Changing the Game To Defeat Progressivism

Armed with virtually every advantage in terms of empirical evidence, moral integrity, and logic, those fighting progressivism cannot move the needle of societal thought except for brief interludes; and even these are usually triggered by the left themselves through manifestations of their sheer ineptitude which are then soon forgotten, leaving the ball to once again start rolling to the “left.” It is time to break the mold.  We can begin by focusing on three simple, but critical, principles of political philosophy.

Principle #1: Public Opinion Is What Matters, Not Politics. David Hume’s most basic, but critical, observation in his First Principles of Government was that, “FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing but opinion to support them. It is therefore on opinion only that government is founded.”  He even extended this maxim to the “most despotic” regimes. Political thinkers ranging from Machiavelli to Locke to Rousseau expressed the same idea. It means that Barack Obama’s threat to use his “pen and phone” is not as dangerous as the public’s opinion that this is a good thing, or at least, not a bad thing. Opinions lead laws (and lawlessness), not the other way around. Opinions also lead elections. Political campaigns are merely a manifestation, or intensification, of the underlying influences that have already shaped opinions.

Principle #2: Opinions Are Simple, Emotional Constructs. Public opinions are rarely well thought-out conclusions and few people are willing to expend the energy to develop their views. This is possibly the most difficult notion for deeper thinkers or well-informed people, such as those fighting progressivism, to accept. You can blame it on intellectual laziness, but this is how people organize information throughout their lives. Instead, public opinion is largely formed through repetition, simple slogans and symbols, pivotal events and strong personalities, and personal experiences, biases, and worldviews. The influence of groupthink magnifies all this, in large measure because it is more agreeable to live one’s life conforming to socially correct opinion (Ayn Rand’s ‘consensus reality’). Finally, opinion is more strongly based in emotion than anything else. Scientists studying the formation and strengthening of neuron connections find that emotions always trump intellect and, in fact, are the foundation of intellect.

Principle #3: Reason, Arguments, and Virtue Cannot Overcome Opinion. More precisely, reason, arguments, and virtue cannot overcome opinion, unless opinion is changed first. As paradoxical as this circular argument seems, political thinkers as disparate as Rousseau and George Washington have accepted this unhappy truth. Washington used his profound understanding of this to gain the power and leverage to form public opinion and steer our own fledgling republic, making it a lifetime of effort to gradually win over people’s confidence, trust, and finally their opinions. For those fighting progressivism, it means that it is time to get off our high horses about having more facts or winning the debate. The American Revolution was the culmination of changing opinions and hearts more than a century in the making.

Thus, efforts must be refocused away from winning the next election (because laws and policy follow, not lead, opinion), constantly contesting bad laws (because argument and force does not shape opinion), or writing “intellectual tomes (because reason will not overcome opinion). Instead the emphasis should be as follows:  

1. Create Simple Messages, Repeated Often: Start with uncomplicated, clear messages (slogans) for effortless consumption on the part of the public. Examples might be “The Leading Cause of Poverty Are Progressives” and “Help Raise the Poor: Promote Capitalism.” These messages need to be repeated ad nauseum and verbatim by politicians, pundits, parents, teachers, and the handful of celebrities that aren’t progressives, and reinforced vigorously over a period of years, even decades. They need to become almost salutations. The answer to the question “Why do you think the world’s economy is so stagnant?” is simply; “the leading cause of poverty and economic stagnation is progressive policies [of the Democrats],” and to the question; “Why is the wealth gap growing,” is “Progressive policies increase the wealth gap.” Not, some long-winded diatribe on taxes and regulations or the Austrian school of economics.

These simple, direct messages do not require further explanation or proof, as these   paradoxically, only dilute the message. This is an incredibly important concept and the absolute hardest for informed, thinking people to internalize.  Progressives understand this: they never provide a reasoned explanation. The message “Under Socialism the Rich Get Poorer, But the Poor Get Poorer Too” does not require a copy of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to be handed out. Most people will only read Road to Serfdom after their opinion has been changed, not before.  

These messages have to be unequivocal and unapologetic, and strike at the heart, not the mind. When I am asked why I vote Republican, I don’t go into a lecture about the Bill of Rights or Reaganomics. I simply say; “I am Republican because I care about poor people;” a simple construct that I state confidently and unequivocally. I don’t explain, I don’t reason, I don’t start an argument. If prodded, I might add as a simple explanation; “Republicans I know are generally more thoughtful about how to help the poor than Democrats I know.” This works because it is a heartfelt, not a carefully reasoned explanation aimed at the cerebral cortex.  If the response is, “That’s crazy,” simply retort, “Of course it’s true. It’s been proven time and again. Open your eyes.” The last part places the onus on the progressive to reflect on their views, and reduces the certitude of their deeply held beliefs. It also shows the confidence of your conviction which is often more important than being correct.

