Modern Conservatism = Rightwing Progressivism?

Mary’s post perfectly exposes the key problem with these progressives. No objective moral standards. No basic respect in human dignity.

One thing that troubles me about the political climate is just how extensive this moral bankruptcy is. Glenn Beck did a service in demonstrating the collectivist ethical situationalism of progressives to a whole generation of fans. Unfortunately, many Americans have fallen under a spell of modern conservatism that is itself simply another flavor of progressivism, and at times a particularly nasty one.

On the health care debate before the Supreme Court, the liberal justices during oral argument sounded much more dedicated to the malleable nature of the law and moral standards. Yet another case before the Supreme Court has shown just how bad the other “side” can be when it comes to a different set of political questions. As the New York Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.

Consider that horror. One of the most liberal justices pointed out that such searches were “a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” that should not be legitimized so broadly. But every single so-called conservative on the bench—Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and swing-voter Kennedy—voted to uphold this complete evisceration of basic human dignity even when law enforcement has no particular reason to suspect anything illegal will be found and no one has been proven to have committed a crime.

This only serves to remind us that there are no good justices on the Supreme Court. There are those who believe the national government has unlimited power to regulate the economy—which is to say our very lives—and there are those who believe that in the name of domestic and foreign security, there are no limits on state power in the most intimate and personal of areas: our rights not to be strip-searched, our rights not to have our property ransacked, our rights not to be detained indefinitely at the whim of the president. While Kennedy has been at times better than either the conservatives or liberals on the Court, his vote on Kelo, upholding eminent domain for the sole purpose of expanding the corporate state, and Raich, upholding the federal government’s right to jail sick people who used medicine legal under state law, remind us that he too often sides with collectivist violence against the individual without any principled hesitation at all.

The Court is perhaps an interesting proxy for the political spectrum, since it features modern liberalism and modern conservatism at its most thoughtful and sophisticated. It also proves that progressivism has won the day across most of that spectrum.

Conservatives often cheer on the presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt—a progressive if ever there was one—and New Dealers like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. They also defend a leviathan different from that envisioned by the progressive left more as a matter of degree than of kind. On economics, all too many conservatives have embraced the national welfare state, and although they are still more attuned to traditional limits on state power in this arena, they are often worse than the other side when it comes to policing and warfare issues. All in all, both wings of the modern spectrum have been different flavors of the progressive ideology that completely conquered the Republican Party a century ago, and then overtook the Democrats and modern liberalism as well. Many of the features of “conservatism” from the Cold War to George W. Bush—militarism, national statism, welfare statism with paternalistic garb, police statism, anti-immigration sentiment, cozying up to big business while expanding the regulatory state—have clear origins in the progressive presidencies of Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and even Woodrow Wilson. Thus I find the question as to whether Bush was a conservative or a progressive to be a trick question. He was both.

This only bolsters the point Mary makes at the end of her blog. Because when the rightwing progressives recapture government, we can hardly expect them to be any better than the progressive leftwingers who now run the show.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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