Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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Conscience of a Progressive
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Conscience of a Progressive

Ernest Partridge

Chapter One: 

Ideas: Some New, Some Old

Those of us who are at middle age or beyond have lived through a revolution in political and economic theory and practice, a revolution so profound that few of us can even begin to appreciate its significance, much less its peril.

Future historians, however, will understand and appreciate this revolution and will wonder at the passivity of the public today and the ease with which those who instituted this upheaval achieve their success. The same historians, I will venture, will be equally or more amazed at how this moment played out. But this we cannot know, for their past is our immediate future. We are the agents of that still-to-be written history. The United States of America, in this year of 2008 is at a hinge of history. Our fate, and that of our successors, rests directly in the hands of all of us who are politically alert and active today. As Edward R. Murrow famously said, “we can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result."

Those factions and interests now in control of the United States government declare that their policies, which they choose to call “conservative” and I prefer to call “regressive,” are an advancement in the course of human history. Those who disagree, and the pollsters tell us that they are a majority of the American people, believe that in the past seven years, and arguably in the past twenty-seven years, the people of the United States and their government, have suffered a grievous setback.

I count myself among this dissenting majority. In this book, I will attempt to articulate that dissent, criticize the foundational dogmas of the regnant, “regressive” regime that now controls our country, and justify the principles of “progressivism” – the political-economic ideology that distinguished and honored our past, and if we are both determined and fortunate, may once again guide and enrich our national future.

It will be helpful at this outset to briefly identify the “players” in this political contest.

Regressivism: A Preliminary Sketch:

To begin, it is important to note that the regressivism that controls and supports our present government is not a unified political doctrine. Rather, it is a coalition, some factions of which are in strong disagreement with others, most notably “the libertarian right” and “the religious right.” Later in this chapter, we will identify and examine these and other factions at some length.

In general, most regressives tend to believe that the ideal society is merely a collection of autonomous individuals and families in voluntary association. In fact they assert that strictly speaking, as Dame Margaret Thatcher once proclaimed, “There is no such thing as a society,”1 and Ayn Rand, “There is no such entity as ‘the public.’”2  It follows that there is no such thing as “public goods” and “the public interest,” apart from summation of private goods and interests. Moreover, there are no “victims of society.” The poor choose their condition; poverty is the result of “laziness” or, as the religious right would put it, a “sin.”

Each individual, by acting to maximize his or her personal self-interest, will always act “as if by an invisible hand” (Adam Smith) to promote the well-being of all others in this (so-called) “society:” that which is good for each, is good for all. Accordingly, the optimal economic system is a completely unrestricted and unregulated free market of “capitalist acts by consenting adults.” (Robert Nozick) Moreover, private ownership of all land, resources, infrastructure, and even institutions, will always yield results preferable to common (i.e. government) ownership and control. Finally, the regressive firmly believes that because economic prosperity and growth are accomplished through capital investment, the well-being of all is accomplished by directing wealth into the hands of “the investing class;” i.e. the very rich, whereby that wealth will “trickle down” to the benefit of all others.

The libertarian right insists that the sole legitimate functions of government are the protection of the individual’s unalienable natural rights to life, liberty and property. The libertarian’s demand for individual autonomy and government non-interference entails a tolerance and respect for privacy, and thus the libertarian has no use for sodomy and drug laws, for laws prohibiting gay marriage, abortion, and least of all for government endorsement of religious dogma or enforcement of religious practice. Thus the libertarian fully endorses John Stuart Mill’s pronouncement that, “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”3  In general, the libertarian advocates the fullest possible freedom of the individual, consistent with equivalent liberty of all others. In these respects, there is much in libertarian thought that should be attractive to the progressive.

The religious right, of course, vehemently rejects the libertarian’s uncompromising tolerance and insistence that the government has no right whatever to interfere in the private life of the individual. The religious right, to the contrary, believes that the government is entitled to enforce moral behavior and even to support religious institutions and “establish” religious doctrines in the law. In the most extreme cases, the religious right advocates the establishment of “biblical law” in place of our present system of secular Constitutional law.

With the exception of the dispute between the libertarians and the religious right regarding private behavior, all the other tenets of regressivism share this characteristic: They all lead to policies that benefit wealth and power (“the masters”), to the disadvantage of all others; i.e., the “ordinary citizens. We elaborate on this contention in Chapter Four.

There is much more to the regressive platform and agenda, which we will explore throughout this book. But this brief sketch will serve as a beginning.

Progressivism: A Preliminary Sketch:

“Progressivism” is essentially the “liberalism” of most of the twentieth century, as promulgated by both Roosevelts, by the Kennedy Brothers, and by many Republicans, such as Dwight Eisenhower, Jacob Javits and Earl Warren. “Progressivism,” to put it simply, is “liberalism,” free of the slanderous connotations heaped upon it by contemporary right-wing propagandists.

In general, progressives endorse the political principles of our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well as the fundamental moral precepts of the great world religions and the ideas of many secular moral philosophers – precepts most familiar to the American public through the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Accordingly, progressivism is founded on enduring “conservative” principles. Thus the familiar “liberal vs. conservative” dichotomy is a hoax. Moreover, the Right, far from being “conservative,” in fact endorses a radical political doctrine, with policies designed to return society and the economy to a condition of autocracy, wealth and power for the privileged few, and servitude, poverty and ignorance for “the masses” – a condition which, until recently, was generally believed to be permanently discredited and relegated to the distant past. Hence my preferred term, “regressive.”

In contrast to the regressive, the progressive regards society not as an aggregate of autonomous individuals but as an “emergent” entity that is more than the sum of its individual human components. In this sense, a society is like a chemical compound such as table salt or water: substances with properties that are separate and distinct from the properties of their component elements. It then follows that there are “social goods” and “public interests” that are demonstrably separate from the sum of private goods and interests. Moreover, there are genuine “victims of society” who are in no way responsible for their suffering and poverty. (The illegitimate child of a teen-age heroin addict did not choose her parents. The corporate decision to “outsource” a job was out of the hands of the worker who loses that job).

Because society (or “the public”) is demonstrably distinct from the sum of its component individuals, behavior that might be good for each individual, may be bad for society as a whole; and conversely, that which is “bad” for the individual (e.g., taxes and regulations) may benefit society at large. These fundamental precepts: “good for each, bad for all” and “bad for each, good for all” are of such essential importance to the defense of progressivism, and by implication to the refutation of regressivism, that we shall devote two entire chapters (Chapters Five and Six) to these precepts specifically, and they will also be applied throughout the book.

The progressive is not “against” free markets, but rather believes that in the organization and functioning of society and its economy, markets are invaluable servants. But markets can also be cruel masters. Thus, in the formulation of public policy, markets should count for something and even for much, but not for everything. There is a “wisdom” of the marketplace, but that “wisdom” is not omniscient. Adam Smith was right: each individual seeking his own gain might act, “as if by an invisible hand,” to the benefit of all. But as Adam Smith also observed and regressive economists tend to forget, there is a “back of the invisible hand,” whereby self-serving action by each individual can bring ruin upon the whole – a warning that was vividly presented by Garrett Hardin in his landmark essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons.” (1968)

Progressives are so much in favor of a market economy that they are determined to protect it from its excesses and from its innate tendency toward self-destruction. The progressive recognizes that the natural tendency of “free markets” is toward monopoly and cartels, which are, of course, the end of the free market. Thus the progressive endorses anti-trust laws, which means, of course, a rule of law enforced by government.

The progressive also recognizes that market transactions, especially those by large corporations, affect not only the parties of those transactions (the buyers and sellers), but also unconsenting third parties, the “stakeholders;” for example, citizens who reside downwind of and downstream from polluting industries, citizens who are enticed by false advertising to endanger their health, and parents whose childrens’ minds and morals are corrupted by mass media. “Stakeholders” should thus have a voice in these corporate transactions, and the only agency with a legitimate right to represent the stakeholders is their government; hence the justification for regulation of corporations.

