DANIEL VAUGHAN: Modern Progressives Learn They Can't Reinvent Civilization

 March 8, 2024

One of the great blinders of progressivism is that it challenges everything, even when what it challenges is necessary to a functioning society. Progressives will tear something down, even when they don't know why they need it. Progress is always pushing forward, and destroying whatever is in the way.

G.K. Chesterton analogized this to a fence or gate placed across a road. The modern person looks at the fence and happily tears it down because they see an obstacle. The wise person looks at the fence and assumes there's a purpose for it. Any first step towards removing the fence should start with understanding why it is there in the first place.

Our progressives never understand why anything exists, and so we're watching them rebuild fences in real time without acknowledging why they've failed. In just the last few weeks, there have been numerous examples of progressive policies aimed at tearing down barriers failing horribly.

First, let's take the most progressive spot in the nation: San Francisco, California. Multiple ballot measures have been approved so that the public can vote on a wide array of policing measures. Put in isolation, these sound resoundingly conservative:

[The ballot measures would] set minimum police staffing levels, allow officers to chase suspects under reasonable suspicion they have committed or will commit a felony or nonviolent misdemeanor — with the help of drones — and set up public safety cameras that could use facial recognition technology to apprehend perps.

Another measure "requires anyone who receives employment assistance, housing, shelter, utilities or food from city coffers to submit to drug screenings — and, if they test positive, denies them those benefits unless they enter a treatment program."

Sonny Bunch summed up the view of anyone else watching this by saying, "Let's be honest: it's kind of funny that San Francisco had to literally vote for things like 'let the cops do their job' and 'teach kids math.'"

It's a city that removed every restraint and fence possible. It is now backpedaling hard to restore some semblance of a working society. They aren't alone, however.

If you switch coasts and go to New York, you find something even more extreme. New York Governor Kathy Hochul ordered 750 members of the National Guard into the New York subway system because violence and crime there have gotten so bad. The National Guard is there to uphold a basic level of safety for everyone.

Four years ago, the New York Times had a total meltdown when Senator Tom Cotton suggested sending the military into major cities, like New York, to stop the riots from all the George Floyd protests. People lost their jobs over that Tom Cotton editorial in the New York Times. Now, a Democrat is using that exact policy for basic policing, not because there's some extraordinary crisis happening.

The left has gone from "Defund the Police" to "Send in the National Guard." I hope you're not getting violent whiplash from this 180-degree turn.

Oregon Democrats are reversing their 2020 drug decriminalization policies. In 2020, "voters approved a ballot measure that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs including heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, and removed any incentive for treatment."

The result was rampant drug use, abuse, and overdose deaths. Kevin Sabat, president of the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Instead of reducing overdose deaths, Measure 110 appears to have made the crisis worse. Between 2020 and 2022, overdose deaths in Oregon increased 75%, from 797 to 1,392, compared with an 18% increase nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

The trend lines from that were not improving, either. Oregon is adding to this a bill that bans drug use on public transportation services. Similar to San Francisco, Oregon is discovering that public subsidization of drug use and other bad behavior leads to even worse outcomes - not to mention the increase in crime.

The point is not to look at liberals and laugh. The point is to look at the mindset and why it failed. These progressive activists and politicians looked at the fences around society, things like active police, banned drug use, and more, and tore those fences down. 

In the process, they fundamentally ripped out their communities' core pillars and made things worse. In New York, California, and Oregon, we can point to murders and more that have occurred due to these policies. In Oregon, you have more deaths due to overdose. These aren't just bad policies; they have led to more lives being lost.

If you're going to tear down fences or open gates, you should know why those barriers exist. At its core, this is why conservatism has a better view of these moments. It presumes there's a reason for those barriers and will respect them. Could reform be needed? Certainly, but understand what you're reforming and why - that's a basic level of wisdom missing in modern progressivism.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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