2. Use Pivotal Events & Civil Disobedience: Returning to Principle #1 above, the strongest public opinions are formed through pivotal events conveyed as dramatically as possible. Real pivotal events are few and far between, and can’t be summoned as needed. But they can be created, and trivial events can be made newsworthy and then kept in the public conscious by referring to it repeatedly. This is what progressives do all the time, such as turning a small tragic incident in Ferguson into a referendum on police behavior with a now ubiquitous slogan reinforced by organized protests. 

Civil disobedience and dramatic, even histrionic, displays of conviction are the best ways to create abiding pivotal events. These actions demonstrate passion. Passion tugs at people’s emotions and makes them believers, if not in the message, at least in the conviction of the messengers. It adds credibility to the message. The more passion demonstrated, the more the uninformed public wonders about its legitimacy -- “if people feel so strongly about it, there must be something to it.” It is simple human nature. The fact that loud conviction and displays of heartfelt passion and “pain,” carry more weight than argument and reason is another notion that deep thinkers and the well-informed have trouble internalizing.

Every week, liberal groups further their agenda not with policy papers, but with civil disobedience and mindless demonstrations. They protest, boycott, walk out of meetings, refuse to participate in something . . . anything. They break the law. They go to jail! They also seem to have fun. 

3. Take Back the Pillars of Public Opinion. This critical effort will require the most concerted effort. All three pillars of public opinion influence -- education, the media, and government-supported propaganda -- are wholly dominated by progressives. Leaving progressives in control of them is fighting the war after handing the opposition all the most potent weapons. This can be countered by: 1) establishing countervailing institutions; 2) calling progressive-dominated institutions into account and demanding equal participation; and 3) ending public funding of the institutions or making such funding neutral as between progressive and conservative institutions. Opponents of progressivism have been somewhat effective using the first approach; for example, private schools and homeschooling counteract progressive government-run schools and Fox News counteracts the mainstream media. But this approach alone is not sufficient. Progressives simply respond by isolating these efforts -- ignoring them, labeling them right-wing, extremist, reactionary, etc., or minimizing their reach by referring proponents as representing whites, Christians, or other narrow group.   

It is the second and third approaches that need to be stepped up. Approach #2 -- calling institutions of public opinion into account -- means engaging in civil disobedience until progressive bias is ended. Protests that close down the headquarters of the New York Times for a day (or until the police are called in) could be used to demand that Christians, free market proponents, or conservative Constitutionalists be included on the board of directors or as ombudspersons. You can be certain that liberal groups, Muslims, and Hispanics are already represented. Another example might be a nationwide five-day boycott of our government-run schools to protest the progressive bias, misinformation, and blatant indoctrination in our K-12 curriculum. Imagine the impact a parent-led 30% or 40% truancy rate would have.  Our elected officials could reinforce these efforts by demanding that a non-partisan, public-funded group be established to develop learning standards that fairly depict free markets versus socialism or the U.S. Constitutional republic versus the social democracies of Europe.

Last but certainly not least is Approach #3 – ending, or neutralizing, public funding of progressive institutions – which aims at the most insidious advantage progressives have in shaping public opinion. Every year government collects taxes, and when that is not enough it prints money, to fund thousands of progressive causes and political groups fighting the war for public opinion, and to subsidize a smorgasbord of wasteful, ineffective progressive agendas such as wind turbines, global warming “research,” and failing government-run schools. Every year conservatives pay their taxes with barely a whimper to fund the causes and ideas they fight against. Every single initiative forced upon our country by progressives requires conservatives’ money -- in essence, our consent. It is ironic that the colonists’ refusal to pay a simple stamp tax ignited mankind’s greatest revolution.

Power and privilege never relinquish without a fight. Ultimately, we may need to hold back our tax money. We can begin slowly, perhaps picking a day when everyone stays home from work in protest -- then a 5-day period. We can collectively minimize withholding from our paychecks. A huge trust fund could be established where protesters can send their money for release only after the government begins to act more in accordance with Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The movement could be called “Going Section 8.” The movement’s intentions could be announced ahead of time to demonstrate that we are not cheating or hiding -- we are fighting.  

What is suggested here is trifling compared with what others made for the cause of freedom. Remember Hume’s maxim “Force is always on the side of the governed.” In other words, we have all the power, if we would just exercise it.