The progressive agrees that economic benefits “trickle down” from the investments of the wealthy. But he also insists that the wealth of the privileged few “percolates up” from knowledge and labor of the producers of that wealth – the workforce – and from the tranquility and social order that issues from a public that is served well by and freely consents to the rule of its government. The progressive insists that the workers are most productive and prosperous when they participate, through collective bargaining, in determining the conditions of their employment. The progressive also recognizes that the productivity of that workforce results from public education and from publicly-funded basic research that might otherwise be neglected by private entrepreneurs. .

In addition to the libertarian’s defense of the government’s function of protecting the rights of “life, liberty and property,” the progressive believes that it is also the function of government “to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, ...[and] promote the general Welfare.” Critics from The Right, who choose to call themselves “conservatives,” should note that these words are quoted directly from the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

Also, along with the libertarians, the progressive endorses the “like liberty principle” which affirms that each individual is entitled to maximum liberty, consistent with equal liberty for all. Likewise, as I will argue at length in this book, the “no-harm principle,” expressed in the familiar folk maxim, “my freedom ends where your nose begins.” However, the libertarians fail to come to terms with the full implications of these principles, for their program results in freedom for the privileged few at the cost of the freedom and welfare of the many. To put the matter bluntly, the progressive disagrees with the libertarian, not because the progressive values liberty less, but because he values liberty more.

The progressive insists that certain institutions and resources are the legitimate property not of private individuals, but of the public at large. These include, first of all, the government itself: the legislature, the executive, and the courts. In addition, the natural environment – the atmosphere, the waterways, the oceans, the aquifers, wildlife – can not be parceled out, marked by property lines, and sold to the highest bidder. Language, the arts, literature, the sciences, are common heritages which must be protected and nurtured for the common good, and not be used and exploited exclusively for private gain.

Finally, the progressive demands that government belongs to the people, and not exclusively to those interests that can afford to “buy into” access to and influence upon the government. “Governments,” the progressive reminds us, “are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” And if the (self-described) “conservatives” find such sentiments to be treasonous, they should again take note of the source. These words are from the founding document of our republic: The Declaration of Independence.

Accordingly, far from being “traitors,” as Ann Coulter would have us believe, progressives are among the most authentic of patriots.

Liberal Ideas: Old and New

We’ve all heard these complaint from the right:

“The Liberals have no new ideas.”

“Liberalism has run its course, it’s burnt out – no longer relevant to the unique conditions of the new century.”

“Liberalism lacks a firm ideological foundation, so all that’s left for the liberals are their old worn out slogans.”

So we are told by the right-wing “establishment:” the AM radio talk-show hosts, the “conservative” think-tank luminaries that dominate the Sunday TV gab-fests, the pundits of the mainstream media, and, of course, Republican politicians.

“No new ideas?” That’s a strange complaint to be coming from self-proclaimed “conservatives!” But more to the point, the accusation is plainly and demonstrably false. After all, as the left proclaims and the right complains, university faculties are predominantly liberal, and universities are “idea factories.” It is the job of university professors to come up with, and to critically examine, “new ideas.” Either that, or find another line of work: “publish or perish.”

But newness and novelty are not the primary virtues of political ideas. Newton’s laws of motion, and Euclid’s geometry are no less valuable for being old.4 Nor are the political doctrines of our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

New or old, cogency and relevance are the criteria of ideological value. Put simply, a “cogent” idea possesses the capacity to answer the simple question, “Why should I believe this?,” clearly, forcefully, and convincingly. The hallmarks of cogency are an abundance of supporting evidence, logical consistency and coherence.5  Relevance is the applicability of the idea to significant social and political problems, and its capacity to provide solutions to these problems.

On all these counts, progressivism is a superior political ideology to regressivism.

That’s easy enough to say. Proving it is quite another matter. And proving the superiority of progressivism will be the essential task of this book.

