Progressivism in the Resistance

In a first installment (“Resistance, in the light of 1776”), following the lead of Pierre Manent, the Resistance came to sight as a way of looking at things characterized by 1) a binary view of legitimate and illegitimate views (in keeping with Hilary Clinton’s “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it” litany); 2) a quasi-religious cast (“political orthodoxy” and “heresy,” observed Manent); and 3) a novel form of democracy characterized by terms such as “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” and “inclusion,” but with its own blind spots and exclusions.  As I put it:  it is “rather exclusive in its inclusivity and monolithic in its view of diversity.” 

A second installment (“What are they thinking?”) focused on the moral core of the worldview, the secular trinity of race, sex and gender.  The Resistance view of black and white America casts a harsh, demanding Manichean gaze upon the country and its white citizens, while its latitudinarian view of human sexuality and gender can be understood in Tocquevillian and Durkheimian terms.  Over time, as Tocqueville foresaw, democracy’s principles of equality and freedom have been radicalized, that is, emptied of substantive content and extended to more and more of reality (in this case, human sexuality); given that this extension is conducted in the name of democracy’s sacred values of equality and freedom, to question an extension and its legitimacy is tantamount to profanation (hence Durkheim).   In the first case, the older liberal view of equality under the law is seen as a pretext for malign neglect, while in the latter area, Socrates and his probing questions are banished from the public discussion of eros.  Sturdy modernity and classical thought share a similar fate.

During the course of the second reflection, religion (especially in its traditional form) and the Constitution came up, traditional religion as an object of deep antipathy to the Resistance because of its benighted and bigoted views of human sexuality, the Constitution as invoked by the Supreme Court in its privacy and dignity jurisprudence, which has done so much to further the sexual revolution.   These two subjects, at least as the Resistance views them, merit further consideration.

The Constitution, of course, is the American framing document, while religion is a significant part of the lives of many Americans, an important social presence.  While different, the two are not simply separate phenomena, witness the First Amendment and recent Supreme Court decisions (Hosanna-Tabor, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Trinity Lutheran).  More importantly, both present themselves as above ordinary democratic will, as providing settled norms and forms that allow for communal progress and human flourishing.   They are part of the “what we look up to” of our democracy.

The Resistance has a particular take on both, dictated by its moral commitments and its core progressivism.  It tends to instrumentalize the two instances, to judge them by external criteria, thus depriving them of their distinct contributions to our democracy.  Both instances elevate free and democratic selves, but they also indicate salutary limits to freedom, but only if viewed in their proper natures.   James Davison Hunter captured important aspects of this instrumentalizing worldview in his 1991 study, Culture Wars, under the rubric of the “Progressive” impulse (pitted against the “Orthodox”).

While he does not say so, the Progressive attitude exemplifies Tocqueville’s twin-fears of democratic “pantheism” (or immanentism) and historicism.   The Progressive worldview locates ultimate moral authority, not in a transcendent Instance (the Biblical God or a normative Nature), but in Humanity itself.  Moreover, Humanity is put in a progressive view of History:  the democratic age succeeded the aristocratic, and the democratic age will become progressively more so.  Finally, the species and history are united in “the spirit of the times.”  The modern Zeitgeist is committed to the twin lode-stars of “scientific rationality” and individual “autonomy.”  Science debunks myths and prejudices, as well as empowers, while autonomy is the effectual truth of human dignity and the main criterion of social progress.   All this enters into the Resistance view of things.  The monkey wrench which was the election of Trump and the shock it engendered in the Resistance indicates how ingrained a progressive view of history was, especially after eight years of Obama.

When it comes to religion, the Resistance necessarily harbors hostility towards traditional religion because of its refusal to go along with its sexual and gender views, but also because of its purported variance from Science.[1]  More broadly, orthodox religion is seen as a public threat to democracy itself, to be kept at bay, if not disqualified.  Bernie Sanders and Chris Holland recently displayed this hard-edged prejudice against religious beliefs that do not comport with progressive views of human equality and democracy.  Before them, we heard the blunt declaration of Julian Castro, the Chairman of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights in the Obama administration:  “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious liberty’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance.”   “Nothing”?   The secular litany, once again, is the criterion for judging the sacred.

Of course, progressive believers and denominations are welcome, and many are part of the Resistance.

It (almost) goes without saying that the Resistance views the Constitution as “a living document.”  Another way of putting the point is the medieval tag:  “Authority has a nose of wax [i.e., easy to twist to one’s desire].”  Decisions are commended or not according to their consonance with Progressive moral and political desiderata.  The privacy and dignity jurisprudence of the past fifty years is hailed and the Supreme Court lionized as a bastion of individual liberty.   On the other hand, President Obama’s critiquing the Citizens United decision during the State of the Union indicates that the Court can err in its historical mission.

Ambivalence runs throughout this mentality when it comes to constitutional matters.  Stephen Knott has shown how the phrase “the imperial presidency” was coined to indict Richard Nixon’s presidency, but held in abeyance when progressive chief executives hold office.[2]  In general, since the clear and present danger to the Republic today is located in the executive office, the Resistance looks to members of the other two branches to Resist.  Early judicial decisions staying the administration’s travel ban, despite egregiously departing from settled rules of construction, were hailed as victories.   Likewise, while progressives are naturally suspicious of the deep state, the Resistance has discovered unsuspected virtues and work for it in these harrowing circumstances.   Just ask Sally Yates, or read the New York Times and the Washington Post day after day after day … .

While we have covered some significant ground in this and previous reflections, other topics relevant to understanding the Resistance still have not been discussed.  Muslims, for example, enter into the Resistance view of religion, as well as of immigration and citizenship.    We need to broaden our horizons, therefore.  We began by looking at the Democratic Party, the most visible organized component of the Resistance.  Then, following James Davison Hunter, we broadened our perspective to Progressives, so as to include those not registered as Democrats.  Now we need to look more closely at a topic that Hunter brought up:  the  Progressive and Resistance’s view of Humanity.

To do so, we will enlist a thinker we have previously cited, Pierre Manent, and a new one, John Fonte.  Manent has long considered the cosmopolitan humanitarianism of European elites and Fonte has done so among us, under the rubric of “transnational progressivism.”   Resistance draws its moral authority from its view of Humanity.  It is Humanity’s defender against its Enemies, not just Donald Trump, but those who put country or people above Humanity.

[1] Admittedly, there is low hanging fruit to be plucked in this area (e.g., Ken Ham), but generally speaking the progressive Resistance is woefully ignorant of the faiths they critique and the relevant work on faith and science (and philosophy and theology) of thinkers such as Joseph Ratzinger, Alvin Plantinga, Robert Spitzer, Stephen Barr, Michael Hanby, and many others.  I talk with Ph. D. candidates at Johns Hopkins University from time to time and am astounded at their ignorance and errors in this matter.

[2] Rush to Judgment (University Press of Kansas, 2012).