Modern progressive movement undermines the founding ideals
By Bill Connor
On this Independence Day many Americans saw further extremes of the political left in attacking America. Congresswoman Maxine Waters slammed the sacred words of the Declaration, asserting that it was wrong and meant only for white men. National Public Radio (NPR) slammed the Declaration for containing an epithet. The Washington Post published an editorial claiming the Statue of Liberty represented a “symbol of hypocrisy.” The list of anti-American outrages goes on but represents only the latest in many years of ratcheting up the attacks. What we are seeing is a growing and dangerous worldview of the left, diametrically opposed to that of most Americans and with the potential to disintegrate the union. Let me explain.
First, it’s important to recognize what those who signed the Declaration meant in voicing the ideals of the majority of Americans. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration, drew heavily from British political philosopher John Locke and used much of Locke’s terminology. Locke posited his political philosophy from nature and natural law before the rise of kings. Locke wrote that in a natural state, all men were equal with regards to natural rights. Locke was clear that “men” meant every one of the human species, in contrast to other species. He further wrote that basic natural rights were “life, liberty and property.” Until the Declaration, these were purely philosophical ideals. Jefferson used “endowed by their creator” in keeping with the general American belief in man’s direct connection with the God who gives all rights. Additionally, Jefferson used “pursuit of happiness” in lieu of “property,” as this concept flowed from property and liberty.
The ideals of the Declaration were given legal structure when most of the same founders wrote the Constitution. The American understanding of the nature of man, embedded in the Declaration and Constitution, was a biblical, Judeo-Christian perspective that man’s nature was innate and in the image of God but prone to sin. Due to sin nature, individuals could not be trusted with too much power. British Lord Acton put it best about man’s nature in asserting “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Bible and history proved that when power is consolidated in any person or group, tyranny prevails.
Therefore, the founders established not only checks and balances among the three branches of the federal government but also power within the legislative branch (between House and Senate). They also set up federalism: power of the national government checked by powers of the states. Americans believed the primary role of government was to provide security from foreign invasion and protect God-given rights. Importantly, Americans never believed government could or should attempt to change the nature of man but allow for blind justice and for individuals to succeed or fail on merit.
The modern progressive movement holds ideals diametrically opposed to that understanding. The general progressive philosophy holds that man’s nature is malleable and a direct result of the prevailing “system” or social structure. Further, it holds that crime is not the ultimate responsibility of individual decision-making but the system that caused the character flaws. Generally, progressives see the Bible’s provisions about sin, man’s moral responsibility and unchanging moral standards as an antithesis. They believe man’s nature is evolving, and even gender roles are primarily a function of societal influence. This view is untenable under the historic and scientific evidence.
Harvard professor of psychiatry Steven Pinker wrote about the effect of progressives in the humanities and their push-back against evidence of the traditional understanding of human nature: “The dogma that human nature does not exist, in the face of growing evidence from science and common sense that it does, has led to contempt among many scholars in the humanities for the concepts of evidence and truth.” These progressives hold the position that “culture alone determines behavior” — with all the consequences on politics.
The progressive view that “culture alone determines behavior” results in the belief that government power can and should be used to re-create man’s nature. Importantly, because the “system” is believed to be corrupt and racist, and the reason for any and all of societal ills, that system should be ended and replaced by a new societal system. These beliefs also go to ideas about gender roles, in that gender roles are solely a construct or society, and a new system with strong government power should help re-create new men and women (or genderless individuals). The beliefs also hold that since is man is not liable for his actions, any inequities between racial groups are solely explained by a racist, patriarchal “system” that must be burned to the ground. Much of the actions and rhetoric of groups like Antifa and BLM only make sense with the understanding of this worldview.
The only way to face this conflict of worldviews is to demand that the worldview of our founding documents stands supreme. The only other choice is destruction of our system and replacement with something our children and grandchildren will suffer to our shame.
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel (ret.) and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.