A strong case for liberalism/progressivism can be assembled from the evidence of ordinary experience and common sense, without resort to the sort of technical vocabulary and subtle arguments that routinely put undergraduates to sleep. And this is fortunate, for the simplicity and common sense appeal of progressivism exemplifies its suitability as an ideology for a democratic society and a free people.

And so, at the outset of this task, I promise the reader that I will leave the technical vocabulary, the dry abstractions and the complex arguments of academe behind. Instead, I will use ordinary language, and deal with matters of common knowledge and experience.

We begin with a recognition that the language of political discourse today has been thoroughly distorted by the black arts of propaganda and public relations. We can scarcely begin our inquiry unless we define the terms of that inquiry, as we identify and then avoid the semantic traps that have been devised by the unscrupulous. That will be the task of the chapter that follows immediately after this.

The Ascent of the Right

Next, a quick review of how we have arrived at our current political condition. But bear in mind, this book is not an historical treatise. We will be much more concerned with the condition of the Right as it is today, than with the question of how it came to be.6

In the 1964 Presidential Election, Senator Barry Goldwater’s Republican candidacy was buried in an avalanche of votes for Lyndon B. Johnson. Goldwater received only 38.5% of the popular vote to Johnson’s 60%

Johnson, whose political exemplar was Franklin D. Roosevelt, successfully supplemented FDR’s “New Deal” with his “New Society.” It was the high water mark of liberalism – the enlightened employment of government in the service of the public good.

The prevailing journalistic and academic judgment at the time was that in the 1964 election, The Right had its moment, had failed, and would no longer be a significant factor in the American body politic. Consequently, like the victorious allies in 1918 and 1945, the Liberal Left disarmed. This complacency was to have dire consequences.

The defeated Right did not surrender. Instead, it withdrew, contemplated, and planned for the long-term. The liberals may have had control of the White House, the Congress, much of the Judiciary, and the mainstream media. But the Right had the advantage of unlimited funds, patience, and superlative tactical intelligence.

In 1971, corporate attorney Lewis Powell, soon to be appointed to the Supreme Court, wrote a memorandum to Eugene Syndor, Jr. of the US Chamber of Commerce. The memo,7 which was widely distributed among corporate leaders, right-wing publishers and billionaire supporters of right-wing causes, warned that American free-market capitalism was under attack by the usual liberal suspects: college and university faculties, the media, philanthropic supporters of the arts and sciences, literary and scholarly journals, etc. This threat, he urged, called for a counter-revolution with the funding of “conservative” journalists, scholars, publications, and think tanks, along with control of the mass media.

Similarly, in 1978 William Simon, Nixon’s former Treasury Secretary, published a book, A Time for Truth, also with a call for a well-funded, well-planned, and well-executed defense of corporate capitalism alongside of attacks upon environmentalism, the consumer protection movement, affirmative action, government regulation, and other core issues of the liberal agenda.

It has become a conventional wisdom of the left, that the Powell memo was the Magna Carta of the resurgence of the right: the catalyzing document that launched the movement that was to capture the mass media and all branches of the federal government, and which now has its sights set on higher education. Other liberal observers, among them Mark Schmitt of The American Prospect8 regards this as overblown poppycock.

We need not involve ourselves with this controversy. Whether, Lewis Powell’s memo and William Simon’s book were prime movers of the ascent of the Right, or were merely inconsequential prophecies of political things to come, both gave remarkably prescient accounts of what was to follow.

The program, first of all, was to establish an institutional foundation to defend and promulgate the doctrines of the right. This was accomplished through the “think tanks” – such as the American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. These lavishly funded quasi-academic institutions assembled like-minded “scholars,” produced publications, and supplied “experts” to the media. They are “quasi-academic” in the sense that while they have the outward appearance of research institutions, their adherence to rightist doctrine is categorical. A “conservative” think-tank “fellow” whose “independent” train of thought veers to the left, is soon “included out.” “Conservative” think tanks have all the diversity of opinion of the College of Cardinals.

