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Mailbag 4.24.06

Apr
24
2006

Editor’s Note:We get mail and now that we have the Spotlight here on the front page, we can share it with you in an easy-to-read format. Got something to say? Then make like Ken Farber – who gets his own Spotlight today – and send us a note! We’ll respond and we’ll print it.

Hi Chris,

Your writing on Progressive libertarians reads as though it is describing an emergent political class. You mention a number of characteristics of libertarians, but I haven’t been able to see where the “progressive” part comes in. Since the two terms are often portrayed as representing conflicting values, I would appreciate any clarification you can make of what progressive libertarians believe that is different from what classic libertarians and progressives believe.

Ken Farber

Silver Spring, Maryland

Ken,

You’re right, I am trying to describe an emergent political class when I write about Progressive libertarians. Lots of folks see a contradiction between the two movements so your note gives me a good chance to explain myself.

I’m not using “progressive” in the usual, modern sense where it has come – much to my annoyance – to be a euphemism for “liberal.” Rather, I’m talking about the late 19th and early 20th century Progressive movement.

Progressives, as historian Richard Hofstatder has pointed out, were good-hearted, well-intentioned and wanted nothing less than a total remaking of their society to create a more livable world. In the process they created what Democrats call Liberal values. They are responsible for, among other things, women’s suffrage, zoning and health codes, the 8-hour work day and the end of child labor. All of which were deemed necessary for the U.S. to move away from being an agrarian economy – which it was mostly until after the Civil War – to being an urban, manufacturing economy.

We’re now in the midst of another transition. And we have a group of people – mostly in the tech business and related fields – who want to remake our society to make more in keeping with how they believe things should operate. This movement is made up of people who call themselves “progressive” – they are pro-choice, they are not racists, they are in favor of gay marriage and almost all are registered Democrats – but only Liberal to a point, usually the point where they have to fund social programs or answer tricky questions about affirmative action or the earned income tax credit.

Progressive libertarians’ reform urges (better schools, weaker unions, government-supported stem cell research, free trade) are somewhat narrowly focused and almost all – the best example of this is California’s Prop 71 the stem cell research measure – have some sort of monetary pay-back for the folks who support the ‘good’ work. It’s a contradiction for Liberals, of course, but for the Progressive libertarian, it’s an efficient way of getting things done.

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