Commentary Magazine


Dogma and the New Progressives

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.