Brian Birdnow

It is all the fashion today for left-leaning politicians, journalists, academics and vapid celebrities to describe themselves and their leftwing proclivities as “Progressive”. In fact, anything associated with modern liberalism is now characterized as “Progressive”. For example, most of the mainstream media figures comment about President Obama’s “progressive agenda”, and they call the Democrats the nation’s “Progressive” Party. The term “Liberal” seems to be vanishing from our public discourse. Can this be mere happenstance, or a minor linguistic adjustment? In actuality the terminological change has been intentional as the leftists seek, once again, to obfuscate reality and to impose their version of truth on America, and the world.

“Progressive” as a term pertaining to political ideology can be traced to the Progressive movement of roughly 1897-1917. The movement, born in the cities just before the close of the nineteenth century, sought to change American society and even to subvert the essentials of American government from the intention of the Founding Fathers. The Progressives wanted to transfer power from city halls and state capitols to Washington and to endow the federal government with new authority to impose its vision of order and good government on the states. Progressivism presented itself, of course, as reasonable and non-threatening, and the progressive types talked vaguely of “…using Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends”, as the well known Progressive journalist Herbert Croly put it in his 1909 classic, The Promise of American Life. Still, just beneath this non-threatening exterior of Progressive reform, the big government Leviathan lurked ominously.

Over the course of a decade-and-a-half the American people grew tired of Progressivism. The income tax, higher prices and a reduced standard of living combined with a reckless, if well-intentioned effort “…to make the world safe for democracy” by declaring war on Germany convinced the majority of the people that progressivism was a misguided set of principles at best, and patently dangerous in application.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.