In addition, the Right set about to capture and dominate the media. And so they purchased newspapers, magazines, and broadcast stations, and then proceeded to merge. {Insert statistics on media ownership over the past forty years}. The process was accelerated with the abolition in 1987 of The Fairness Doctrine, initiated in 1949, with its requirement that political views expressed on the public airwaves be “balanced” with opposing views. The continuing trend toward media concentration was finally halted in 2003, with massive public opposition to the
proposal of FCC Chairman Michael Powell and the majority Republican commissioners to further relax ownership restrictions. {Continues today with attack on PBS and threats to the internet}

The contrasting emphases of right and left philanthropy also worked to the advantage of the right. Following the pattern of non-partisan centrist foundations such as the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, the leftist philanthropic organizations supported non-ideological and non-political causes, such as third-world agricultural development, land conservation, scientific research, the arts, community development, etc. In contrast, the right foundations such as Scaife, Coors, Bradley, and Olin, had an agenda: triumph over “the liberal establishment.” And so, according to the “National Committee for Responsive Politics”9 right-wing foundations donated $254 million dollars in “public policy grants,” primarily to like-thinking publications and think-tanks. In the decade of the nineties, one billion dollars were donated to conservative think-tanks.10

Finally, The Right built a coalition of voters, without which it could not exert political power. Immediately at hand was the traditionally Democratic white South. When Lyndon Johnson signed the voting rights act in 1965, he said “I’ve just lost the South.” His prophecy was right on the mark. Led by Strom Thurmond, numerous southern Democratic senators and congressmen switched to the Republicans. The South has now become the “anchor” of the Electoral College strategy of the Republican Party. The second leg of the Right coalition were the fundamentalist Christians, who were somehow persuaded that the GOP was the party of “righteousness” and the Democrats the party of sin, decadence and secularism. As we will point out shortly, this was no small feat of salesmanship.

In sum: the triumph of The Right is due, primarily, to tenacity, and an abundance of marketing skills and financial investment unconstrained by moral scruple or adherence to the founding principles of our republic. One of the most insufferable conceits of the Right is that they have "won" because their (so-called) "conservatism" has "the better ideas," and that "liberalism," unlike The Right, lacks a firm ideological foundation.

While this slander is flatly false, it is nonetheless widely believed by a public immersed in right-wing dogma, served out by the corporate media. While it is one thing to recognize the falsehood and immorality of the Right Wing message, it is yet another matter to convince the public of the shortcomings of The Right. This book will address that task.

As for the charges that "liberalism" is without foundation and bereft of relevant ideas, we will answer these charges directly by presenting and defending progressive ideas well-suited to address the emergencies before us. And we will articulate and defend the allegedly non-existent foundations of liberalism.

The Right Wing establishment is in a commanding strategic position, supported by limitless financial resources, dominating mass media, and now in control of all branches of the federal government. The right-wing operatives have proven themselves to be tactically brilliant. Even so, they are vulnerable. For regressivism, the political doctrine of The Right, is a fundamentally false, morally deficient and thus indefensible political ideology.

The right-wing operatives inhabit a fantasy world and, as devoted dogmatists, they are disinclined to consider contrary opinions or to revise policies in the face of ongoing events. There is surely a limit to the endurance and the credulity of the vast majority of citizens that The Right is impoverishing economically, and whose civil liberties it is violating. And the increasing estrangement of the Bush Administration from world opinion and commerce is bound to have devastating consequences.

In a recent New York Times article, Ron Suskind describes an encounter with a "senior advisor to [George] Bush:”

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you will be left to just study what we do.''11

This is insane! -- "insane" in the clinical sense of "detached from reality." Despite all their financial resources, all the subservience of the mass media, all the sophistical skills of the Heritage Foundation "intellectuals," all the power of the military, the Bush regime and it's allies on the right cannot, like King Canute, command the tides. They cannot abolish atmospheric physics and with it the threat of global warming. They can not decree that evolution is a myth, and that the Earth was created ten thousand years ago. Their budgets cannot outlaw simple arithmetic.

