Progressivism: Conserving Bourgeoisie Power
We generally think of progressivism as something which is anti-conservative. This is a mistake. Conservatives are generally those in power who wish to maintain the current system.
One of the problems I encounter all the time when talking politics is that people generally accept most of the political categories they are given. Democrats are “liberals” and Republicans are “conservative.” The “right” and the “left” are fundamentally different. Republicans and the right are supporters of “big business,” but Democrats are for the “average guy.” Following politicians and the political process is vital for understanding what is going on. In the west we all participate in some form of democratic rule. Elections matter. On and on one could go.
While it is useful to learn about concepts like the “administrative state” and to understand how power has shifted from factory owning bourgeoisie to the “managers,” and even though it does pierce the veil somewhat, it does not go deep enough. I have always suspected that the truth of the matter is, in many ways, a reversal of the categories we normally use. Reading Augusto del Noce, in Carlo Lancellotti’s excellent collection of his essays, The Crisis of Modernity, has been revelatory. All the things you sense are happening, but could never quite argue the way you want, are convincingly explained and reasoned out on page after page. It is hard to remember at times that many of these essays were written 50 or more years ago.
Take for example: “progressivism.” We usually think of this as a radically left-wing liberal movement. But the correct way to understand progressivism is that it is in truth a conservative movement which functions to neuter the threat of revolutionary Marxism to the bourgeoisie. Let that sink in. Once we understand this, and the true battle that the progressives are waging, the path forward to meaningfully threatening their power clarifies itself.
To properly place the things we are about to discuss in this piece, we must remind ourselves that a few hundred years back, the merchant class began to accumulate the kind of wealth through commercial ventures that would allow it to meaningfully threaten the old nobility and the land based economic system which undergirded its power. With the bourgeoisie assent to power came a whole host of changes. There was the Protestant Reformation. The introduction of representative forms of government. There was an explosion of learning, resulting in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. This brought science and technology. With the commercial class at the center of power, it is understandable that “the market” became central to their ideas of liberty. Free markets became the ideal. It would only be natural for them to describe the free exchange of ideas in commercial terms. Hence, the “marketplace of ideas.”
As these ideas aged and the political and social power of the bourgeoisie capital class coalesced, they used that power to ward of challenges to their position as society’s leadership class. It is this dynamic that we need to grasp. Typically, from a political point of view, the “conservatives” are the group in power who wish to maintain the status quo. They benefit from the current system and want to use the system to keep everything the way it is as long as possible. They want to use the system to keep their position of wealth and power secure.
At the same time, a ruling class that cannot adapt is also doomed. It is these adaptations to which we need to pay close attention. Because bourgeoisie power was built through the idea of free markets and with it ideas of political liberty and democracy, while at one time revolutionary, slowly they became associated with a “conservative” position. That is, these institutions associated with “liberty” and “the market” and so forth “conserved” the power of the bourgeoisie. Hence, they were “conservative.”
As markets consolidated, and through the process of industrialization, the needs of the bourgeoisie changed. Distributed ownership became widespread and with it the use of stock markets. As enterprises grew and became more complex, and because they were often not owned by one person anymore, new forms of management were needed. Over time, power within business shifted from the owners to the managers, the experts tasked with running businesses. The key thing to understand about the shift to managerialism, is that this is not a shift of power away from the bourgeoisie to another group within society, but it was rather a shift of power within the bourgeoise. It is vital to understand this point, that managerialism within corporations, government and a wide swath of other institutions is about the maintenance of bourgeoisie power and is thus “conservative.” Del Noce calls this shift an ideological reversal or inversion and shifts the ideology of the bourgeoisie away from markets, democracy, freedom and so forth—the old language of bourgeoisie conservatism—to that of progressivism. Progressivism is now the new language of conservatism. It still claims many of the old concepts as labels for progressivism, but empties them of their content and reverses their meanings. With that overview, lets dive into del Noce and put some meat on the bone.
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