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Ever since I cast my first vote—in 1980, for Jimmy Carter—I’ve identified as a progressive. But, now that the progressive worldview has come of age, dominating academia and providing a new moral heading for the liberal mainstream, its increasingly evident pathologies must be reckoned with. Despite its caring values and vital environmental concerns, progressivism also represents a reckless repudiation of the best of what has come before. So, even though I continue to support numerous progressive political goals, I no longer call myself a progressive. I cannot, however, follow podcaster Dave Rubin in leaving the left and embracing the right. Notwithstanding progressivism’s negatives, the pathologies of the right evince their own form of recklessness. But rejecting the pathologies of both sides does not necessarily make me a centrist. Although political centrism is commendable, it’s ultimately too invested in preserving the dysfunctional status quo. The political position I therefore espouse can be most accurately characterized as post-progressive.
The Emerging Post-Progressive Political Perspective
The post-progressive political stance I advocate seeks to overcome progressivism’s pathologies by transcending the left–right divide altogether. This emerging perspective works to integrate progressive values with the laudable concerns of America’s mainstream culture. By eschewing the horizontal continuum of left and right, post-progressivism is charting a vertical dimension of normative growth that can lead to a more evolved form of politics.
The post-progressive strategy for ameliorating hyperpolarization works by synthesizing values from across the political spectrum. For example, post-progressivism wants to better employ the innovative power of business to significantly reduce carbon pollution. It wants to alleviate economic inequality by removing barriers to entrepreneurship in disadvantaged communities. It wants to restructure America’s healthcare system to work better for everyone, without creating a gigantic federal bureaucracy in the process. It seeks a more compassionate immigration system that nevertheless recognizes the legitimate interests of our nation-state. And it aspires to a peaceful foreign policy that does not result in isolationism. Post-progressivism, however, is more than a list of issue positions. This new approach to politics offers a fresh perspective from both outside and above America’s debilitating culture war.
What Are Progressivism’s Pathologies?
Over the last fifty years, progressivism has emerged as a distinct form of culture—a historically significant new worldview that can be compared and contrasted with America’s two preexisting cultural worldviews: mainstream modernity and religious traditionalism. And, although progressivism has yet to succeed politically in the US, it has won the culture war decisively, as even conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks admits. The recent cultural empowerment of progressivism has resulted in the fierce contest between all three of these major worldviews that is now poisoning American politics. Yet, though the rise of progressivism is the main cause of America’s contemporary culture war, and though it threatens to undermine Western civilization from within, it cannot be cancelled or otherwise destroyed. The World Values Survey empirically demonstrates the clear and predictable trend toward progressive values in the developed world.
So, once we accept that progressivism is here to stay, the question becomes: what is the best response? The post-progressive strategy entails carrying forward progressivism’s upsides, such as its world-centric morality and environmental priorities, while firmly rejecting its downsides. Indeed, it is progressivism’s burgeoning pathologies that provide post-progressivism’s points of departure. These pathologies include anti-modernism: the failure to recognize that progressive culture is predicated on the freedom and prosperity provided by modernity’s liberal values; reverse patriotism, which characterizes American history as a sinister criminal enterprise; divisive identity politics, which promotes grievance without gratitude; and tyrannical demands for immediate and uncompromising reform, which disrespect the institution of democracy.
The post-progressive response to progressive culture’s deficiencies also involves acknowledging the important achievements of the progressive worldview: for example, in civil, women’s and gay rights. Post-progressivism therefore wants to help progressive culture mature and evolve by extending its caring and inclusive values to better encompass the cultural sensibilities of modernists and traditionalists as well. Those who continue to identify as progressive can grow by increasing their cultural intelligence.
What Is Cultural Intelligence?
Post-progressivism defines cultural intelligence as the ability to recognize the mutual interdependence of America’s three major worldviews—traditionalism, modernism and progressivism. This comprehensive overview perspective sees how the positive values and enduring accomplishments of all three of these value frames form a kind of symbiotic cultural ecosystem, in which each worldview has an ongoing role to play.
Cultural intelligence provides the ability to integrate and harmonize these three sets of values. This process begins by clearly distinguishing between the upsides and downsides of each worldview. Just as progressivism includes positives and negatives, modernity brings forth both dignities and disasters. Modernist values include economic and scientific progress, individual liberty and the rule of law. Modernity’s pathologies lead to environmental degradation, gross inequality and nuclear proliferation. Traditionalism also has both upsides and downsides. Positive traditional values include loyalty to family and country, duty and honor and altruism. Traditionalism’s pathologies lead to racism, sexism and homophobia.
Once each worldview’s positives have been clearly distinguished from its abiding negatives, it becomes possible to integrate positive values from across the political spectrum. Yet, crucially, this integration process does not eliminate the political challenges that each worldview poses to the others. Cultural intelligence seeks a kind of dynamic integration, which preserves the natural polar tensions between these worldviews. This approach helps make these ongoing conflicts more functional and constructive by fostering deliberative relationships of challenge and support, wherein each worldview can influence and improve its cultural competitors.
Rather than viewing modernity as a corrupt system of greedy neoliberalism, which must be overthrown, post-progressivism can see that modernity’s economic freedom is a crucial component of the liberty and prosperity that it continues to deliver. And, instead of viewing traditionalism as merely a mythic fairytale, post-progressivism can appreciate how traditional values continue to provide the moral foundations of our society. Yet, even as post-progressivism renounces progressivism’s rejection of established American culture, it refuses to agree with those who reduce progressivism to cultural Marxism or who otherwise see it as a virulent ideology that must be crushed.
Post-progressivism wants a fairer economy, but it remains pro-business—it recognizes that business is increasingly becoming a force for good. The post-progressive political position also wants to vigorously combat global warming, but it doesn’t want to impoverish the world in the process. And post-progressivism wants to atone for the sins of the developed world, even as it continues to cherish and defend the unprecedented achievements of western civilization. In short, post-progressivism seeks to both transcend and include progressivism, with a more competent and adaptive worldview, which can pragmatically address our society’s problems, while preserving the best of what has come before. As Hegel put it, a synthesis can only be achieved through a partial “negation of the negation.”
By advancing an inclusive new political position and using the cultural intelligence that this perspective provides, post-progressivism is able to integrate more gratitude into its grievances and thereby make its challenges to the status quo more effective. Even as it continues to fight against the persistent pathologies of both the left and the right, post-progressivism remains grateful for the enduring gifts of all three major worldviews, and for America as a whole.
[…] Republished From Areo Magazine […]
[…] to demonstrate what comes after progressivism, both culturally and politically.” The nascent post-progressive project seeks to integrate the core values of those on left, right and center. For McIntosh, […]
This is excellent. Although, it seems that the dysfunctional progressivism should be called “post-progressive” and the healthy progressivism should be called “progressive.” People who aim to limit free speech, who refuse to view history through a factual narrative, and who hijack words and concepts to distort them from their true meaning are not really liberal or progressive, though are recognized as such by an intellectually lazy or sheepish society. Basically, every suggestion in the article that implies what “post progressives” do or want is what a genuine progressive would want. But, since the word progressive has been demoted to describe people who are often anti-American, or more critical of the West without examining the horrors committed by non-Western people, people who give a free pass to oppressive ideas and actions if they stem from a religion that they likely view as being misunderstood, or people who would wish to deny… Read more »
Surprising that Heika would get so many down votes, tho I’ll grant, that “Hating America and everything it stands for has been a left-wing (not progressive, but mainstream) position ever since there was a political left”, is an overstatement. There is always more than one “Left”, just as there is always more than one “Right”. Only under Obama did the Left prioritize “a more compassionate immigration system”, and outright demonize efforts to protect “the legitimate interests of our nation-state” from Mexican invasion, Otherwise, Heika is on the right track. I’d hold my nose, if today’s Lefties balked on reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, provided that they *emphatically* denounced their fellow Lefties’ use of censorship as a weapon of first resort, and their ploys/ rants vs. the White Patriarchy, and vs. the Deplorables. And, if they came clean, vs. the Dems’/ Left’s B.S. vs. Trump’s “coddling” of Putin, his “Obstruction of… Read more »
I can’t agree that progressivism has won the culture war, and I don’t value David Brooks’ privileged opinion about this. I can still remember Brooks’ receiving a Ted Talk standing ovation for merely conceding that empathy is an important thing, that’s a nice example of how much the value of his opinions are overinflated. Conservative money owns the vast majority of the radio waves, Sinclair is leading the charge to propagandize local TV news and The Daily Caller was granted status as a fact checker on Facebook even after they were disqualified as biased but overruled by Facebook management. Mitch McConnell has single-handedly transformed the next 30-40 years of judicial decisions slanting heavily toward right-wing extremism by slow walking and blocking Obama appointments then fast walking huge numbers of extreme and often unqualified federal judges. Is this a last gasp, or are they just getting warmed up? I think it’s… Read more »
I haven’t read your book, you likely answer this there. What is the basis of discriminating between the values you choose? What makes the good ones different to the bad ones? My suggestion: every child born deserves to thrive.
Thank you for your article. An article Ken Wilber wrote right after the 2016 election which laid out similar concerns has continued to resonant with me. As an ‘ol ’60’s hippie’ turned into a grandparent, I’m now think of myself politically as part of the “radical middle”. As a student of Jungian theory and practice, I work to “hold the tension of the opposites” until the transcendent third appears. As a somatic psychotherapist, I urge my clients to ‘make friends with all their various selves’ and suggest that we will not be throwing anything away, rather becoming very familiar with its purpose and function and then choosing a more mature and integrated way forward. In the somatic psychology world, we often talk about the fundamental oscillation of the autonomic nervous system and how it’s not the basic condition of the oscillation that is difficult, but rather the getting stuck, or… Read more »
I am a research and applied psychologist in political, clinical and industrial / organizational psychology. The above comments I read as political philosophy. I have found it helpful to operationalize the concepts of political and social philosophy by creating questionnaires that measure the terms used, including ones that get at various religious beliefs, political orientations, political opinions, preferred types of government and traits of political leaders, including dictators, democratic leaders, etc., etc. I am concerned about trying to make sense of political and religious and social issues just from a philosophical/opinion point of view for several reasons. One is that you can quickly lose touch with the world as seen, conceptualized, thought about and acted on by the majority of citizens, who don’t have higher educations or higher than average intelligence. Thus, you will lose in your dialogue and action 75 percent of the citizens of any given community. Another… Read more »
Steve: Historically, conservative wins out over progressive and radical (look at the outcome of the French Revolution, the 1848 revolutions as examples.) The recurring theme is that progressive values look to reshape baseline human behavior, whereas traditionally liberal values seek to loosen constraints but not reshape humans into “something more perfect” (perfection is the enemy of the good enough argument.) So, while progressivism is being tolerated (more or less), I hypothesize an eventual pushback (or maybe it has, i.e., Donald Trump) to “what we know works.” And the pushback isn’t usually as dire as it’s made out to be, with regressions into fever dreams of conservative dystopias. That said, though, that doesn’t mean that conservatives are completely tone deaf to progressive concerns, such as sustainability and unfettered economic expansion. Sure, there are issues with sexual freedom, personal responsibility and immediacy (a recent article on Banfield is highly relevant.) The approach… Read more »
I’ve made a similar transition from progressive to what the author calls post-progressive (and what I most comfortably describe as “independent”). I wonder if the author has studied Spiral Dynamics at all, since the description of integrating/synthesizing the three worldviews of Traditionalism, Modernity, and Post-Modernity/Progressivism is an almost textbook definition of the Yellow stage of human development. I myself have tried to talk with progressives about my evolving thoughts on politics the past few years, and while they can concede that the world is more complicated than lefty slogans and shibboleths suggest, this fact never seems to settle very deeply in their consciousness. I think the big “jump” that would be required is for people to desire to respectfully understand perspectives all across the political spectrum (which is how I came to this after feeling the 2016 election was a catastrophic failure on multiple levels) or for people to think… Read more »
Progressivism? WTF, the term wasn’t even in use until Obama’s second term. It’s just a synonym for “far left”. You can mentally substitute “far left” when you see “progressive”, it fits right in. The left hijacked the label liberal, something they have never been. After they ruined and destroyed the meaning they moved on to “progressive”. How do you tell the difference between liberals and leftists? Easy. Liberals believe in freedom of speech. They might disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it. Leftists, on the other hand, freely use censorship as a weapon of first resort. Their own positions are so weak that if people are allowed to point out the many problems, they would collapse. Hating America and everything it stands for has been a left-wing (not progressive, but mainstream) position ever since there was a political left. Unconvinced that… Read more »
This is a good start, Steve, but you (and post-progressives) fail to acknowledge the impact of the limits of growth and modernity loves you for that. Until we all admit that we cannot have ever-expanding growth on a planet with finite resources, try to get John Mackey and others on board with that around the third-rail issues of population, resources, and wealth distribution.
[…] political thought, as well as its “felt sense”. For more, check out Steve’s new article, Toward a Post-Progressive Progressive Political Perspective, published in Aero Magazine online. Many of the core ideas are also expressed in his new book […]
Same here. This is why I am no longer a progressive. Progressive in the Civil Rights/hippie 1960s meant obliterating the walls between races, genders, etc. Battle lines were ideological. Joining hands on our side were white, black, male, female, gay – all in it together against a corroded ideology. Progressives today have taken 180-degree turn. They are all about rebuilding those walls – white can’t know black, male can’t know female – it’s all about guarding your demographic turf. The good news, Steve, is that LOTS of us feel as you do. If someone could reclaim the fight against inequality and ecological threat, reclaim the old liberal message of universal rights and universal truths against tribalism, without all the cultural policing and divisive identity talk, they could get traction fast. As I tell my lefty friends who consider themselves radical, you can’t be radical if you are carrying around the… Read more »