In the end, The Right will discover that Reality is a fearsome adversary, as The Left comes to appreciate that Reality is a formidable ally.

And that is why, eventually, The Right must fail.

But not, perchance, before humanity, both within and beyond our borders, suffers unspeakably due to the folly of The Right.

It is the task of the progressives to minimize the damage and to restore sanity to the body politic.

The Factions of The Radical Right.

The radical right is not a monolithic body; it is a coalition comprised of several factions. Moreover, it is an unstable alliance of with some “strange political bedfellows” which, if attacked by a skillful political adversary, might be sundered. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has utterly failed to demonstrate and apply that skill.

Here are a few of the prominent members of the alliance of The Right:

The libertarians are champions of “limited government,” believing that the only legitimate functions of government are the protection of life, liberty and property – by means of the military (defense against foreign enemies), the police (defense against domestic enemies), and the courts (protection of property). {cite} Taxes in support of anything else -- schools, the arts, environmental protection – are regarded by the libertarians as unwarranted seizures of private property, in a word, “theft.” In fact, many libertarians have either left the Republican Party or have never joined, due to basic incompatibilities with the religious right and other factions.12

The Free Market Absolutists. (The phrase is from George Soros). This faction embraces and promotes the economic program of the libertarians. The FMAs believe that all social problems and government functions can best be dealt with if all national assets are privatized, and if the free market exchange of goods, services and investment assets is allowed to proceed without impediment. In other words, the FMAs believe that the optimum social order is obtained, “as if by an invisible hand” (Adam Smith), through the summation of individual self-enhancing “capitalist acts between consenting adults.” (Robert Nozick).

The Neo-Conservatives articulate the foreign policy of The Right, as set forth in their 1997 manifesto, Project for a New American Century (PNAC),13 and more recently, their white paper "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for the New Century."14  PNAC proclaims the right of the United States to initiate “pre-emptive”war, to execute “regime change” “at a time and place of our choosing,” to forbid the emergence of rival powers, and, as the sole remaining superpower, to enforce a “benevolent global hegemony.”15

The Plutocrats’ governing “ideology” can be distilled down to a single word: More! Like George Bush, they “don’t do nuance.” Plutocrats hate governments because governments impose taxes and because governments regulate the plutocrats’ enterprises. Plutocrats recognize no “public interest.” As Commodore Vanderbilt famously proclaimed, “the public be damned – I work for my stockholders.” Plutocrats defend and promote free enterprise and competition – among their rivals. For themselves, they much prefer monopolies. Despite their proclaimed enmity toward government, they seek control of government as an instrument of their personal wealth-enhancement.

The religious right provides the“foot soldiers” of the radical right. They supply the votes that are the foundation of the political power of the right. (Kevin Phillips writes that “according to national polls in 2000, evangelicals and fundamentalists cast fully 40 percent of Bush’s vote, and his 84 percent support among committed evangelicals was higher than any previous Republican nominee.”16). Without those votes, the political clout of the right-wing regressives would collapse, and the right would be appropriately relegated the fringes of the body politic.

Finally, “The Gullibles” – who might less charitably be characterized as “the suckers” or “the marks” (the latter a term used by confidence men), who have been persuaded to vote against their economic interests. Typical among “the gullibles” are the fans of the right-wing talkers such as Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh – individuals who Limbaugh calls, with uncharacteristic appropriateness, “ditto-heads.” While this group can scarcely be called a (doctrinally unified) “faction,” their proportion of Republican votes rivals that of the religious right. Lacking deep-seated, coherent and well-thought out ideologies, they are followers whose political “ideologies,” such as they are, are bundles of incoherent and vacuous slogans, encompassing such libertarian-regressive myths as “market absolutism” and “government is the problem, not the solution” (Ronald Reagan). They are unified in their hatred of “the wacko-liberals,” a largely mythical entity concocted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and the GOP propaganda machine – an entity characterized in 2004 GOP TV and radio campaign ads as “those chardonnay sipping, brie cheese eating, Volvo Driving, New York Times reading, elite liberals.”

