Monday, 30 August 2010

As a "republican," Sarah Palin must have supported the salting of Carthage in the wake of the Third Punic War. Ilya Somin's response to my London post is a nifty little walk-back, but he does have a point: “Progressive” is a general term routinely applied to all those early 20th century writers and political activists who supported large-scale increases in government control of the economy. That's not it. That is a definition so broad as to be utterly useless. The trusts "supported large-scale increases in government control of the economy" as a means of putting and keeping labor in its place; manufacturers lobbied first for higher, then lower, then higher tariffs; but I doubt Somin wants to include those interests among his "Progressives." The point he does make is this: Perhaps Kaufman was confused by my use of a capital “p” rather than a lower-case one. I was, but only because I applied a standard that's been around for about a hundred years instead of Somin's idiosyncratic non-distinction. Those who ignore this distinction typically did so for practical political reasons, like the fellow who wrote this introduction, who wanted to include lowercase-p progressives under his uppercase-P umbrella in order to make his newly founded party look a little more substantial. I'm not saying this is a distinction universally upheld, only that it's more common than not in contemporary scholarship for the simple reason that most scholars abide by the rules of capitalization: proper nouns refer to unique entities and are therefore capitalized. The niceties of orthography are a side show, however, because the main problem with Somin's post is that he still claims that London was both spectacularly racist and, as he wrote in the first post, "no anomaly among early 20th century Progressives." London's racism still only differs in degree, not kind, because as he wrote in the second post, "it was part of a broader pattern of racism among many Progressives of that era." Except that it wasn't. London's atypical in all respects, and as I demonstrated in my earlier post, neither part of the "Progressive movement" proper and only obliquely involved in the humble-mumble of internecine conflict that defined leftist and liberal politics at the turn of the last century. But I've repeated myself. Very dull. How about we venture into the comments over there? It appears that Scott Kaufman is maintaining the faux history that progressives aren’t either fascists or socialists, when the plain fact of the matter is that they are both. Or maybe not. If elements of that crowd can't tell from my post that London couldn't have been a progressive because he believed they were insufficiently radical, the cause is already lost. But I'm a soldier, so once more into the breach: As far as I can tell, Google says that Kaufman is the only connection between “nature fakir” and Jack London. And, FWIW, that part about “Darwinian determinism” is nonsense. Seriously? The first return from Google is too far for someone to tell? What could be closer? Wait, wait, these could be swells of stupidity in an otherwise tempered sea. Let me...
You'll learn nothing at all from thems et al. Do you know what happens when you allow “scholars” like Jonah Goldberg to invent historical movements and monsters? You end up with uncited statements of obvious provenance that mask sheer lunacy behind the rhetorical scrim of conventional wisdom: [T]he principles that inspired the American founding were always viewed as universal principles, which applied to all of mankind. Curiously, it wasn’t until the introduction of Historicist and Darwinian philosophy (which gave birth to Progressivism) that some Americans began to argue otherwise. I wrote a dissertation about popular adaptations of evolutionary theory during the Progressive Era and have long styled myself an historicist* and I have absolutely no idea what that second sentence could possibly mean. Does its author, Joseph Philips, mean to argue that Darwinism—which was neither the only nor even the dominant evolutionary paradigm of the Progressive Era—gave birth to “Progressivism”? Does he mean to argue that the New History movement—inaugurated in 1912 by James Harvey Robinson’s The New History and abetted by works like Charles Beards’ An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913)—gave birth to “Progressivism” fifteen years after it’d been born? Or does he mean nothing at all—but learned from the likes of Goldberg et al.—that the best way to prevent people from criticizing the seriousness of an assertion is to pretend its “knowledge” so common as to be above reproach? Care to place bets as to where I fall on this one? I didn’t think so. *Before someone objects: writing “an historicist” is too correct.

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