December 30, 2010

Progressivism and Populism... Separated at Birth, or Steel-Cage Death Match?

Hatched by Dafydd

At a recent gathering, I made remarks to the effect that I didn't really see much difference in practice between Progressivism and Populism, provoking first astonished gasps, then loud denunciations and a proclamation that "only an idiot" could say such a thing. It was as if I had said of the French Revolutionary government under Maximilien Robespierre that at least he made the jet airliners fly on time.

Since then, I've been reading more about populists and progressivists... and quite frankly, the more I read, the less of a difference I can see between them:

  • Both exalt "the people" to the point of idolatry -- and both rail against "the elites" to the point of hysteria.
  • Both profess a devotion to mob rule direct democracy, while complaining in the footnotes that voters just aren't up to the job and must be overruled by the experts (who speak in the name of the People, not the Powerful, of course).
  • Both are appalled by the limitations imposed upon "direct democracy" (i.e., rule by elite decree, see point above) by constitutions and common law, and believe those documents should be abolished as obsolete and reactionary.
  • Both passionately reject the defense of "freedom of speech" for those who engage in sedition, which they appear to define to include any argument refudiating their own ideology.
  • Both are generally beards for demagoguery by those who wish to become absolute despots.

Can somebody who has actually studied political taxonomy please enlighten me as to the big-picture difference between these two ideologies? Something that I, a math guy who never had to take any Poli-Sci at university, can understand and use to distinguish between one and the other.

Note, I don't mean some historical or nomenclatural difference: "Woodrow Wilson was a Progressivist, while Huey Long was a Populist, so you can see how completely different they are!" Please explain in what way they are different; don't assume I already know, because if I did, I wouldn't be writing this post.

Then I can either correct my thinking or defend my heresy, whichever seems most appropriate.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 30, 2010, at the time of 8:18 PM

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The following hissed in response by: BlueNight

Populism is a political marketing method based on the mythic Hero's Journey which is a subconscious instinct of humanity. Progressivism is a political philosophy which has historically used Populism as its primary marketing method.

(As an SF author, I'm sure you can appreciate this.) The Hero's Journey is focused on Average Joe from Average Town changing the course of history, with help along the way from a mentor and a magic sword (often metaphorical). Any hero who succeeds becomes one of the Benevolent Elite, and can slay the Oppressive Elite with the magic sword.

Mike Huckabee's magic sword was the FairTax. Sarah Palin's magic sword is her disarming smile and kickass attitude. Ronald Reagan's was his belief in American exceptionalism. Barack Obama's was his desire to tone down the rancor in Washington.

I blame the Star Wars original trilogy for this zeitgeist.

The above hissed in response by: BlueNight [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2010 12:22 PM

The following hissed in response by: Sabba Hillel

It appears that "progressivism" is less honest than "populism" about what it believes. For example, consider the following quote from the Democratic Leadership Council

DLC | New Dem Daily | July 12, 2002
Idea of the Week: Progressivism, Not Populism

In the words of the DLC's Hyde Park Declaration, progressives "believe in free enterprise to stimulate economic innovation and growth and in public activism to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to share in America's prosperity." We do not share the populist tendency to indiscriminately attack corporations as inherently corrupt or regard a market economy as an inherent obstacle to social justice.

True progressives are outraged by the corporate scandals precisely because they represent betrayals of free enterprise: efforts to accumulate wealth through privilege and pull rather than performance; to avoid competition through cooked books and deceptive reports; to use equity markets not to raise capital for productive ventures but to run up private fortunes while running out on investors and workers.

It appears that people like Daily Kos also try to make themselves sound like "good populists" with BS definitions. However, it appears that according to his "definition", populism that agrees with him is "progressivism" (good). Populism that disagrees with him is "regressivism" (bad).

Populism is an appeal to the romantic rhetoric of the basic good of the people, and to the idea that government should reflect the will of the people. Populism is emotionalist in its terms, relies on focusing the public's attention on a single individual or case to produce sympathy and sentiment. The opposite of populism is oligarchy, and to a lesser extent, elitism.

Progressivism is fundamentally a belief in three quantities: that a free people, when organized into an effective, uncorrupted groups, can make their lives and the world better with sharp concerted action. Progressivism reflects populism. The difference between a pure populist, and a progressive populist is simple. A pure populist will see social evils, where they exist, as an by product of the local grassroots culture, and not to be tampered with. It was regressive populists that made that argument against civil rights, or that make the argument that discrimination based on sexual orientation is legitimate. The opposite of progressivism is traditionalism, or regressive forces that see the past as better than the present.

The above hissed in response by: Sabba Hillel [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2011 4:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

Populism is simply progressivism sans elites.

If Hewey Long had become president he would be a progressive. If Woodrow Wilson had been born in Flatbush, he would have been a Populist.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2011 4:33 PM

The following hissed in response by: DK

I second Geoman.
Huey played to the Bubba's, and WW to the Eggheads, but they both believed that it was the "cadre" that would lead the "great unwashed".

The above hissed in response by: DK [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2011 11:25 PM

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