(There are still other components of the Radical Right alliance, such as the adopted southern segregationists, and the “paranoid right” of militias and skin-heads. The latter are not really part of the coalition, and often an embarrassment thereto. For the sake of simplicity, we will leave them aside. For a detailed list of the components of the Right wing, see the Political Research Associates17).

Together these factions constitute a formidable political force. The plutocrats supply the money, the libertarians, neo-conservatives and free marketeers articulate the political dogma, and the fundamentalists and gullibles provide the votes.

This is a very agreeable arrangement for “the secular Right” -- the libertarians, the free-marketeers, and the plutocrats, who have little to dispute amongst themselves. But the alliance of the secular right with the religious right is a marriage of convenience – convenient for the secular right, which prefers to keep its pious “partners” barefoot, ignorant and pregnant. “Barefoot” in the sense of impoverished, ignorant of how they are being exploited, and “pregnant” in the sense being productive of votes.

On close inspection, the secular and religious right have little in common, and so the secularists are anxious that the religious right refrain from such inspection.

Consider the contrasts:

Many of the most prominent promoters of libertarianism during the past forty years have been avowed atheists; among them Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Brandon, John Hospers and Robert Nozick. Yet this appears not to bother the evangelicals.

In addition, libertarians share with many liberals, a categorical opposition to government interference in the private lives of individuals. Accordingly, contrary to the religious right, the libertarians endorse the legalization of marijuana, pornography and prostitution, and they oppose anti-drug laws, restrictions on abortion and discrimination against homosexuals.

It was said of Ronald Reagan, that he “took government off our backs and put it in our bedrooms.” This is fine with the religious right. To the contrary, the libertarians want government both off our backs and out of our bedrooms.

The secularists, of course, are scientifically sophisticated, and thus accept evolution and reject biblical literalism.

Finally, the morality and behavior of the secular right is antithetical to the traditional Christian virtues of pacifism, humility, compassion, charity and non-affluence.

The Factions of the Left.

The left also has divergent factions, of course, and they are in competition with each other. But theirs is a competition for public attention and support. Among these factions there are few doctrinal differences such as those which on the right separate the secular libertarians from the religious right. For example, environmentalists do not usually disagree with the aspirations of the advocates of racial justice, gay pride, trade unions, etc., nor are these advocates, for their part, inclined to deny the validity of the environmentalists’ concerns. They differ as to priorities, each faction demanding a larger share of financial support, of legal remedies, of political clout.

Thus, when Martin Luther King joined the anti-Vietnam war movement, in his Riverside Church speech in April 4, 1967, many of King’s colleagues in the civil rights struggle felt betrayed. Harvard Prof. Charles V. Willie, a long-time friend and associate of King, recalls the response:

Carl Rowan said that after the Riverside Church speech, King became persona non grata to Lyndon Johnson at the White House. Ralph Bunche of the United Nations disagreed with King. Bunche said King had overstepped his domain. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell proclaimed that "the day of Martin Luther King has come to an end." Powell ridiculed and disparaged King, calling him Martin Loser King.

King's friends in the civil rights movement also criticized him, including Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Whitney Young and Norman Thomas "all pleaded in vain with King not to wade into the Vietnam controversy."18

The media was also hostile to King’s embrace of the anti-war cause, as the Washington Post wrote that King had "diminished his usefulness to this cause, to his country, and to his people." The New York Times characterized the Riverside Church speech as a "fusing of two public problems that are distinct and separate" and a "disservice to both."19

At times, the competition can lead one faction to express outright hostility toward another. For example, in 1970, Robert Crisman dismissed environmentalism (“ecology”) as “a racist shuck,” when he wrote:

The ecology movement has provided Americans a diversion from ... the black liberation struggle ... [T]he establishment has skillfully manipulated the movement....

