Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Progressive “Vision”

One of Matt Bai’s observations in his book, The Argument [Penguin Press, 2007], is the seeming lack of an overall progressive vision that we can hold up as the reason for fellow Americans to support our movement. As I see it, the progressive vision is rooted in the vision of democracy stated in the Declaration of Independence:

"WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Menare created equal, that they are endowed by theirCreator with certain unalienable Rights, that amongthese are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness --That to secure these Rights, Governments areinstituted among Men, deriving their just Powers fromthe Consent of the Governed, ...."

These represent the core values of democracy:
  • Social equality. Where one person is regarded as "inferior" or "superior" to another, these are social constructs. Absent invidious social constructs, people are social equals. One may contrast this with the value on social inequality which is inherent to authoritarianism. Authoritarianism presumes that people are inherently unequal, with one group or person inherently superior to others by virtue of such things as their race, gender, religious beliefs, ethnicity, heredity or wealth.
  • People have inherent rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Authoritarian political philosophy recognizes no inherent rights for all persons. Such rights as may exist in an authoritarian system exist at the discretion of the "superior" group or person.
  • The role of government is to guarantee the existence of these rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness among the people who are subject to it. That means it is responsible for recognizing our social equality and ensuring our equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Authoritarians believe otherwise. They see the role of government as being limited to ensuring that the "superior" group or person enjoys life, liberty and pursuit of happiness to the fullest. The rest are on their own.
But if the purpose of government is to ensure socially equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, it follows that a democratic government must involve itself actively in matters affecting the national economy, the civil rights of citizens, the environment, health standards, etc. If it didn’t involve itself and intervene to meet these responsibilities, it would not be democratic.This is not to suggest that the government should directly operate every institution and enterprise to meet its responsibilities. Nor is there any suggestion that a democratic government shouldn’t be concerned about matters of budgets and costs. A government that fails to live within its means creates insecurity for all. What I suggest is that democratic governments meet their responsibilities through the application of “pragmatism”.

"Pragmatism" asserts among other things that questions of social, economic and political policy should be approached in the same way that we approach questions of physics, i.e., by use of the scientific method, not blind reference to dogma, ideology or doctrine.What I’m proposing, therefore, is a “progressive vision” founded on the combination of democratic political philosophy and pragmatism. Specifically, the vision of a government responsible for ensuring socially equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness by means of social, economic and political policies which have stood the test of experience, reflect the current insights of scientific inquiry, and take current realities into account.

[based on essays posted at my personal blog, - Alex Budarin]

No comments: