Back to the Progressive Future

Buckle up...

The Republican party, the ‘new’ Right, the conservative ‘movement’—take your pick—needs to go to school on the policies, rhetoric, and political organizing of the progressive era.

This might seem an odd thing to read from the president of a think tank that has dedicated significant resources over the last 40 years to criticizing—philosophically and politically—progressivism.

We still oppose progressivism as an ideology and political philosophy. We stand against its historicism, its reliance on neutral “expertise” rather than political rule through representatives, and its destructive and inhumane faith in the endless perfectibility of the human condition.

But some of the general political and policy stances of the progressives ought to be adopted by the American Right.

Big Business

Corporate size is not an inherent evil. We’re a large country on a populous planet—international or multi-national corporations will be large. They should not, however, be allowed to manipulate politics and public discourse. We need much more transparency about the ways in which our big tech companies suppress, manipulate, distort, and exploit the opinions of ordinary Americans as they are expressed in forms of digital communication.

A related problem is the extent to which normal Americans who are not part of a privileged minority identity are abused and made into scapegoats by the HR departments at our largest companies. In ways big and small, much of corporate America has become anti-American: hostile in spirit to the equal protection of the laws regardless of one’s background. The remedies for this will depend on the precise abuse, jurisdiction, and circumstances, but the Right must start by taking the side of ordinary Americans against Big Tech and Big “Woke” Capital.

Government Corruption

The good government (“Goo Goos”) side of progressivism took aim at local government corruption. The machine politics that had been perfected throughout the 19th century had led to graft, exploitation, and abuses of power (including election fraud—sound familiar?). The Goo Goos exploited these obvious injustices to political advantage leading to significant reforms.

For over a century now, we’ve been subjected to progressive-style government which has turned out to be a major engine of corruption and unaccountability across all fifty states. “Experts” distributed across special districts and special boards and ensconced in innumerable counties and cities along with “managers” and “directorships” have all added up to an opaque, self-serving, overpaid, and half-competent ruling guild. The American Right, across the states (even deep-blue states), needs to start shining a light on the abuses and corruption of these governing arrangements. COVID hypocrisy offers just one among many opportunities to expose, humiliate, and rein in this petty and grasping oligarchy.

We need to become the champion of the ordinary American against the forces, private and public, that would reduce him to second-class citizenship, dependency, poverty, and ruin. And this championship must not shy away from using the long tradition of “justice” rhetoric in America, instead of continuing to rely on the failed and rote appeals to efficiency, cost-savings, or “small” government that have been deployed ad nauseum by the Right over the last four decades.


Ryan P. Williams (@RpwWilliams) is the President of the Claremont Institute. He is the Publisher of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind.