Death of the Traditional Intellectual: The Progressive Corruption of US Colleges and Universities

In what WBAY (our local TV station here in Green Bay) characterizes as “disturbing” in the article, “Most University of Wisconsin students are afraid to share their opinions in class,” the survey progressive faculty and administrators in the Wisconsin system suppressed for months because they feared it would find that a majority of students hold their tongue because they’re afraid of what will happen to them if they don’t is finally out (the full report can be found here).

The survey, a joint effort by UW-Stout’s Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation and the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, interviewed more than 10,000 University of Wisconsin System undergraduate students. Question covered such topics as the First Amendment, whether speech considered harmful should be reported, and whether speakers that some find offensive should be disinvited by campuses. The survey was originally scheduled to be administered in April 2022 but was delayed for months over opposition by administrators and faculty. UW-Whitewater interim chancellor Jim Henderson resigned in protest over the survey.

I blogged about the organized suppression of the survey in April 2022 (see Science Politics at the University of Wisconsin—Deliberate Ignorance About the State of Cognitive Liberty and Viewpoint Diversity on College Campuses). In that blog, I noted there the real reason the survey was scuttled, referencing a story in the Wisconsin State Journal story by Kelly Meyehofer: “The delay comes in response to mounting concerns from campuses this week about potential politicization of results ahead of the November election.”

If you’re asking yourself why the university system would deny the administration of a survey because they knew it would hurt the Democratic Party, then you’re in the right place reading the right blog. (See also my essays The Threat of Compelled Speech to Free and Open Societies, Refining the Art and Science of Propaganda in an Era of Popular Doubt and Questioning, and Don’t Talk About Innate Bisexuality at UW-River Falls.)

What did the survey find? Exactly what progressive teachers and administrators feared it would. “Fifty-seven percent reported they wanted to express views about contentious topics in class but opted to remain quiet out of fear of angering their peers or their instructor and getting a bad grade.”

Source of chart: Wisconsin Public Radio.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s this: “A third said they felt pressured by an instructor to agree with a particular viewpoint.” You can see in the above chart that large majority of conservative students report feeling pressured to align their opinions with the ideology of the instructor. Compelled speech is antithetical not only to the foundation of free and open societies, but it’s contrary to the mission of higher education, which is to foster cognitive freedom and development, and maximize viewpoint diversity.

Source of chart: Wisconsin Public Radio.

The breakdown by political leaning is very telling, as well as the use of the term “very liberal” to describe attitudes conveying the most authoritarian stance on the question. The second chart shared above indicates that, whereas conservative students expressed the most liberal attitudes, with only around seven percent of very conservative students saying that university administrators should ban the expression of views they feel cause harm, 40 percent of those identifying as very liberal said that administrators should ban the expression of speech. Overall, only around 53 percent said that should not happen—“only” because that number should be close to 100 percent in a free and open society.

Troubling as well is that roughly one-third of students overall expressed the view that offensive speakers should be disinvited from campus. Among students identifying as very liberal, 58 percent supported deplatforming speakers they believed were offensive. That nearly sixty percent of very liberal students in the Wisconsin system believe that they know what their peers should see and hear is very troubling. How did American youth come to desire the role of commissar of an authoritarian order where speech is censored and speakers cancelled based on their political ideology? This is a profound expression of authoritarianism.

Source of chart: Wisconsin Public Radio.

On the question of whether students should Stasi-style report instructors to university administrators who say things they feel causes harm, the breakdown by various groups and persuasions confirms what I have been saying for years now: belief in the oppression hierarchy feeds censorious desire. Those who identify as humanity majors, gay, liberal, non-white, and transgender respond to this question in a highly illiberal and intolerant way. Almost half of students majoring in the field in which I teach, the social sciences, think students should report a teacher to school administers who say things they believe cause others harm.

Given that students with authoritarian attitudes are more likely to major in the humanities and the social sciences, the survey finds that illiberalism and intolerance is concentrated in disciplines one might expect to be the most open and tolerant. Teaching such subjects and race and ethnic relations or sex and gender without dressing these matters up in social justice jargon risks being reported to authorities who may very well put the offending teachers through struggle sessions known as sensitivity training.

And it’s not just the students who demand faculty align their speech with the jargon. Faculty in the humanities and social sciences are just as woke as the students. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) trainings are often required of faculty before complaints are raised. The purpose to create consistency in messaging. This tells us that the humanities and social sciences are no longer interested in education but in indoctrination.

In this blog, I explain what’s happening by connecting these patterns to the changing structure of social control in late capitalism under the corporate state. Since I will be relying on the survey results of mainstream polling organizations, it will be necessary to spend some time decoding the terminology used to describe political attitudes. That students identifying as conservative are the most tolerant and open minded students (this is my first-hand experience, as well), while those identifying as very liberal are the most intolerant and illiberal of the students surveyed (again, reflecting my experiences in the university and on social media), tells us that the terms we use to accurately convey political attitudes have been corrupted.

The illiberal machinations of progressives in higher education is a very serious problem, especially in the humanities and social sciences, where most faculty see their role in the university not as enlightening students by encouraging the widest degree of viewpoint diversity but as indoctrinating the youth of America in corporate state ideology composed of crackpot theories dressed in the jargon of postmodern and deconstructionist critique.

There’s a great deal of effort devoted to obscuring the preaching of these theories and especially how these theories are put into the heads of graduates of education programs to spread the corruption to 4k-12. But it isn’t hard to also find the propaganda of critical race theory and queer theory in the curriculum and pedagogical strategies deployed in public schools. (See the work of Christopher Rufo here if you want examples.)

It is vital to cut through the fog of ideological distortion; as a society, we must collectively resist and combat the warped claims woke progressives make about conservatives, feminists, and other groups whose beliefs are barriers to the rising authoritarian order. We need to make clear that the propaganda asserting that free speech is a means of publicly expressing bigotry, which progressives characterize as hate speech and violent speech, that speech and silence are forms of violence, and so on, i.e., that free speech is rightwing speech, are not merely fallacious but the thinking of a reactionary countermovement mobilized against the Enlightenment. The public needs to know that progressive students acquire their authoritarian personality from their progressive teachers—and that the indoctrination is initiated well before they come to college. Tens of millions of Americans (and Europeans, as well, where the corruption also exists) know this. But many don’t know others know this. Our work here is to create mutual knowledge.

I have had long conversations with conservative and liberal students who tell me they are terrified to speak up in class because of the climate of woke intimidation. The chilling effect has in recent years moved me to include in all my syllabi the following language: “I do not assess discussions or writings on ideology or politics, so all views are welcome. However, rational discourse requires reason, facts, and respect for others. Opinions must be informed opinions, and these must be relevant to the topic. Engage your fellow students in the spirit of open mindedness and tolerance.”

This is followed by a second paragraph: “For discussion, I have in mind Jürgen Habermas’ notion of the ‘ideal speech situation,’ in which interactions between individuals are governed by rational rules of discourse where participants evaluate each other’s claims and opinions based on evidence and reason in an environment free of social coercion. In an ideal speech situation, discussants are motivated by the desire to achieve a common understanding.” Nowhere in all the trainings that faculty are compelled to complete is there any discussion of such a model of free and open discourse.

Reflecting on all this the past few days, it occurred to me to encourage readers of Freedom and Reason to ask themselves how it came to pass that the smallest identifiable prominent political-ideological group in America, namely progressives, could play such an outsized role in academia, culture, mass media, and politics. The vast majority of the American population does not identify with progressives nor accept as reasonable the various crackpot theories they espouse.

According to Pew research, those openly identifying as “progressive left,” the woke crowd, comprise only around six percent of the US population. They’d have you believe that they dominate the humanities and social sciences, the administrative and student services offices, prominent positions in the media and culture industry, because they’re the smartest and most talented people in society and, moreover, their beliefs give them special insight into the truth of the world—what in truth is systematic denial of reality in favor of an ideological worldview. Like the elect of God, they believe they’ve been chosen to lead the people to Promise Land.

It’s no exaggeration to say university faculty and administrators see themselves as clergy in what has emerged as the Woke Church. Social justice is a religion to them. And they have been able to count on the classroom pews to fill with true believers. Those who deviate from doctrine are heretics. Deviant thoughts and attitudes are subject to public shaming, disciplinary action, and even dismissal. An inquisitorial atmosphere has taken hold over the last decade or so.

I came through graduate school in the 1990s and have been a professor throughout the 2000s. I’ve had a front row seat to the transition of the university from an institution of higher learning to a factory cranking out woke widgets.

“A few years ago, ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ (DEI) was another bureaucratic and academic buzzword,” a recent National Association of Scholars (NAS) study of DEI programs at UT Austin (Comprehensive Restructuring) notes. “Today it is found everywhere, between boardrooms and classrooms.” A few passages from the NAS report are worth sharing:

“To many, the term ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ might sound like a benign commitment to fairness—DEI offices often encourage this perception, couching their work in bureaucratic language that obscures any substantive or controversial elements. This creates the impression that no reasonable person would disagree with the edicts of a DEI office.” Indeed, DEI training assumes as proven that which requires proving, even that which enjoys no evidence or is contradicted by the facts. This is how rhetoric such as “systemic racism” becomes the automatic explanation for the overrepresentation of blacks in lethal police encounters or prisons without any need to explain demographic disparities. It’s how the fallacy of misplaced concreteness (reification) can be taught in courses advertised to the public as scientific. Indeed, sharing with one’s colleagues and students the substantial body of evidence that definitively refutes the claim, if not upsetting to the recipient, goes unacknowledged thanks to the tenacity of religious-like belief.

“The DEI initiatives at UT Austin, however, frequently espouse controversial political and social views, whether through mandatory training sessions, book groups and administrator-endorsed reading lists, or curriculum guidelines. Consistently, these initiatives prove to amplify, spread, and inculcate controversial claims about race, gender, oppression, and privilege.” I wish the report wasn’t so charitable. Much of the content of the trainings is not controversial from an objective standpoint. Critical race theory and queer theory are the equivalents of creationism and geocentrism, impositions on developing minds designed to produce a false view of the world. The report does recognize this late on: “Various university-sanctioned DEI training sessions embrace and disseminate highly contested political concepts. The university’s Council on Racial and Ethnic Equity and Diversity (CREED), for example, trained faculty and students in ‘critical race theory.’ Other training sessions encouraged participants to identify ‘microaggressions,’ ‘implicit bias,’ ‘systemic racism,’ and so-called ‘anti-racism.’”

In light of this, when, during discussions during the event in which the findings were presented, Franciska Coleman, a Harvard-trained UW-Madison assistant law professor with a focus on critical discourse analysis, which portrays language not as a means of accurately describing reality but as a tool for changing perceptions of reality, said that universities can do a better job of incorporating free speech principles into DEI training to teach students the effects of harmful speech while also clarifying that universities cannot ban it, my thought was, “I have a better idea: get rid of DEI training altogether.” DEI is inherently illiberal (see The Bureaucratic Tyranny of DEI). Teaching free speech principles in the context of DEI training can only produce an understanding of free speech that is its diametric opposite.

The real reason progressives are in a position to push crackpot ideas on students and facility is not because they’re the smartest or most creative people in the room (they’re not) or because they have the inside track on the truth (they don’t). It’s because they’re the organic intellectuals of the corporate state. As I will stress throughout the remainder of this blog, woke progressivism is not an exogenous force imposed on academia, business firms, the entertainment industry, and government. This is not, as conservatives would have it, the long march of cultural Marxism through our institutions. Wokism is an indigenous development in the evolution of social control associated with the rise of the corporate state.

Let me dig into this a bit, because to accurately convey the political dynamics in play I need to critique while citing the survey research on the matter. I rely here mainly on Pew’s typology (“Beyond Red vs. Blue”), which identifies among Democrats two groups of what Pew calls “liberal Democrats,” namely the aforementioned “progressive left” and “establishment liberals.” The progressive left would be the very liberal student in the UW survey.

To be clear, the Pew survey covers all Americans, not just students. The university and other institutions concentrate the corruption of progressive ideas on our society at large. The vast majority of the population does not subscribe to these ideas, but is forced to live under them. This is why organized resistance and confrontation is so important to revitalizing the American republic and western civilization.

The progressive left is the only majority white, non-Hispanic group of Democrats (presumably the group from where terms such as “Latinx” and “authentic self” originated). The progressive left have what Pew describes as “very liberal views on virtually every issue and support far-reaching changes to address racial injustice and expand the social safety net.” The desire expressed is the expansion and deepening of the custodial state where the lives of alleged victims of racial injustice are administered and managed.

Pew finds that establishment liberals are just as liberal in many ways as the progressive left but are less inclined to express the need for sweeping change. Putting this another way, what Pew is conceptualizing as establishment liberalism is a species of progressivism highly supportive of preserving the status quo—a status quo that is the result of more than a century of progressive restructuring of America to prepare its people for integration with the transnational system of corporate domination. As the progressive left pushes the system towards the authoritarian ends it seeks, the establishment liberals defend each successful stage of development.

Even the group Pew calls the “democratic mainstays,” the largest Democratic-oriented group, are depicted in the data as “unshakeable Democratic loyalists” who have a “moderate tilt on some issues,” which, again, means support for the established progressive order of things. But this is still a minority political standpoint in American society—and is declining. A recent Morning Consult poll found that the share of the electorate identifying as “very liberal,” “liberal” or “somewhat liberal,” designations that encompass majorities of the groups Pew identifies, has dropped drastically over the past five years, from 34 percent to 27 percent.

(In light of the fact that progressives—woke or otherwise—have at best only represented around a third of the electorate for years now, how is it possible that Democrats have enjoyed so much success in federal elections? We’re told it couldn’t possibly be that our elections are rigged. So what explains it? Apathy?)

I want to stress that the survey findings are enlightening even though the persuasions in political-ideological typology are mislabeled. For example. greater intensities of progressivism are characterized as ever more strident “liberal” commitments. In point of fact, liberalism and progressivism are not synonymous but oppositional, with the former denoting commitment to the values as cognitive liberty, free speech and expression, freedom of assembly and association, and so on (today more characteristics of moderate and conservative thought), and the latter, representing one of the more authoritarian and illiberal forms of ideology in history, hostile to each and every one of these values.

Liberalism emphasizes personal liberty and equality, focusing on the protection of individual rights and the rule of law. This is the foundation of western-style justice. Progressivism inverts this, advocating groups rights and equity (redistribution of resources, which is actually cover for new modes of wealth appropriation), and subordinating individual rights to countermovements that decouple the rule of law from organically emergent normative structures (which progressives deny have any actual nature) and using the power of the state to restructure the social order according to the designs of corporate governance.

This is why, when progressives decry legislation passed in Ron DeSantis’ Florida constraining the indoctrination of school children, they appear so righteous: justice in their lexicon, socialized in dictionaries and encyclopedia, means indoctrinating children with critical theory and crowding out other viewpoints, as well as banning other viewpoints as racist and transphobic.

The propaganda work of conflating opposites to one side for the moment, we can understand what Pew means by the increasing intensity of liberal views when they find the following in the data: “Very liberal, highly educated and majority White [sic]; most say U.S. institutions need to be completely rebuilt because of racial bias.” We need only switch out the term liberal for progressive so we don’t miss the truth here: these are the zealots who dominate humanities and social science departments across the nation, as well as run the academic journals (hence the reason I don’t bother submitting articles anymore but instead bring my work directly here to you unfiltered by the rat race racking up of jargon-laden publications).

Crucially, Pew finds that nearly all of the progressive left, 98 percent in fact, either identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. I didn’t need Pew to tell me this. Those around me are deeply involved in Democratic Party politics. If you doubt that the so-called progressive left does not carry in its heart the greatest love of the Democratic Party of all the persuasions in Pew’s typology (maybe because they feign speaking truth to power), consider this finding from the survey: “Although they are one of the smallest political typology groups, Progressive Left are the most politically engaged group in the Democratic coalition. No other group turned out to vote at a higher rate in the 2020 general election, and those who did nearly unanimously voted for Joe Biden. They donated money to campaigns in 2020 at a higher rate than any other Democratic-oriented group.” And this: “This group is also one of the most politically engaged typology groups: 86% of eligible Progressive Left voted in the 2020 election. Among typology groups, that is only rivaled by Faith and Flag Conservatives.”

Let’s make this very clear: Joe Biden is a pro-corporate state warmonger and devoted globalist with deep personal and financial ties to entities in the most authoritarian governments in the world (including China and Ukraine). All this was known before the 2020 election and the diehards in this survey are the most educated people in the United States. They know who they’re voting for—Biden is their candidate because Biden and his ilk personify the ideology that animates progressive politics.

When I say Biden is the personification of woke progressivism do I mean he actually believes the things he says, such as the science denialism necessary for an uncritical stance towards the medical-industrial complex? Maybe. For sure he doesn’t believe in America and its creed. No Democrats do. If they did, they wouldn’t be such stalwart defenders of the corporate state and the transnationalist agenda.

To be sure, the progressive left preferred Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 primaries. But once the Democrats had finished engineering Biden’s nomination (with nary a peep from the congregation this time), the hardcore progressives went all in for the former vice-president and senator from Delaware.

All the Black Lives Matter rhetoric couldn’t stop them from voting for the politician who led the drive in the US Senate to push through President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Biden was one of the lead sponsors of the bill in the Senate and worked tirelessly to garner support for its provisions, which included a large increase in funding for law enforcement, the expansion of the death penalty, and the creation of new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

Progressives voted for Biden not just to stop Trump (hatred of populist-nationalism was certainly a driver given the threat it poses to the globalist project); the survey finds that a large majority of this group approves of Biden’s job performance and majorities express confidence in his handling of issues.

The illiberal character of woke progressivism is indicated by many opinions expressed by those who identify as such. Pew finds that the so-called progressive left are the only typology group in which a majority says that success in life is largely outside of an individual’s control. Progressives believe this because they at the same time believe their special insight into the truth means that they’re the only people who can—and therefore should—manage the lives of the masses who in their worldview lack human agency. They thus steer society towards a self-fulling prophecy based on their belief that the masses are simple not smart enough for self-governance.

This is how technocratic and administrative state actors justify their positions and actions: if the people have no agency, then they cannot be expected to govern themselves, and therefore those who have special insight into the truth must organize their lives for them. But in reality the politics and policies of these elites disorganize the communities of those they claim to speak for (evidenced by the obscene rates of fatherless households and criminal violence in the neighborhoods under progressive direction).

Related to the statistic indicating the belief that the masses have little to no agency is the finding that three-quarters of progressives say there are other countries better than the United States, the highest share among typology groups. It’s not too hard to imagine which countries they have in mind—all of which are less free than America. They’re thinking about the social democracies of Europe, where children are born in systems with from the cradle to the grave they are embedded in extensive systems of social control, systems progressives mistakenly believe are socialist in character. Indeed, Pew finds that a majority of the progressive left “express positive views of political leaders who describe themselves as democratic socialists.”

The jargon here reflects the way the propaganda system twists terms to create mass confusion. There is nothing about progressive left ideology that’s socialist. The political philosophy is actually corporatist. Corporatism is type of capitalism where businesses and unions are in cahoots, working together with the government to establish policies purported to benefit the entire nation but are actually functional to advance the material interests of the corporate state. The progressive elite are globalist (hence the rhetoric of humanitarianism and multiculturalism) and so is contemporary corporatism. This is true for both the United States and European countries. Thus corporations, government, and unions work together to develop and implement policies that benefit the transnational corporate class and the professional-managerial strata—including university administrative, faculty, and staff—that serve it.

To elaborate the point, the purpose of cooperation between government, corporations, and labor unions is to supplant the inherent competition between capitalist and worker in the capitalist mode of production. Indeed, corporatism is an elite arrangement designed to derail the politics of class conflict by incorporating unions and other interest groups of civil society into the decision-making process to advance the mode of production over their objections by obscuring the character of material reality. By folding these groups into the logic of the system, they’re made allies rather than opponents—and the threat of class struggle is effectively neutralized. Under these arrangements, the government, captured by corporate power, mediates conflicts between different groups for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

The corporatist system can thus be contrasted with liberal capitalism, where individual economic interests and free market exchanges are given priority over policies that purport to be for the benefit of society as a whole. Progressivism is the religion of the corporatist system. The progressive academic is the organic intellectual of the corporate-captured university. Neoliberal arrangements function to replace the traditional intellectual with the organic intellectual (I discuss Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual in this recent blog).

If you did not understand this before, now that you do, can you now also understand why public employee unions are tied to the hip of the corporate state and private sector unions have all but disappeared after having been brought into the orbit of corporate governance?

Briefly, as of recently, the percentage of private sector workers who are unionized in the US is around six percent, falling from its mid-twenty century high of around one-third. In comparison, public sector unions enjoy a much higher rate of unionization, with around one-third percent of public sector workers being unionized as of recently.

The decline of private sector labor unions in the latter part of the twentieth century was driven by a number of factors, including globalization, technological changes that reduced the need for unskilled labor (automation, mechanization, scientific management), and a shift in public attitudes towards unions cultivated by corporate state propaganda. A big part of the war on labor was the fall in the rate of profit (for a detailed account of this, see my blog The Denationalization Project and the End of Capitalism).

Many industries adopted an anti-union stance and right-to-work laws in several states made it difficult for unions to organize and maintain their membership. The opposite trend was seen in public sector unions. A number of factors have driven the growth of public sector unions, including a favorable legal and political environment. Since the public sector is difficult to globalize, the need to pull public employees into the orbit of corporatist arrangements remains.

The political party mainly representing the transition of the United States from a democratic republic to a corporate state with neo-feudalist characteristics (more on this in a moment) has been the Democratic Party. As the party of the antebellum slavocracy, the Democratic Party is well suited to represents the corporate state where the proletariat is more akin serfs than wage workers. It is no accident, then, that progressivism is associated with the Democratic Party mainly, where as populism was the foundation of the Republican Party before it was swept up into the postbellum historic concentration of the means of production in the hands of a network of monopolies (as Marx and Engels predicted).

The establishment principally administered by the Democratic Party also includes many Republican Party officials also subservient to corporate power. This explains why establishment Republicans have done so little to combat progressivism in government and even worked (albeit tediously) to stymie the resurgence of population in the Republican Party.

The term democratic socialist as used by the progressive left, that is, as an Orwellian euphemism for corporatism, is a corruption of the term social democracy, itself cover for the governing logic of corporate governance described above. For what does democratic socialism actually mean? Democratic socialism is a politics that seeks to establish a political-economic system in which power and resources are shared among all members of society, rather than being concentrated in the hands of corporations or oligarchs. It uses democratic means to achieve socialist ends, such as through community ownership of key industries and worker-led cooperatives. But those in the Democratic Party who identify as democratic socialist are the same folks who want Big Tech oligarchs to control political discourse in America, who defend Big Pharma oligarchs and the medical-industrial complex, who advocate for a global order run by transnational corporations all dressed up in the wonders of globalism.

Even if we accept that this is social democracy, a politics purporting to create a more just society by providing for the basic needs of citizens, such as access to health care, government-provided social services, and public education, all without replacing capitalism with socialism, the question remains: Whose interests are served by such a politics? Isn’t this what we already have? Didn’t corporate elites dream up the idea of social democracy to counter socialism? Indeed. By covering some of the material needs of the masses without putting them in charge of history making, corporate elites and their academic mouthpiece obscure the reality of the class-based system of economic exploitation.

Through managed democracy, the elite steer the people while at the same time letting them feel as if they are actually participating in the system. In the end, this makes serfs of the proletariat. The public education system under these arrangements is organized to prepare our youth for a life in corporate bureaucracies.

The “New Liberalism” of the twentieth did this work, as well. Intellectuals realized that the brutality of industrial capitalism wasn’t going to work itself out—that immiseration was not a bug but a feature—and that an intellectual system in which alternatives to the status quo could be openly discussed and the proletariat potentially organized politically threatened capitalist accumulation.

The elite set out to, in their words, “reform liberalism” in the face of these economic and political challenges, advocating for a more active role for the state in addressing issues such as industrialization, inequality, and poverty through government intervention and regulation.

This idea was socialized alongside the development of mass propaganda and managed democracy, pioneered by progressive politicians, such as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, and intellectuals, chief among them Horace Kallen, Edward Bernays, and Walter Lippmann (in Great Britain, the great spokesman for New Liberalism was the sociologist T. H. Marshal). The rhetoric of New Liberalism allowed elites to collapse in the public mind liberalism and progressivism. Once accomplished the New Liberalism label was discontinued.

Today, progressivism and liberalism are treated not only as synonyms, but progressives the terminal point of liberalism—precisely the point at which is become liberalism’s diametric opposite. The misuse of terms like “democratic” and “socialism” is thus designed to make technocrats appear as if they speak for the common man when in fact they are functionaries of corporate rule. To describe progressivism and all its euphemisms as a left wing form of thought really becomes impossible when you study what it actually is and what interests it serves. Progressives are neither liberal nor socialist.

Given this, how are progressives properly located on the left? What animates the left is emancipating individuals from the traditional and bureaucratic structures that constrain human agency and freedom. Classical liberalism and actual democratic socialism are only really at odds on the question of who should own and control the means of production. Liberalism holds up the individual freedom side, emphasizing equality and representative democracy. Its ideals are limited government, the rule of law, and individual rights, including freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In a liberal society, the role of government is to ensure these individual rights are protected and to provide a level playing field for competition in the market.

Democratic socialism only differs in advocacy of putting ownership and control of the means of production and distribution of goods and services in the hands of the people, with the goal of ensuring equal access to wealth and opportunities for all citizens. The ideas that resources and wealth should be distributed in a way that benefits everyone, rather than just a small group of people, concerns the fair distribution of the major means of production. Socialist arrangements under these terms expands the liberal freedoms.

For example, the concentration of the means of intellectual production and monopoly control over communication technology in a few hands is why the cultural and knowledge production projects the worldview of the capitalist and falsely conveys the exclusive interests of his class as the interests of society at large. By putting the means of communication in the hands of the people, the people are able to more freely communicate their ideas.

Consider a social media system where the governance of the system were not determined by the oligarchs who own it but open to everybody to access and express their opinions and share their arguments with others who were interested in engaging those arguments. By expanding democracy in this manner, such an arrangement would enhance the liberal values expressed in the First Amendment.

Progressivism is the antithesis of either side of that economic debate. So is fascism, which is why progressivism and fascism are both expressions of corporatism—and are becoming fused in the neofascist politics of the neo-feudal world order. To distract you from this fact, because of elite control over the means of communication, the democratic-republicanism driving the national-populist movements across the West is characterized as fascism, while black-clad street thugs assaulting citizens, burning police cars, and vandalizing churches are called the antifascists.

The inversion of reality is made possible by progressive control over the education system and mass media. All this reinforces the point that to accurately grasp what is happening one must operate from the standpoint of historical materialism and conceptually root power in the hands of the actual ruling class, namely the capitalist class. You must conceptually locate power there because is where power is.

The UW System survey offers us a glimmer of hope. If knowledge is power, and if mutual knowledge can help citizens organize for their interests, then a survey showing them that the system of higher education has been remade as the propaganda apparatus of the corporate state, and if they understand that this development is tied to a much greater development in world history, and furthermore that this is a bad thing, since it will make serfs of them, then we have at our disposal a tool (and there are many others) to begin to take our country and our world back from the elites. But we have to share this knowledge and organize politically around it. So push out the contents of the survey.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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