The gross differences in understanding of particular words cause much less mayhem than subtle differences. I think that understanding the full meaning of a word that an other person has, and visa versa is, a never ending struggle, for all people. Often when an agreement is arrived at by two groups they are actually not in agreement as they both honestly interpret the words of the agreement differently. This then leads to charges of dishonesty and distrust by both sides, which are actually unwarranted. Perhaps your posting will alert more people to the importance of understanding what particular words mean to others and then enable them to start to recognize the nuanced differences as well.

  • David Roberts

    Sorry, I meant Guy not Brian. Its such a struggle for me! I have now upset both Guy and Brian.

  • David Roberts

    No!! I was right first time.

  • The word “progressive” has been used to mean what it means now since it was coined, unlike the word “liberal”. It has always described “social reform socialists” who are effectively unique to and characteristic of the Anglosphere, following an ideology of moral and social reform as the means to attain utopia, quite distinct from Marxist-communism, and utilising a gradualist “Fabian” approach. The term progressive in part indicates that methodology; wherever you are, whatever reform you just enacted, it’s just a step on the road to further progress. Which is why it’s useless to cave in and hope they’ll be satisfied with whatever they just achieved, because they never will be.

    Progressivism is derived initially from religiously motivated social reformers, and was the term given to them in America where the “Progressive Movement” and “Progressive Era” are extremely well documented. Their high point was the enactment of Temperance across the Union, but that was also the swansong of the first Progressive Era and in the mid 20th century they were eclipsed by economic socialists on both sides of the Atlantic. With the failure of economic socialism, the Progressives with their lifestyle, moralist socialism, have become predominant again- effectively the New Left marxists by the mid 1970s had transformed back into Progressives.

    So Brian, your posting reads a little strangely to me. I’m sure you must be aware of the Progressive Era as an accepted historical phenomenon, yet you write as if this use of the word is recent, with a kind of “naive” stance to your article, as if you’ve only just heard of them.

    I have in the past proposed terms like “anglo-socialist” or “anglo-statist” but they are rather bland it has to be said, so I settled on “proggie”. David Davis at the LA prefers the more colourful GramscoFabiaNazi which has a certain ring to it. But whatever, I think you’re on a bit of a hiding to nowhere hoping to “take back” the word progressive because our side never had it. It has always described the statist social reformers of the anglosphere. In the States (where the Progressive Movement and Era are distinctly historically defined), the likes of Herbert Croly or John Dewey or Jane Addams.

  • I feel much the same about the word ‘libertarian’ which was how I described myself some 40 years ago. It is the modern usage I don’t like and led me to look for something else – which I haven’t found yet.

    Meanings change and sometimes words can do a 180 turn in meaning. It is the Internet that is making this an issue, since UK and US usage can mix in the same thread. Too often it seems, some people then react as if their own usage is the only one – even when it isn’t the ‘original’ usage, if you see what I mean.

    NOTE – in order to make it easier to separate my comments from Ian B and the assorted other Ians here (not normally difficult I would have thought), I have added an extra i to my normal nom de web.

  • What’s wrong with ‘fascist’?

  • I was going to suggest “socialist” as the right term but then it occurred to me that if falls into excactly the same category – “socialists” are typically people opposed to society.

    “Marxist” seems better but then there are lots of people (I’m thinking of David Cameron here for example) who would never in a million years consider themselves to be Marxists, but are.

    And then there is the issue of what people call themselves. Any other term is likely to be pejorative. And pejorative terms are one of my bug bears.

    But then we have to distinguish between real liberals and fake liberals etc. Marxist liberals, Marxist progressives perhaps.

    But on your main point: quite.

  • mehere

    Liberal used to mean live and let live, but there is often not much of that allowed to go on.

    And the best term for ‘progressive’ is masturbation.

  • Patrick, from your link:

    The use of any term that includes judgement is an attempt to curtail debate.

    Yes, given the debate is existent or even possible – is it? And, is there any term that does not include judgment? Seems to me, it is no longer about debate, and it is all about judgment. Clarifying things as much as possible, and letting people decide which side do they want to take.

  • There is nothing new in the redefinition of words, despicable though that might be, and more rapid though it might be in politics than in other fields.

    If you want less change in meaning, though it is difficult, try using more numbers and less words. Though, even then, perfection of meaning will undoubtedly escape us all. This can be seen through the redefinition of inflation.

    [Somewhat aside: now we have Mr Boy Cameron wanting to substitute a ‘happiness index’ for economic growth. Actually, he is no ‘Boy’: he has the realism to see that his government has pretty much zilch chance of success under the prevailing success index of economic growth. He is totally pessimistic that he can convince the electorate that past mistakes are so awful that recovery needs to be measured in decades, not years. He is hopey changey that ‘happiness’ will be more in his favour. And, of course, he is right: there is no chance whatsoever that happiness can be firmed into numbers in the same was as GDP – all he needs is a more subjective ‘metric’ – and an electorate that believes (in) him.]

    In politics, the biggest division should be, IMHO and I’ve said it before, the proportion of GDP that government takes (at all levels) through tax (also % of GDP they spend): perhaps averaged over the economic cycle. This should be both the actuality and as a target, having sorted out the total **** left by their predecessors. On those two items, please may we have the policy of each of the political parties (and the presumed compromise of the current coalition).

    Next in the division of politics, we should have the proportion of GDP which is subject to ‘wealth redistribution’. That covers all of welfare, health and education. Almost certainly more besides: not least as there will be continual political redefinitions of welfare. health and education (to say nothing of the definition of poverty – and fat cat).

    Go for it chaps: words or numbers; it’s all grey – but don’t be so simplistic as to believe that the shades do not matter.

    Best regards (and good luck)

  • “What’s wrong with ‘fascist’?”

    How often have you tried using that term when you want to dissuade someone of his or her opinion?

  • I noticed that the statists (good word for them) started trying to change their name from ‘liberal’ in the late 1980s). In the 1988 election there was a minor hoo hah when Dukakis had a hard time admitting he was a ‘liberal’.

    After 2012 I predict that they will try and call themselves ‘Whigs’

    Although I could be wrong.

  • Mike, see my comment to Patrick. The whole point is that I am no longer in the business of dissuading people of their opinion. Rather, I am aiming at people who have no opinion – not an informed one. You cannot dissuade a true collectivist (or fascist or what have you) from their opinion, because that opinion is in fact part of their personality. However, some times you can help others form more informed opinions, and you can do this by calling a spade ‘spade’. That said, I may be misunderstanding the term ‘fascist’ – if so, I’d be happy to be better informed.

  • I’m with Ian and Bruce here. “Progressivism” is and always has been about the belief that higher powers – gods and government make things “better”.

  • Next in the division of politics, we should have the proportion of GDP which is subject to ‘wealth redistribution’. That covers all of welfare, health and education. Almost certainly more besides: not least as there will be continual political redefinitions of welfare. health and education (to say nothing of the definition of poverty – and fat cat).

    Nigel, yes. All those terms you use there are eternally malleable. Particularly those of “wealth” and “poverty”.

    I call it “Physics Envy” – the deranged desire of quite a lot of people to use what looks like the methods of the exact sciences in socioeconomic contexts. The problem here is that if you want to measure poverty, say, you have to have an essentially arbitary definition which is not the case with a measurement of the mass of an electron. Nobody sits around in the lab contemplating their own navels and asking, “Depends what you mean by ‘mass’ or ‘an electron’ come to that.” All “objective” measures of socioeconomic things are only “objective” within a particular metacontext which is essentially ideologically based.

    Let’s take poverty. Let’s imagine a charity exists which defines “child poverty” in terms of children living in a household with below average (defined however) income then clearly their work shall never end! Excellent for them! This is a rather silly example and taken to extremes but I hope you catch my drift…

    And that is what progressivism is really about. It is tackling ill-defined (often non-existent) “problems” in a way that always leaves more to do.

  • “The whole point is that I am no longer in the business of dissuading people of their opinion. Rather, I am aiming at people who have no opinion – not an informed one. You cannot dissuade a true collectivist (or fascist or what have you) from their opinion, because that opinion is in fact part of their personality.”

    Perhaps you forget, but we’ve been through this before Alisa.

    I often encounter people to whom “opinions” are like badges: worn lightly. On its own, calling them fascist or calling someone they regard highly as fascist doesn’t work because they no longer understand that term as anything other than a rude word.

    Illustration of what they mean by “civilized” is a better method: the gun to the head. In my experience that always leaves them either stunned or in the obviously uncomfortable position of having to tell you that yes, forcing people at gunpoint to pay for this or that is “civilized”. That’s not an equation an otherwise decent person can just brush off and forget about.

  • The left adopt language to enhance their persuasiveness. It is positively Orwellian. It is also effective. Once they ruin the positive feelings associated with a word, they will move onto another.


    Highlights the fact that the left labels anything they don’t like as right. Including the German Socialist Workers Party. Yep, socialist workers party is exactly what any denizen of the right woul call themselves.

  • Richard Thomas

    The term progressive in part indicates that methodology; wherever you are, whatever reform you just enacted, it’s just a step on the road to further progress. Which is why it’s useless to cave in and hope they’ll be satisfied with whatever they just achieved, because they never will be.

    QOTD material, in my opinion.

  • Richard Thomas

    “Depends what you mean by ‘mass’ or ‘an electron’ come to that.”

    Is that rest mass or relativistic mass? And are you talking about the particle-like or wave-like properties of that electron?

    But I get what you’re saying 😉

  • Kim du Toit

    As a long-time conservative (in the words of Willian F. Buckley, one who stands athwart the tide of history, shouting “STOP!”), I snarl at the entire idea of “progressivism” in its modern sense.

    The plain thruth is that most of these social “improvers” are simply historical morons who either a.) ignore the lessons of history or b.) think that this time their “improvement” will turn out better, somehow, than the last time it was attempted (and failed).

    I feel the same degree of scorn for “liberals” who are not close adherents to the philosophies of Locke, Adam Smith, Hayek, Mises and their ilk.

    Society can seldom be improved other than by improvement of the individuals therein — provided that all such improvement is self-motivated (see Albert Jay Nock’s seminal Our Enemy, The State for the roadmap), and not performed by the Nannies of whatever stripe — Church, Party, State, whatever.

    I wish they’d all just FOAD.

  • Tedd

    Regarding progressive and progressivism, IanB has it right. The “progress” part refers to social progress. These are longstanding terms in American politics with clear meanings that are distinct from socialism (although with a certain degree of overlap when viewed from a libertarian perspective). One important difference is that progressivism in the U.S. has always been a populist movement, whereas socialism and social-democracy are often regarded as elitist, even by progressives.

    The term statist is too broad to be used as a substitute for progressive or socialist. A statist could be progressivist, socialist, communist, fascist, monarchist, or pretty much any other “ist” except anarchist, and not libertarian.

    I prefer the British usage of liberal to the American usage (because, um, it’s correct). But over on this side of the pond the American usage is now so ingrained that it’s not possible to use the term as Brits do without a long explanation. So I simply don’t use the word at all anymore, other than to discuss it’s meaning and usage.

  • Tedd writes:

    The term statist is too broad to be used as a substitute for progressive or socialist. A statist could be progressivist, socialist, communist, fascist, monarchist, or pretty much any other “ist” except anarchist, and not libertarian.

    Well, yes: but is it not obvious (from the broader meanings of these words) that all socialists are statists, but not all statists are socialists. We are at risk here of crawling up our own back passages.

    But this need not be the case, when discussing the true current meaning of words and Brian’s view: that political hijacking of the vocabulary of one’s enemy is becoming a (more severe) problem.

    Best regards

  • Well, as a minarchist libertine[1] I see all those statists as much the same anyway. If somebody makes a law saying I can’t buy a beer at 11:01 pm, it makes little difference to me whether they consider themselves a progressive moving forwards to a golden future of sobriety, or a conservative going back to the good old days of sobriety. I still can’t buy a fucking beer, and that’s the bit that matters.

    [1] In the true, original sense of the word.

  • Tedd

    By the way, while I don’t know this for a fact, I strongly suspect that the odd usage of the term liberal in the U.S. derives from progressivism being originally a liberal movement. The prototypical progressive movement was abolitionism.

    However, beginning in the early 20th century, progressivism began to align itself with the labour movement and then, during the depression, with various philosophies promoting central planning. So, by the Great Society era of the 60s, it looked a lot like European social democracy. But it’s important to understand that, at its core, progressivism is not essentially anti-capitalist the way socialism is. Progressives regard free enterprise as a host to be exploited for social purposes, whereas socialists regard it as a parasite.

  • Tedd


    Well, as a minarchist libertine[1] I see all those statists as much the same anyway.

    In practical terms, I agree. The distinctions begin to matter when you form an anti-statist argument. You need different arguments and different rhetoric to sway a progressive than you need for a socialist, and yet other arguments and rhetoric to sway a conservative. Though the end result is often similar, each group supports the state for different reasons.

  • I’m not sure Tedd. Outside the old-fashioned ideological communists, the rest of them seem to have basically the same theory; to whit that the mass of the people are dim-witted, malign and incompetent, and therefore some wise special class is required to control them.

    Maybe we should just call them all Platonists.

    (The communist view is that the mass of the people are virtuous but have been misled and deliberately rendered ignorant by the bourgeoisie, and thus a special (“vanguard”) class is required to educate them and act on their behalf, which ends up in the same place but is a slightly different justification).

  • newrouter

    Maybe we should just call them all Platonists.

    or control freaks

  • T M Colon

    I suggest we go to the dictionary.

    liberal: views or policies that favor the freedom of individuals to act or express themselves as of their own choosing.

    authoritarian: characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom.

    That’s the word I would apply to so-called liberal or progressive policies that are anything but.

    Still, is it the person that’s liberal or authoritarian, or the policy? Some people can be liberal about one thing (for free speech) and authoritarian about another (for drug prohibition). So such labels applied to a person or group can be accurate on one policy, and inaccurate on another. I think that’s the fly in the ointment of political labels.

  • Tedd

    T M Colon:

    So such labels applied to a person or group can be accurate on one policy, and inaccurate on another.

    I agree. The tendency to assign such labels to the person rather than to the idea or the policy is really a thinly-disguised form of ad hominem argument.

    E-Prime can help, although I wouldn’t want to use it all the time.

  • I don’t agree. When we label the person, we are discussing their motivating philosophy, not the policies that result from it. A “liberal” and a “conservative” may both support a particular policy but due to different motivations.

    An interesting example is womens’ rights. A libertarian supports this policy with the intention of creating a greater Aggregate Freedom. Nineteenth century Progressives (modern day “liberals”) supported this policy with the intention of reducing Aggregate Freedom; it was believed (not unreasonably) that Good Yankee Women would vote for authoritarian “Progressive” government.

    Which they did.

  • Alex

    I rather like ‘collectivists’ myself.

  • Mike: I don’t recall going over this before, but I’ll take your word for it. In any case, I don’t really disagree with you, as it makes sense to use different tactics when dealing with different people under different circumstances.


    Though the end result is often similar, each group supports the state for different reasons.

    I don’t believe that, or, more accurately, I don’t believe their stated reasons. I think that deep down they all have the same reason: the desire to control others.

  • Jacob

    Lefties, or people of the Left.
    It’s accurate, not abusive (neutral), and a term many of them use themselves and everyone understands.
    Pinko is also fine (stands for pinko-liberal).

  • RRS

    Of course we are dealing here in the political realms (past and present) at the labels people choose to apply to themselves (as politicians) or to their proposals (as theorists). So, other than in the Lewis Carroll sense, it is not a question of the meaning of words.

    In any attempts to use the political terms descriptively, with any degree of informative accuracy, one would have to cite the context of time and conditions in either the U.S. or the U.K.

    Quite frankly, it is hard to do so in the current context, because so many of the present proposals are fraught with the past experience.

  • Victor Erimita

    Statists want to go backward, not forward. They want centralized control of everything by an all-powerful few. This is not new. And it certainly is not “progress.”

    We need to call them “Regressives.”

  • grrr

    How about Busy-bodies (or bubos, for short)?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Progressives/liberals are Puritans: Puritans-of-the-left, but Puritans nonetheless, intent on using government to force the sinners (everybody but them) to live virtuously. So call ’em that: everybody but them will understand immediately.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    How about Busy-bodies (or bubos, for short)?

    Posted by grrr at November 27, 2010 11:16 PM

    ‘Buboes’, I think.

  • PersonFromPorlock:

    Absolutely right. That’s one reason that these days I identify not as libertarian so much as as Libertine. The Libertines were the enemies of John Calvin in Geneva, the prototype Puritan polity.

    I also think calling them “backwardists” would be quite fun.

  • Tedd

    IanB and Alisa:

    I appreciate what you’re saying, and I agree that it would be helpful to understand someone’s motives. But I disagree that it’s productive to talk about a person’s motives in a political discussion. If you talk about personal motives there are three possible outcomes.

    * You incorrectly assess the person’s true motives.
    * You correctly assess their motives but they are unaware of their true motives or, if they are aware, are unwilling or unable to admit it.
    * You correctly assess their motives and they recognize the truth of what you say.

    I have seen the third outcome happen, but only very, very rarely, and almost always in face to face dialog, not online.

    In my opinion, the first outcome is by far the most likely, which is one of the key reasons I avoid the technique. People’s true motives for doing and saying things are extremely difficult to understand, and when I think I understand them I’m almost always wrong.

    But even if you have great confidence in your ability to assess other people’s motives that still leaves the second outcome as by far the most likely, and it’s as useless as the first.

  • j

    It does not matter what you call them, even though in truth, these freaks are now “liberals” as the term is now defined in domestic U.S. politics. Regardless, what matters is which party they are a part of and in fact lead.

  • DSmith

    They are Leftists. No other term is needed.

    Distinguishing between Socialists and Progressives is a waste of time, as they all lead inevitably to the same place, whether their practitioners believe it or not. As to their motivations, I don’t give a damn. Too much weight is placed on motivations and not enough on results.

  • Gail

    I don’t believe that the term “statist” will be confusing to Americans. We tend to use the terms “states rights” to refer to the decentralization of federal power.

  • GeekWithA.45

    “Enemies of liberty”, I think captures the essence nicely, especially in light of nongovernmental forms of despotism, such as crony capitalism and mercantilism.

  • Considering their actual history, I have been calling these self styled “progressives,” regressives. They want to copy economic and social policies that have failed every time they have been imposed.

    You could call regressives “sclavophiles,” slave lovers, since by and large they would welcome any opportunity to trade the uncertainties of freedom for the certainty of slavery.

    Or you could call them “elutherophobes,” those afraid of freedom. Because regressives are afraid of being forced to earn their own meals.

    And there is always the somewhat humorous “Oikophobes,” for regressives fear of and loathing for Western civilization.

    Or just “Oinkers” for their piggish personal habit of throwing trash on the floor/ground wherever two or more regressives gather.


  • “Control freaks.” We call them, “Control freaks.”

  • Considering their actual history, I have been calling these self styled “progressives,” regressives. They want to copy economic and social policies that have failed every time they have been imposed.

    You could call regressives “sclavophiles,” slave lovers, since by and large they would welcome any opportunity to trade the uncertainties of freedom for the certainty of slavery.

    Or you could call them “elutherophobes,” those afraid of freedom. Because regressives are afraid of being forced to earn their own meals.

    And there is always the somewhat humorous “Oikophobes,” for regressives fear of and loathing for Western civilization.

    Or just “Oinkers” for their piggish personal habit of throwing trash on the floor/ground wherever two or more regressives gather.


  • Matter

    I submit ‘Checkvalves’ as a substitute moniker:

    1. They serve only one dedicated cause.
    2. They always vent in one direction but do not take input from the other direction.
    3. They are vent, usually hot air or steam, when they’re hot.

    Maybe not the best submission but certainly closer in description.

  • KitaIkki

    They are not liberals
    They are not progressives.
    They are loathers.
    They loath liberty
    They loath progress
    They loath their own country
    They loath their own countrymen
    They loath their own species

  • casimer

    Tedd’s got it. Progressivism is the American cognate of European Fascism. The movements made explicit acknowledgment of their shared provenance during the original period of their ascendancy. The distinction of American Progressivism is that is it motivated by Protestant Reformism (aka Social Gospel) of a Calvinist variety.

    I don’t think that it’s properly understood as a form of Socialism. You’ll notice that Progressivism leverages critiques of both Liberalism and Socialism. The political economic and institutional arrangements are not socialist. They’re more a type of strongman syndicalism. I hesitate to use Populism because contemporary Progressives don’t hold any fondness for the populi.

  • Megaera

    Several years ago the trend in some areas was for this general class to call themselves “transnational progressives”; they stopped doing so, in no small part, I suspect, because they found the term lent itself to shortening down to “tranzis”, which was both accurate and nastily like something I won’t mention for fear of a Godwin’s law invocation. I think “Transnational Progressivism” is a dead term, sadly, because Tranzis seems oddly fitting for them.

  • Tedd

    I’m as inclined toward the pedantic as anyone, but somehow it doesn’t seem important to me that these political labels be accurate or correct descriptions, only that everyone understand what’s being referred to by the label.

    Progressive is fine because, regardless of how accurate it is descriptively, there’s little doubt about what ideas or policies it refers to (or people, if you want to go there).

    Liberal, on the other hand, is understood to mean two almost completely contradictory things, which makes it useless in the comment section of a blog. Socialism is as useless, since it can be understood to mean anything from government-owned parks to gulags, depending on the audience.

  • Keith

    In the mind of the self-described progressive, individuality is genuinely considered immoral or primitive. They have managed to convince themselves that state-assisted collectivization is necessary for human redemption or evolution.

    I think we need to amplify the label they choose for themselves and allow the irony break their own dillusion. How has government-run education progressed? How has state-run medicine progressed? Progress? Seriously? For all the noble intentions, show us the measurable results. We could start using “progressive” in place of “unintended,” as in “progressive consequences” when any plan falls short.

  • Etranger

    Considering it is the Bureaucrats who interpret and provide regulations based on the vague, feel good laws passed by the politicos, Should we consider calling this breed “Bureaucratist”.

  • David Thomson

    I am increasingly describing them as soft totalitarians. They do not wish to murder us. Violence might be employed only as a last resort. Our foes have instead opted to “nudge” the common folk to do their bidding.

  • The aproximate time of the shift in what was meant by the word “liberal” in American politics can be traced back to 1923 when Will Rogers wrote, ‘Remember when the word “liberal” was used to describe someone who was generous with his own money instead of with someone else’s?’. I suspect, although cannot yet prove or disprove, that the time of the actual shift might be traced to Woodrow Wilson who would have wanted to find common ground with Great Britain and France as justification for America’s entry into WWI. In any event, Mr. LoveFreedomTruth is correct when he says that the Left tends to abandon the terms that they’ve brought into disrepute. From the 1980s to this day they often flinch when you refer to them as a liberal to their face. The libs blame it on Ronald Reagan having “somehow brought the term into disrepute” (Do they picture him as having done via voodoo ceremonies or do they think he had access to mind control satilites? o_O), but this fails to explain why they didn’t then try to uphold the honor of their chosen name instead of abandoning it in flight. 😛

    Person From Porlock,
    That would be a bit unjust to the Puritans when you consider that they actually allowed for a greater degree of personal freedom than their “Divine Right of Kings” royalist counterparts did. You may think of our “progressive” friends as pragmatic evidence that both fanaticism and the bluenosed impulses have nothing to do with religion and that Chesterton was right when he wrote that “Atheists are the worst religious fanatics of all!”.

    Perhaps in light of this we should call them Royalists instead? ^_~

  • David R. Block

    Regressives would indeed seem apt.

  • Statist works – I think both sides of the pond (as well as the lot down under ) parse that one the same way.

    But if you are wanting to ‘propagate’ (as in propaganda) a meme, you might want to consider ‘authoritarian’ or even ‘totalitarian’ – both have a lot more emotional baggage attached.

  • Ron

    I say we call them regressives.

  • The thing is that the words that the left choose for themselves, like “progressive” and “liberal,” end up as pejoratives. The words that the left invent as pejoratives for the right end up as badges of honor. I’m not sure that we want to interfere with this natural and beneficial process. But maybe in the case of “statist” we should.

  • Jack

    They are “self-proclaimed Progressives” who travel in “regressive directions.” They constitute a “Directorate.”

  • Nate Whilk

    Let them call themselves progressives. Let their anti-freedom actions become associated with the word (we can help this along by repeatedly pointing them out, of course) and they’ll be forced to the next item on the euphemism treadmill.

  • Laird

    IanB, since you’ve said similar things before, perhaps you could provide a definition (or at least a link to one) of what you consider to be the “true, original sense” of the word “libertine”.

  • Tedd


    Going back to an earlier point of yours…

    …to whit that the mass of the people are dim-witted, malign and incompetent, and therefore some wise special class is required to control them.

    Most progressives I know (which is most of the people I know) seem to believe that people who don’t support progressivism are dim-witted, malign, and incompetent. But they don’t think that the mass of people are, because they think much of that mass is composed of other progressives. Your observation is probably correct about most of the progressive “elite,” though (academics and so on).

  • flataffect

    I hope this isn’t the first time this has occurred to you.

  • rbj

    What these people are, are Neo-Feudalists.

    They believe in a class based system in which “(t)he state is more than an aggregate of persons; it is a kind of organism.” Hogue, Arthur R. “Origins of the Common Law” 1966, p. 86 (actually it’s the libertyfund.org version).

    I’m rereading up to where I left off last time. The begining of the second part references John of Salisbury’s “Politicraticus” — which was published in the Twelfth Century. Yes, they did have political theory back then, jused to justify feudalism. I’ll bet very many strong parallels can be drawn between them and the new “statists”, enough to call the new “statists” Neo-Feudalists.

  • They are monarchists.

    Modern American monarchism is of the Old Europe variety: backward looking, dynasty oriented and focused on protecting the political order so as to hang on to power, much as were the monarchists of Old Europe up to World War I.

    And that’s what yesterday’s “liberals” and “progressives” have become.

  • Robert Malcom

    American libertarians call them Hamiltonians…

  • Micha Elyi

    What “statists” are is totalitarian. Not totalitarian in the mid-20th century way, but totalitarian in the same way as the medieval catholic church. They believe that the state ought to have total control over society (and they believe that they should control the state); anyone who disagrees is a dangerous heretic.


    I recommend studying medieval history before attempting comments like that. Also study the history of Protestants, they were all about suborning the Church to the power of the State – e.g. Martin Luther and Henry VIII.

  • JL

    We have simply failed to apprehend their meaning. And they have zero interest in clarity.
    It is not the first entry for progress nor the second but the third (prṓ grèss):

    3. motion toward something: movement forward or onward
    They want the state to prṓgress. Their own power to progress.

    Foolishly the people don’t look below the surface blather.

    SoI see the point. They do love giving themselves warm fuzzies and insulting the opposition.

    Progressive vs. Teabagger

    All is fair…so…perhaps something with a little edge.
    How about plucking a word out of the PC trash bin and repurposing it?
    I vote for: retard. It hits them on several levels.

    Those ideas retard the development the middle class.
    HCR limits freedom and retards development of medical advances.
    Ah yes, that has never worked – it is quite retarded.
    And my personal favorite – Marx, Lenin & Stalin were retards.

    Special needs kids were dealt a bad hand and should be left alone.
    OTOH – Statists are willfully blind and/or power mad – derision is appropriate.
    Will it win any arguments? Unlikely. But it will piss them off.

    They cannot stand being mocked.

  • David Gillies

    Hayek pointed out the rhetorical ju-jitsu that was inherent in prefixing the word ‘social’ to any word or phrase, in that it thoroughly inverted the meaning. This is the power granted by semantic control of the language.

    A formulation I like for describing my philosophy is that of the Sovereign Individual. The soi-disant liberals/progressives/collectivists/whathaveyou are simply anti-personal sovereignty. Autonomy disgusts them. Most of them don’t even have a coherent political philosophy other than their usurpation of self-determination in favour of their control. So I suppose dirigiste is really the mot juste (if I can Frenchify things twice in one sentence.) And I think there’s definitely a plausible rationale here for why the so-called Left finds itself, at least in its more extreme manifestations, so congenial to that other great anti-liberty movement of our time, fundamentalist Islam. Totalitarians cleave together. I quoted that old saw of Mussolini’s in this forum a few days ago: Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato (everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.) Substitute ‘ravings of a schizophrenic 7th century Bedouin pirate and child molester’ for ‘State’ and you segue neatly from Fascism or statist Leftism to Islam. The difference between Islamofascists and Ian Gilmore is one of degree, not character.

    In reality a good catch-all word for them is ‘enemies’.

  • Ed Nutter

    I like the term statist. The notion of confusion between the state and federal versions of “State” really doesn’t matter. Statists like exercising power at both levels, with federal meddling being simply a “graduate level” version of state meddling.

    Both kinds are dangerous to those of us who simply want to work for a living and live our lives in peace.

    Both kinds can be pushed away from the levers of power by the voters once they wake up. The scenario that worries me is the EU model where voters have only an indirect effect on what their governments are required to do as a consequence of the EU treaties.

  • Marty

    “Fascist” is no good because it gets the foreign policy wrong.

    “Statist” would be pretty good but there’s just no American tradition of using any such term.

    “Socialist’ is difficult because in America there isn’t a strong socialist tradition separate from Communism, and people read “state socialism” or “state ownership” into “socialist” and then insist that isn’t accurate.

    For the mainstream of the Democratic Party right now, I think “Social Democrat” fits very well with pretty much the same meaning on both sides of the pond. But it doesn’t ring a pejorative enough tone for my taste.

    “Self-righteous a**holes” would be very accurate and rolls off the tongue nicely, but for obvious reasons has problems.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Perhaps in light of this we should call them Royalists instead? ^_~

    Posted by Towering Barbarian at November 28, 2010 12:31 AM

    Actually, I’d have no trouble with calling them “Tories,” in the sense of the Loyalist faction in the American Revolution. They too were ‘right-thinking’ people who identified with the state and had no use at all for the Rabble.

    I should point out, also, that Yankee Puritans diverged from Brit Puritans many years before the English Civil War: my mother’s family moved from Hampshire (I think) to Holland in the 1590s and thence to New England a generation later. So it may be that American Puritans are not too much like their British counterparts.

  • Here’s a suggestion for certain cases: “democrat”. The term obviously has association with the U.S. political party, but that’s not what I have in mind. The term “democracy” has been popularly associated with “freedom” since at least the second world war when the West was at war with States which were, given certain caveats, both anti-democratic and anti-liberal. Has this association of “freedom” with “democracy” not obscured the fact that more democratization* necessarily means less freedom? There are some people for whom there is apparently no sphere of human activity which ought not to be subject to some form of political control – currently, however, they are able to cover themselves with the moral disguise of being “democrats” who are merely advocating further “democratization”.

    *Either in the sense of an expanding scope of powers surrendered to a democratically elected body, or in the sense of the surreptitious creep of the electoral mechanism into other institutions.

  • Chuck Pelto

    TO: Brian, et al.
    RE: Heh

    ….stop calling the enemies of liberty “liberals” and should stop calling the enemies of progress “progressives”. — Brian

    Liberals aren’t. Progressives won’t.


    P.S. Call them what they are, ‘totalitarians’.

  • Chuck Pelto

    TO: Samisdata
    RE: [OT] Push-Button Formatting Options

    Actually, I’m using Mozilla’s Firefox from a Mac and my use of your formatting system came out just fine.


    [Consistent user interface is the hobgoblin of programming.]

  • TTT

    The fact that Republicans still refer to leftist statists as ‘liberals’ in 2010 is more a display of Republican stupidity than anything else.

    See here for more on ‘liberals’ vs. leftists.

    This was obvious in 2002, yet the slow people are only figuring this out in 2010. If Republicans are this naive on the true nature of their enemy, then no wonder the left won so handily.

  • spidly

    I nominate “Douchoisie”

  • Snorri Godhi

    For the use and abuse of the term “liberal”, see Herbert Spencer writing:
    “Most of those who now pass as Liberals, are Tories of a new type.”
    … in 1884!

    By the same token, it would be very wrong to call “leftists” the sort of people who, in Spencer’s time, were called Tories.

    “Statist” is fine, but sometime one needs to specify what kind of statists one is dealing with. In this case, one might use “liberals” or “progressives” with scare quotes, or Progressives with upper-case P. Nobody was deceived into thinking that the German Democratic Republic was democratic.

  • Laird, I put that in as a joke really.

    Bu anyway, the original Libertines were the opponents of John Calvin and his dictatorial regime in Geneva.

  • Tedd, to expand on my first comment to Mike: I am not suggesting talking to people about their actual motives (for precisely the reasons you point out). What I am suggesting is showing a person I am talking to what their opinions (informed or otherwise) amount to in reality. In reality, the opinions we are discussing here (leftist, statist, fascist or what have you) in the end all amount to control of one set of people by another set. Once this is clearly shown to a person, they can decide for themselves whether this is the reality they want to live in or not. So you would not be actually discussing their motives (although, obviously, privately you still would be free to make certain reasonable and very careful assumptions about those). What you would be doing is discussing their stated opinions, while letting them figure out for themselves whether those opinions are truly compatible with their motives, values, principles etc. as they themselves see them. In other words, you would not attempt to make a person to be accountable to yourself or anyone else, but only to themselves.

  • Robert Malcolm,

    The Hamiltonian H represents the energy of the system, which is the sum of kinetic and potential energy, traditionally denoted T and V, respectively.

    It does though deeply involve degrees of freedom.

  • Good post. We’ve been tracking the pursuit of a label that is both fair and accurate to describe the current Left. Although we’ve settled on “Communist-Inspired” – that their instincts and impulses are exactly the same, and only our Constitutional protections keep them from acting on these inspirations.

    In 2007 I had a cool gimmick product idea – the old soviet-style fur hat but with DNC slogans paired with the communist red star and hammer & sickle. It was a joke.

    It is not a joke anymore. I sell the hat at CommieObama.com now, and while meant to mock, its relevance to current events cannot be missed.

    I also track major DNC decisions against an established 5-step roadmap to Communism. Link:


  • Thinking about this some more and following on David Gilles comment, the most correct term that would cover all of them would be ‘anti-individualist’ (yes, the irony is italicized). But, as it doesn’t sound very useful for all kinds of reasons, I find ‘regressives’ the best suggestion so far.

  • That’s why I like “backwardist”. It has basically the same meaning as regressive, but is more clear and a bit more perjorative.

    It’s advantageous for such words to be immediately clear in meaning to the naive listener. Compare for instance “islamophobe” (obvious meaning) to “oikophobe” (which you then have to explain). Regressive is much clearer than that latter example, but I think backwardist is clearer still.

  • Regressive plays better off of ‘progressive’ though, i.e. it is more along the lines of using their own words against them.

  • While what these individuals call themselves is important, it is their foundation in a fantasy ideology (Link)that is important. This is a belief system that if you want a given action to occur you can have it happen by a series of unrelated actions that hold personal significance to the individuals doing the unrelated action or actions.

    Thus laying down in front of vehicles to ‘stop the war’ is your stepping stone to ‘winning’ your point of view and makes you a ‘hero’ especially amongst the ranks of other believers in your system. The actual outcome of snarling up traffic and getting individuals who don’t care about your political position angry at you, and most likely in your position, is not considered a valid input to those doing the action. Thusly those who believe in more regulations for business believe this will make things ‘better’ or ‘fairer’ while, in fact, it puts a burden on businesses especially those filling out forms associated with regulations. Thusly shopkeepers become the unpaid regulatory arm of government and the unpaid tax collectors of government. This lowers productivity, economic activity and otherwise drains off useful time in pursuit of government paperwork.

    To some that last is the preferred end-state, where every activity of human life is controlled, regulated and dictated by government. These are totalitarians, which replaced their previous verbiage of imperialists. Thus in search of social ‘progress’ the repressive state is formed and social ‘progress’ becomes a negative movement towards one that is centralized, authoritarian and restrictive. When these individuals actively attack the economy (directly or indirectly) with the goal of a technological ‘good’ that cannot be produced economically because they don’t like the modern means of doing things, then they become a strange form of reactionary that was previously termed: Luddite.

    Thus: Luddite Totalitarians. While claiming forwardness of view their activities are retrograde, repressive and a threat to human liberty and on the path towards creating an unaccountable totalitarian state. No matter what they say, no matter how sweet their words, the end result is disconnected from their grand vision because they have a fantasy ideology of how the world works.

  • That’s a good point, Alisa. But just because I am obligated to argue with you, I’ll proffer the suggestion that the two words may be too similar and lead to confusion in the minds of the less politically astute?

  • Jim Philips

    Well, “statist” is an interesting term. I think that those who would strip the state of all power are “corporatists”. If the state has less or no power, the corporations will fill any vacuum left over. And, of course, you think they’re going to leave you all the freedom you need? Keep dreaming!

  • Ian: that’s why we only get to pick one. Oh, and by no means do not feel so obligated;-)

  • Deep Lurker

    Classical Fascists (by analogy with and in opposition to “classical liberals”)

    They want to bind people together, as if they were a bundle of sticks bound together with a cord, making the people strong to fulfill a higher purpose of their own. They want an all-powerful government to help achieve this end. They’re not out to nationalize business outright, but rather seek to regulate nominally private businesses so thoroughly that those businesses might as well be nationalized. They look back to a supposedly golden past as their model for the future. And they are strongly attracted to the Fuehrerprinzip.

    The boots fit. They should be made to wear them.

  • John Blake

    Glenn Reynolds as Instapundit asks, If reactionary Statists are not to be termed “liberal” or “progressive,” then what? We answer: They are Thanatists, anti-Enlightenment Luddite sociopaths who “love death more than life” as murderous jihadi terrorists are wont to put it.

    From Paul Ehrlich to John Holdren to James Hansen and latterly such as Keith Farnish, Thanatists view humanity as “a mass of seething maggots” (Holdren, 1974) feeding off Gaia as on a rotting corpse. The democidal totalitarian mindset evident in October’s “10:10” video shades from climate cultists to Warmist commissars and gauleiters ensconced as a mindless, peculating, rent-seeking apparat, an elitist thuggery concerned solely with seizing power at society’s expense.

    By whatever name –communists, fascists, Watermelons–
    these infantile-regressives hate peace and progress, hate humanity, and they want you dead.

  • pablo

    They are REGRESSIVES as in let’s regress back to a feudal or oligarchic society wherein our “betters”, the aristocracy, the lords & ladies, the apparatchiks, the nomenkultura & artistes, and of course the new thought police (i.e. the old media) are trying, desperately, to regress society to a more compliant, controllable and feudalist state wherein they again control the terms, definitions and outlines of public discourse to be in accord with their own “superior” worldview.

    They are REGRESSIVES who want us, the commoners, to step aside, doff our caps and say, “Thank ye guvnor for the scraps of bread & cheese you toss us.”

    It’s 1788 Paris France all over again and that one ended pretty badly.

  • SB

    Agree with your point; but would you *please* place your periods inside the quotations marks.

    We aren’t England.


  • I think “statist” works just fine.

    Those of us who advocate a devolution of power from the federal government to the states would call ourselves “states’ rights advocates” or, perhaps, “states’ rightists”, though the latter is not yet in use.

  • RRS

    OK – let’s have a play at this game of labels:

    Some have mentioned Hayek who employed the term: Constructivists, meant to define those theories and political actions meant to construct (or re-construct after needed dismantling) a social order.

    Being somewhat more bitter, I label those as fabricators, which has a dual intent. But what is important and does not seem to be adequately tagged in any of comments are the motives of the fabricators.

  • Richard Thomas

    I think “Statists” best fits what libertarians fight against.

    However, if we’re getting specific about “Progressives”, the main issue is that progress, as such is usually a good thing and most people would get behind it. However, in the main, a lot of what these people want is not progress. Perhaps a better term would be “Utopianists” as most people are aware that Utopia is unobtainable and that to strive to achieve it on earth is a daft idea. It might also somewhat preemptively defuse the fallacious criticism I see occasionally directed at libertarians that we, ourselves are Utopian in outlook.

  • Richard Thomas

    Craig, what’s wrong with the much more snappy “devolutionists”

  • Richard Thomas

    Or, how about, given how often their outcomes fall short of their ambitions, “Sky-Pie-ers”.

    End poverty? Pie in the sky.
    Adequate healthcare for all? Pie in the sky.
    Universal quality education? Pie in the sky.

    The list goes on, of course.

  • Richard Thomas

    Alisa, whilst “regressive” is, strictly speaking, more accurate, the issue it has is that being the antonym to “progressive”, on its face, its use is likely to be interpreted as being regarding those opposed to “progressives” rather than anything else.

  • Jim Phillips: if what you say about corporate power filling a vacuum left by the absence of the statists was true, then Sam Walton would have never had a chance to steal business from established retail corporations so effectively. Established corporations like Sears had been in place for plenty of time before the first Wal-Mart opened its doors, to prevent that from happening.

    In fact, corporations have the power to oppress us only when they can collude with government to do so … and Progressive policies expand the opportunities for such collusion.

    As for my preferred terminology for those in question …

    … poster children for Romans 1:22. It doesn’t roll off the tongue, but it’s accurate.

    … Regressive, which Pablo suggested above. It can also be stated as Re-, er, Progressive to irritate them.

    dim bulbs (Link)

    Despite their erudition …
    And academic pedigree …
    The Best and the Brightest look instead
    Like a box of dim bulbs to me …

  • Richard: no, as those are already widely known as ‘conservatives’ – rightly or not.

  • johnnygeneric

    Contents of email I sent out October 21, 2010 “…I guess it’s pretty clear we need to stop labeling Liberals as Liberals. I guess Leftists is a better term. In fact, I think Conservatives are the true Liberals. From the liberal meaning of the word, I am inclined to think Liberals are for Liberating. But modern liberals believe in massive government, regulations out the wazoo, drastic limits on free speech, and the list goes on. There is nothing liberating about Liberals.

    Whereas, Conservatives in many cases would like to get rid of Social Security, Medicare, etc and give the money back to the taxpayers to let them do with it as they please. They believe in removing the shackles of government regulations and allowing businesses to go about business. I mean the list of LIBERATING ideas just goes on and on.

    What I want to know is how in the world all this got turned around on us??”

    I like the term Statist. I’ll use that, too.

    generically speaking,

  • Mike C

    As a Yank, I like the term ‘statist’ just fine – it won’t be confused with devolution of inherent powers to the several states (which we call ‘federalism’ over here), and it just might bring the term ‘statist’ into disrepute….

  • Midwesterner

    To be useful the term should be wide enough to include most of the flavors of statist. It should recognize good intentions, those are the only people I expect to influence. It should send the discussion in a useful direction that leads towards a debate of why individualism builds a stronger, kinder society that better cares for the weak than collectivism can. While it is not my reason for being an individualist, there is no room for doubt that weak people fare well in an individualist society and are the first under the bus (or worse) in a collectivist society. But I’ve had little success starting with that point. I’ve had much better results starting with process and its inexorable consequences.

    In light of that, how about “politicist” as in somebody who believes that the political process is capable of doing good things and resisting capture by various interest groups. If somebody resists the label “politicist” ask them how they would impllement the good things they want government to do. It is a foot in the door to bring reality into the discussion. Sooner or later some trusted public servant is going to exchange campaign donations or other favors for an extra helping of the greater good.

  • Laird

    I generally use the word “statist”, although sometimes I use “authoritarian” instead. “Regressive” just doesn’t do anything for me, unless you are using it in direct juxtaposition to “progressive”, as in “You call yourself a progressive, but all you do is trot retreaded old ideas that have never worked, so in reality what you are is a regressive”. Trying to use it on a stand-alone basis would just confuse people to no purpose.

  • In my essay, The Market for Sanctimony, I settled on “secular romantics,” but I mostly say “Progressives,” with a capital P, as befits a religion. “Dirigiste” needs to be explained to most people. “Leftist” or “New Leftist” is good enough. I’m also tempted to refer to “the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM),” but it doesn’t make a good acronym. Tranzi isn’t bad.

    AJacksonian makes a good point. You really can’t understand modern politics unless you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons.


  • Singularity2050 had a nice term: intellectual “fashion sheep.”


  • Trying to use it on a stand-alone basis would just confuse people to no purpose.

    I disagree, Laird. The two words sound so much alike, that once you use ‘regressive’, the other person is bound to jump in and correct you: “You meant ‘progressive’?” And so it’s your turn then.

    I like ‘politicist’, but it’s a bit of a mouthful, no?

  • Brett

    The American founders had the right word for them: tyrants.

  • Paul Marks

    Old ground being covered here – still that is a rather nice thing to do (at least for those of us with an interest in history).

    “Liberal” is a problem word in English.

    Does it mean “pro liberty” as in the Latin for liberty or the French for the same word (there has never been a huge dispute in the French speaking world over what the word liberal means – they would say “yes liberal means pro individual liberty and a small, of any, state – but is that a good thing).

    However, in English “liberal” can also mean “broad, generious”.

    A “liberal” view of the Constitution has long meant (even in dictionaries over a century old) one which took a broad and generous view of the powers of the Federal government.

    Even in the 1830’s being a “Whig” in American politics meant being in favour (Henry Clay style) of the government providing lots of nice things for the people – the government was to be “liberal” in its spending (and so on).

    And in Britain (also in the 1830’s) there were plenty of “liberals” running around with lots of nice ideas for the government to be “liberal” about. And we trace this on to Joseph Chamberlain’s program of 1865 and then on to Harcourt and then to Lloyd George.

    However, at the same time, there were people in both Britain and American who took the word “liberal” to mean small government.

    Joseph Hume was an ardent cutter of government spending in early 19th century Britain – and a proud liberal.

    The “Liberal Republican” platform of 1872 in the United States reads like a Ronald Reagan campaign platform.

    In fact it is (only more so) – strong national defence (no Confederacy – for the “Slave Power” was the “Evil Empire” of a few years before, the idea that the Confederacy was about individual freedom or even “States Rights” is just that a MYTH, and a manufactured one at that), but no big government “carpet bagger” rule in the South either (no to the people who Grant had allowed to take control). Free speech with moral principle (not government threats) guiding discourse (a bit high minded considering the tidal wave of filth propaganda that was directed at the Liberal Republicans).

    A return to sound money (gold), massive reductions in government spending and taxation (no “liberal spending” here) and – FREE TRADE (yes from Republicans – well that faction). And so on.

    So – to cut things short, “liberal” is a highly contested word. And the American left did not have real control over the word till the 1920’s (before then – for every person saying “liberal means….” there was another person saying it meant the opposite).

    However, with “Progressive” the situation is less complex.

    I know of no time when “Progressive” has not meant statist – i.e. a Progressive means someone who supports more and more government power, in order to control every aspect of human life.

    Really the founder of Progressive political thinking seems to have been Francis Bacon. Before the 17th century collectivists (going back to Plato himself) seem to have been rather static in their thinking.

    True Plato’s Republic would have sent out spies to take useful ideas from other cities (he says so), but Plato does not think his nightmare regime will come up with many good innovations of its own – nor is it supposed to.

    It was much the same with the “Legalists” in China – they were mainly concerned with the boot coming down on the human face for ever (to steal an image from George Orwell) rather than anything else.

    Francis Bacon (and Progressives to our own day) are quite happy with the boot coming down on the human face for ever thing (although they do not like the blunt language – at least not publicly, which is why they get upset when they see film of themselves saying such things) – but that is not all they want the state to do.

    They also want the state (or rather the educated elite that would control it) to come up with lots of nice cultural and scientific achievements – for the good of everyone.

    This helps justify the tyranny (a word they do not like to use) you see.

    However, (and this must be kept in mind) even if the new collectivist state does not create a wonderful cultural and scientific “Star Trek: New Generation” type society this is NOT an argument against it (not from the Progressive point of view).

    Progressing to total state power is an OBJECTIVE IN ITS SELF – not just a means to an end.

    Just pointing at such things as Detroit and saying – “look this is the major city chosen at the start of the 1960’s as the Progressive lead city [endless local spending – plus State and Federal grant orgy] and look what Progressive policies have done to Detroit” will not work with Progressives.

    Of course with some it does work – with people like Charles Murray and other critics of statism. But read carefully their own accounts of their lives – even when they were statists they felt like OUTSIDERS (almost as if there was something the others were not telling them) and look at the lack of reaction (other than hatred) for such books as Martin Anderson’s “The Federal Bulldozer” (1965).

    Anderson felt as if something more was in play than the left not being willing to accept the facts he was pointing out – it was almost as if his “friends” (who, when he came to think about it, were never that warm with him) already knew (or half knew) a lot of this stuff.

    What mattered was the progression to ever greater statism – the destruction of the old principles of limited government. Not what this was supposed to achieve in terms of a “better life” or whatever.

    With some on the left (Cloward and Piven – spring to mind) the fact that statism makes everything worse is a good thing, it is in fact their objective. They want everything to get worse because, if it reaches breakdown point, this will (in their opinion) lead to the destruction of civil society (what they call “capitalism”) – of course something is supposed to come after that, but they are rather vague about what this supposed to be (and NOT just for tactical Marxist reasons – they really do not much care what comes after the destruction, the power and the destruction are what they are about).

    At this point leftism (although, mainly, atheist) shades into Satanism – the power being simply a means to progress to DESTRUCTION (rather like the old “Dark Guardian” on the British television children’s show “Dr Who”), but most Progressives do not take their thinking this far.

    Most Progressives care about power (rather than destruction) – if the progress to ever greater power for themselves and their kind leads to “Progress” in other ways (ways that other people might like) well that is nice – they are not against material “progress” (well quite a lot of them are actually, especially the “Green” ones, but most are not).

    However, if the progress to ever greater power does not lead to “progress” in any other sense (if it leads to ever greater poverty and so on) well that is acceptable.

    The time has passed (in the United States and many other places) where the enemy can be thought to be guilty of nothing more than an innocent mistake about the practical effects of ever bigger and more controlling govenrment.

    Many of them (most of them) know perfectly well it does not lead to long term material progress – and they do not care (for what they care about is power).

    Unless the true nature of the enemy is understood fighting them successfully is impossible.

    For example, it is a total waste of time to try and convince them of the bad consequences of their policies – they at least half know that already (and, I repeat, the majority of them do not care).

    One must direct one’s arguments directly at the people (not at the elite who control the education system and the MSM – including the entertainment media) warning of them of the consequences of what is being done in their name (the destruction of the traditional principles of civil society – and with it all hope of maintaining, let alone improving, living conditions).

    I repeat there are individual members of the elite (individual Progressives) who really do not know the consequences of the policies they support – indeed passionately hope for better living standards for everyone, and have no desire for power.

    However, such people are few – so concentrating on reaching them is an error (although – if that is what someone want to do…… go to it).

    By the way such people tend to leave the ranks of the Progressive themselves in time (whether we do anything or not) they tend to feel that there is something they are not being included in (see above) a private joke that all their “friends” know and they do not. And when they find evidence (which they can hardly avoid finding) that X policy is not working their “friends” do not seem interested – almost as if they already know that X policy is not going to have the effects they claim it will………

  • Paul Marks

    On the specific point of the religious motivation of the American Progressives. One that one could trace (in theory anyway) right up to the mixture of Christian elements and Fascist collectivist politics that one can see in the Hearst film “Gabriel over the Whitehouse” (candidate F.D. Roosevelt took time off from the campaign to personally check the script and make changes – it was part of the propaganda campaign to prepare the public for the sort of regime he had in mind, whilst he said that he would do no such things).

    It is true that Francis Bellamy (the kinsman of Edward Bellamy – the writer of “Looking Backward” [1887] and like him a “national socialist”) was a former minister – but he was defrocked.

    Defrocked – for not believing in God (the Progressives had not yet fully mastered the language that would enable them to be atheists but still control churches).

    This is the little (well not so little) secret of the religious arm of the Progressive movement.

    Whether it is “Liberation Theology” now or the “Social Gospel” then, a lot of this stuff is atheist (no I am not saying all atheists were Progressives).

    The original intent of the “Fundamentals” (the essays written at the start of the 20th century) was nothing to do with opposing evolution (indeed some of the American writers were leading evolutionary biologists). It was to defend basic Christian doctrine against those Progressives who PRETENDED to be Christians (the intent was to unmask them). One could hardly operate in the deeply religious United States and be an open atheist (at least not without cutting one’s influence dramatically), but that does not mean the leadership were Christian.

    A key test is (and was then) salvation – a soon as such words as “my salvation depends on the salvation of all of you” or “of everyone” or “the nation” or “the world” has popped out of someone’s mouth (the doctrine of “collective salvation” is the technical term – but there are many way to spot it, even if those two words together are never used) what a person is becomes plain – he might as well have a big neon sign above his head.

    Of course one must still investigate – but there is going to be no shock about what will find (in almost every case).

    Such as person does not believe in Christian “salvation” at all – and their God is the collective, and the place they seek is here in this world (but a world transformed by power – unlimited power).

    In Britain there is even a famous stained glass window (the Fabian window) with the world being heated up by leading Fabians so they may hammer it into a new shape, their ” heart’s desire” read the words on the window.

    It is no different with the American Progressives – and most of the leading ones were no more “religious” (in the Christian sense) than they were camels.

    However, not all of them were strict atheists – some believed that there was a supernatural force that could aid them (if they rejected the traditional code of the natural law, and did all they could to lead other people to reject it – to use the old language, to “corrupt” people) and would give them “all their hearts desired” (in this world).

    I will go no further – as I have no wish to be called paranoid (well more than I am normally) and this only applied (and applies) to some of the Progressives anyway. I suppose it depends on how much one thinks that (for example) Saul Alinsky was joking in the dedication page of “Rules for Radicals”, published at a time when Progressives could be a lot more open about their private belief than they could be at, say, the time “Philip Dru: Administrator” was published (but even if Alinsky was joking – others were not).

    Almost needless to say the above only applies to leading Progressives (not even all of them – one can always find an exception). I am sure that there were many people in small towns who were sincere Christians and called themselves “Progressives” and supported the “let us make the lives of people better” message of the Progressive leaders – without having much (if any) idea of the true nature of many of those leaders.

    Just as in Britain there were (and are) many people who admire such people as H.G. Wells and G. B. Shaw – without have any idea they wanted to murder many millions of people.

    Wells – those millions of black, brown and yellow men, they must be got rid of perhaps a form of gas…..

    Shaw – if one could not “justify ones existence” before a “board” one was to be exterminated, a “great many” (perhaps most) people in Britain were to be so killed.

    “Why did not the intelligent Fabians see what Stalin was doing”.

    I always smile when I hear lines like that.

    Many of the clever Fabians (like the American Progressives – atheist and “Christian”) were just as committed to mass killing as Lenin and Stalin were (in fact – perhaps more committed, at least in theory).

    After all when the New Dealers read the Russian Section files of the State Department in the 1930’s – did they disbelieve the files? No.

    Did they act on the files? In a way yes.

    They closed down the section and tried to destroy the files (fortunately the State Department people who had manned the section managed to preserve documents).

    As has been said so many times……

    The enemy (for that is what they are) are not nice – trying to reach out to their good nature is folly.

  • “… they tend to feel that there is something they are not being included in (see above) a private joke that all their “friends” know and they do not. And when they find evidence (which they can hardly avoid finding) that X policy is not working their “friends” do not seem interested…”

    That rings a bell – how did you arrive at that bit of psychology Paul?

  • Laird

    “At this point leftism (although, mainly, atheist) shades into Satanism – the power being simply a means to progress to DESTRUCTION (rather like the old “Dark Guardian” on the British television children’s show “Dr Who”), but most Progressives do not take their thinking this far.”

    Most of your post is fine, Paul, but I can’t let this paragraph go unchallenged.

    1) Conflating leftism with atheism and even Satanism (!!) is completely over the top. You can do better.

    2) Dr. Who was (is) not a “children’s show”. Clearly you don’t (didn’t) watch it.

  • Laird, it is and was a children’s show, which is why the writers tend to treat plot mechanics so casually (a common error of bad childrens’writers is to write badly because it’s “just for children”). There was commonly a pretty girl assistant to ensure that the Dads wouldn’t mind their children watching it. Anyway, the original brief was a show that would use the time travel plot device to teach children about history and science. Then they invented the Daleks, and that was that.

    Paul, just out of interest, would you consider the Womens Christian Temperance Union to be “real” christians or “fake” christians?

  • An Entrepreneur

    There may be no 1 ideal replacement word.
    In many contexts these people wish to see something done by the government rather than the competitive private sector. How about “Monopolists” for those instances? We can then ask them what type of statist they are.

    e.g.: “Private entities can provide seals of approval for product safety (potentially tied into insurance rates). Are you a government Monopolists who wishes to prevent private competition from making us safer? Or are you merely a Corporatist trying to spare big business the money it would need to spend on product safety if the government didn’t do it?”

  • Laird

    Ian, clearly you don’t watch it.

  • Paul Marks

    Laird I watched the show for years – in fact I still do (although I liked the J.P. and Tom Baker years better).

    However, if the term “children’s show”offends you – I withdraw it (unreservedly).

    Laird I was very careful in saying that only some Progressive leaders believed that a supernatural force would help (a force that they certainly did not believe was the God of the traditional Jews and Christians).

    I did NOT claim that such a force of evil (whether called Satan or not) actually existed. Nor did I claim that most Progressive leaders believed in it. However, quite a few did – they were not all athiests (so it would have been wrong of me to pretend they were).

    Believeing in a supernatural intelligence is NOT athiesm – even if the being in question (whether real or not) had horns and a tail.

    The general revolt against morality (against the “copybook headings” as Kipling, who defended the old code, put it) was not just pleasure seeking for some Progressives – it was a profound thing for some of them (a spiritual thing – in an inverted way).

    There was a great deal of mystical stuff among some of them – yes even drawing certain signs and being part of certain rituals (again I am not claiming here that they were talking to anything real – or that this was anything like a majority). But to say they were all athiests is, I repeat, not true.

    Ian B.

    Some temperance people were Christian and some were not. Both men and women.

    However, generally the nature of the Prohibition movement (both in the United States and Britain) has been misdescibed (J. Goldberg is interesting on this – in his “Liberal Fascism”).

    The rural element element has been played up – and the urban, well educated and Progressive (in all senses) part of the movement (for more important in actually getting the thing passed – as part of general Progressive “social hygine” ideas) has been down played.

    That being said – there have always been “Low Church” Christians who think that moral choices can be helped by the state.

    But there have also been many people (including Low Church people) who have understood that a forced choice is not a moral choice – by definition.

    As for the other end of the Christian line – the High Church (and the Catholics) they have their problems also.

    What undermined Catholic influence more than anything else in the 18th century (really long before then)?

    I would argue it was the index – censorship.

    “But we must protect people from evil ideas – because they will lead to terrible consequences”.

    Actually I agree about the nature of many of the ideas – and about their consequences, but that gives no right to ban them.

    And on the practical side – how do you spread the influence of an idea, how do you make something utterly stupid (indeed absurd) seem wonderful and special?

    Ban it.

    Try (in a half hearted and incompetant way – for the Roman Church was never totalitarian, contrary to certain myths) to forbid people to even read it without special permission – an author’s dream, “do not read THIS BOOK” – what book was that again, I must get it (and everything it, no matter how absurd, must be true).

    And of course the censors themselves were sometimes total idiots (even by their own standards).

    What is THE classic conservative (in the proper sense) European book of the mid 18th century?

    The book mentioned by all the Founders of the United States more often than any other book other than the Bible (oh yes – that was the number one book for them).

    It was (of course) “The Spirit of the Laws” (Baron M. himself) – not just the classic defence of traditional limits on government power (against the “enlightented despotism” of Louis XIV and so on), but also the great defence of morality and the natural law (against slavery and so on).

    And, you guessed it, the book was put on the Index. Because anything important was almost automatically put on the Index. It was impossible for many people to regard Church that put “Spirit of the Laws” on the index with anything other than contempt. The contempt may have terrible consequences (the French Revolution and so on – down to our own time and beyond into the future), but the contempt was just – for the people who tried (in their hopeless way) to prevent people from reading such works.

    Pea brained people – who took an intelectual tradition that (in the time of the Schoolmen had been the wonder of the world) and slowly strangled it – undermining the very life blood of the Church they believed they were defending.

    So “High Church” as well as “Low Church” has a lot to think about.

    After all – when we think of Low Church we should think of a lot more than angry women complaining about drunks (although – they did have something to complain about, being a drunk is a terrible thing, not just for the drunk, but for his wife and children also).

    There were also the women who devoted all their spare time to helping (not just “Lady ….”) but normally quite ordinary people – and the amount of human aid they managed to provide was vital.

    But there is intellectual stuff also.

    For example, even the Chaplin of Parliament during the Civil War (when one would expect a bigot – out to smash anything he did not like) was actually Ralph Cudworth – perhaps the most interesting English philospher of the 17th century (yes rather more so than Locke – let alone Hobbes).

    I still remember the shock I got when I found out that the Cudworth (in his position in relation to the leaders of the “army of the Elect”) did not believe in predestination (indeed was a passionate foe of it).

    Indeed, at the time, was the best known critic of the doctrine in the world.

    Cromwell and others were complicated people.

    Brutal fighters (and smashers) – but more than that.

    For example, when Hales declared that he did not regard Cromwell has having any legal right to rule – Cromwell replied by saying that is why Hales should be Chief Justice (because who better to limit the injustice of the executive – than someone who thought they had no right to be the executive). Hales agreed.

    And there was Ralph Cudworth – opposing perhaps the central doctrine of Calvinism (far more than any Royalist theologian did – oddly enough quite a few of them were Calvinists, although it did not used to be thought so) sitting in Cambridge – and acting with Parliament. Both institutions (at the time) controlled by Calvinists.

    So much for the low church always being intolerant.

    Of course in the early 19th century – they were the main source of the Voluntarist movement (although, by that time, one must include the Methodists also – and those who followed W’s wing of that movement were anti Calvinists)

    Of the Leeds Mercury newspaper and so on.

    So perhaps I should forgive them their lack of stained glass windows and good music (and so on).