There is an article in a conservative/libertarian on-line journal called The Federalist that is headlined: “Signs Liberalism’s Slow Suicide Is Finally Complete.” The author, conservative journalist Robert Tracinski makes a stab at tying modern progressivism all the way back to John Stuart Mill in 19th century England but I’m not really sure that he understand the basic tenets of either liberalism, as Mill defined it, or of utilitarianism which he conflates with Mill’s liberalism.
But, his central thesis, that modern, 21st century ultra-progressives, are killing liberalism (however it is defined) has merit. His examples, including that Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists who recently shouted down a speaker from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), shows, yet again, that the progressives are fragmented, by identity politics and by the people that James Poulos called “identitarians,” and the fragments cannot make common cause so, almost in despair, they turn on each other as well as on those they call racists and fascists and the privileged.
Progressivism has been associated, since at least the 1940s, with Marxism ~ see e.g. Jean-Paul Sartre, Sylvia Pankhurst, Max Horkheimer and, in Canada, Robert and James Laxer (père et fils) Judy Rebick and Dan Heap.
Progressivism, in America, was spurred, to some extent, in the 1940s, by Jews who were concerned (obviously) with anti-Semitism but, also, with racial inequality, and who, in large measure, led the US civil right movement in the 1950s and into the 1960s. But, starting in the late 1960s, blacks began to turn on Jews, in some part because some black intellectuals (e.g. Harold Cruse) attacked Jews precisely because they had been leaders in the civil rights movement, denying blacks, he said, the opportunity to lead their own liberation movement. That split foreshadowed what is happening today ~ black activists, like Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad pushed a heady mix of black power and a sort of Afro-centric notion of Islam which further deepened the divide between the new progressive identitarians and the Jews. By the 1990s black rioters were specifically targeting Jewish and Korean owned shops in their unrepressed rage against “the man.”
While anyone can, and should, sympathize with the root cause behind Black Lives Matter ~ too many young men of colour (and here, in Canada, young aboriginal men) are in prison or dead by drugs, crime and, yes, police bullets ~ that root cause is NOT white, much less Jewish, racism or police violence (although the ongoing militarization of the police is worrisome to me, personally), it is public indifference and lack of equality of opportunity which is, in some part, grounded in weak (aboriginal, black, etc) community leadership. So long as community leaders demand only immediate equality of outcome rather than working for equality of opportunity there will be a measurable inequality gap between the (shrinking) mainstream and minority communities.
But identity has overtaken causes and now, for example, gays and feminists are reluctant to criticize e.g Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS for enslaving women and murdering gays for the “crime” of being gay because they might offend the Arabs or Palestinians or, even worse, be seen to be siding with America or, worst of all, Israel, but they are not afraid to exclude e.g. gay police officers from a gay pride parade because Black Lives Matter demands it … it is all about identity.
Conservatives are not immune … even though the conservatives were never as coherent and popular as the progressives were in the 1950d and 1960s. But there are deep divisions in those elements of the political spectrum that are not over on the Marxist/”identitarian”/über-progressive left: some people are so-called “big-government conservatives” (a concept that I, personally, find self-contradictory but e.g. US President George W. Bush did not) others, especially in the USA, are strict constructionists on legal and constitutional matters, while others are fiscal hawks but socially moderate, even progressive, and still others are just angry (and frightened) old white men. The divisions in our society ~ progressive, liberal, independent and conservative, alike ~ are real and often deep. One problem is that identitarians cannot see or refuse to accept that others have deeply, honestly help values and views. Good political leaders will work to bridge the gaps, not, as Justin Trudeau does, to pit one value against another.
Black Lives Matter, just as one example, is a symptom, not a disease; ditto the American Civil Liberties Union, which we, should all devoutly hope, should not need to exit at all; they are both symptoms of the divisions that need to be bridged … not eliminated, just bridged. Prime Minister Trudeau is correct in saying that our diversity makes us stronger … but only if we respect the entire range of our diversity, including the diversity if our honest opinions; if, as he appears to do, leaders take sides then they weaken our society by trying to force us all into one mould. Islamophobia, as another example, is not a crime … it, too, is a symptom of a society that is, constantly, adapting to change, and change is not always easy. In the 16th and 17th centuries religious intolerance divided much of the world (and sometimes that “intolerance” was backed by brute force); in the and 19th 20th centuries race was the cause of much turmoil and cruel bloodshed; now identity, itself, seems to be culprit.
Canada needs community and political leadership that can help us to transcend the siren song of the identitarians and, instead, fight our socio-political battles on more sensible grounds.