... The national liberation struggles of black and Third World peoples throughout the United States and the world have exerted tremendous pressure upon the economic, political and cultural conditions of white America, and the ecology movement has emerged as a conservative reaction to those struggles....

The left’s capacity for self-inflicted harm was vividly displayed in the recent Washington DC rallies against the Iraq War. Those who watched these events on C-SPAN surely noticed how a variety of speakers hammered on an abundance of distinct issues: Free Mumia, Save the Rain Forests, Gay Pride, Abortion Rights, etc. While most of these issues are dear to the hearts of progressives, many progressives do not embrace them all. Thus many protesters in the crowd, and viewers at home, were put-off by appeals to causes they did not endorse, while the ostensive purpose of the rallies, opposition to the Iraq War, was diluted or even lost in these distractions.

Because the varied issues of progressive concern are not, or need not be, at odds with each other, concerted action should be easier to accomplish, than on the right with its strange admixture of atheists and fundamentalists, of pro-choice and anti-abortion, of government “in the bedroom” and out. And yet this is not the case, as the left has become renowned for its propensity to alienate its natural allies, and to form “circular firing squads.”

In short, the left lacks the strategic discipline of the right. Progressives must learn to “keep their eyes on the prize,” focusing on the issue of the moment. There will be time and opportunity to deal with other worthy issues.

A look ahead: The reformation of our politics must begin with a repair of our language, which has been ruthless distorted and abused by the propagandists of the right. And so, in the chapter which follows immediately, we will address “the language problem.” Following that, we fulfill the promise to refine our account of the contending ideologies, progressivism and regressivism: “the left and the right.” Then we proceed to defend the bold assertion, made at the beginning of this chapter, that “with the exception the dispute between the libertarians and the religious right regarding private behavior, all the other tenets of regressivism ... lead to policies that benefit wealth and power (the masters), to the disadvantage of all others.”


1.     Thatcher, Margaret, The Downing Street Years, Harper Collins, London. P. 626.

2.     Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 109. (“Man’s Rights”).

3.     John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 439. In Jene M. Perter (ed.), Classics in Political Philosophy, Prentice Hall, 1989.

4.     Quibble point: "But not true -- Einstein proved that." Einstein is right for intergalactic dimensions. Newton and Euclid serve terrestrial distances quite well.

5.     Professorial quibble: Most logic texts define a sound argument as (a) an argument with true premises, that is (b) logically valid. Given these conditions, the conclusion is, by definition, true. Howard Kahane defines a cogent argument as meeting the above two conditions plus a third: (c) “We have considered all likely relevant information.” (6)

6.     For an “inside” look at the recent history of the Right, see David Brock’s Blinded by the Right.

7.     Lewis Powell, “Attack on American Free Market System,” 

8.     Mark Schmitt: “The Legend of the Powell Memo,” The Nation, April 27, 2005

9.     National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, “Axis of Ideology:Conservative Foundations and Public Policy,”  (Executive Summary)

10.     David Callahan, “$1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s,”  Commonweal Institute, 1999.

11.     Ron Suskind: "Without a Doubt, "  The New York Times, October 17, 2004

12.     For more about libertarian doctrine, see my “With Liberty for Some”  and “Environmental Justice and ‘Shared Fate’”.

13.     http://www.newamericancentury.org/ 

14.     www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf 

15.     www.foreignaffairs.org/19960701faessay4210/william-kristol-robert-kagan/toward-a-neo-reaganite-foreign-policy.html 

16.     Kevin Phillips: "All Eyes on Dixie, American Prospect,"  15:2, February 1, 2004

17.     http://ajilan.pair.com/pra/research/chart_of_sectors.html 

18.     http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/01.17/99-mlkspeech.html 

19.     http://www.lipmagazine.org/articles/featdyson_mlk_p.htm 

20.     Chrisman, R. (1970). "Ecology is a Racist Shuck." Scanlon's Monthly, I (August), 46.

Copyright 2006 by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .