Paul Weyrich's Teaching Manual For The New Progressive Movement
"Integration..." is in reality actually only a summary of a strategy that Paul Weyrich - and with astonishing foresight and political acumen - had been implementing for three decades at least and - as such - deserves to be read by anyone seriously interested in American 20th Century politics : it is, in essence, the strategic vision underlying the rise of the new right over the last three decades. While reading "Integration..." a sudden, startling question occured to me : what if I inverted the piece and replaced every reference to the right, conservatism, and "New Traditionalism" with appropriate terms referring to American progressives and the American left ? Would it work ? Would the result be a new "manifesto" or "teaching manual" for a "New Progressivism" ?
In many respects it was.
Now, to begin with, I did not merely replace terms. I added - here and there - material that I felt specifically addresses the current situation of American progressives and the left ( not to mention the anti-theocratic, or secularist, factions in American politics ). But, what astounded me was actually how little of Heubeck's ( and Weyrich's ) document I had to change to produce a credible sounding - and even apparently prophetic - vision for a new American left. Here and there I excised or amended passages that advocated political practices I found ethically dubious, and I also left in a certain amount of material I found somewhat dubious to avoid excessively sanitizing the text, but the bulk of the advice seemed to me to be politically astute.
Many passages of my altered "teaching manual" seemed, oddly, to speak to the current plight of the American left - In the following two passages I have done nothing but swap terms ( "right" for "left" and so on) :
We must not get hung up on the evils of our opponents. We can only control our own actions and responses. We must stop whining when we see an example of rightist double-standards and hypocrisy and accept reality as it exists. The only question to be asked is, what are we going to do about it? We must learn to change our own thinking and our own behavior. ....we will not needlessly expend our energy on being upset with our opponents.
After crafting my hybridized "teaching manual", I returned to some of the publicity that had originally surrounded the discovery of the original Heubeck/Weyrich piece by the American left. For example, from Buzzflash, from a site contributor:
"BUZZFLASH CHILLING ALERT ABOUT A KARL ROVE/BUSH ADVISOR'S PLANS FOR NEUTRALIZING "LIBERALS"
In retrospect, it is both startling how little scrutiny "The Integration of Theory and Practice..." received ( it merited only a passing, perfunctory mention in The American Prospect ) but also for the tendency of the few on the left who really noticed the significance of "Integration...." to impart the most dire of intentions to Heubeck/Weyrich's advice. Now, a good deal of the advice is - indeed - Machiavellian, but much what seemed to disturb commentators lay fully within the realm of legality and much of it would not have been at all out of place implemented in any average political campaign.
But, none seemed able to look at the thing-in-itself in less than a reactive way. That is unfortunate, because my simple replacement of terms - swapping "progressive" in for "conservative" - produced a number of passages of advice that has yet to be fully ( perhaps even partially ) internalized or implemented by the American left let alone highly placed political consultants to the Democratic Party:
it is exceedingly and progressively more difficult to exert political influence when the cultural assumptions underlying progressive political goals are being steadily driven from, or supplanted, in the popular culture if no serious attempt to retard or reverse that erosion of progressive cultural influence is ever made.....
So, what follows is - first - my introduction to the new "Manifesto". Then comes the meat of the work ( mostly thanks to Eric Heubeck and Paul Weyrich with my addition of three or four hours of fairly light revision ). I do not intent for the following to be taken as my own "manifesto" - I have added some material of my own, but there are manifestos aplenty in politics already and I wouldn't want anyone to take this document literally. But in reading it, and in suspending for a while your disbelief, you might come a little closer to understanding the American right or - at least - its strategic vision. My intent is to both challenge the left to inhabit some of the strategic precepts of the new right, with the implicit question - "does some of the advice fit ?", and also to pose the question : where on the left can strategic visions of comparable scope be found, if anywhere, and more to the point, where are those political visionaries with the required pragmatism and political diplomacy to bring them into reality ?
The following might be considered as a treatise on a strategy or for progressives in coming years. It is not at all necessary for those reading the following to agree with every point made in the document as long as there is acceptance of several underlying premises:
The new conservative right has achieved at least partial control of many of the significant institutions in American society, especially in politics, media, and to a lesser extent in business and - increasingly - in the area of religion. Meanwhile, political progressives have failed to effectively defend enlightenment values and mainstream institutions from a sustained attack that has been ongoing now for several decades, and progressives have almost wholly missed the parallel construction, by the new American right - largely now the Christian and religious right - of an entire parallel nation, a shadow nation with its own alternate institutions, culture, assumptions, and even versions of history and science. We have slept through the last several decades while the new right has planned, organized and built.
- Political progressives from almost every quarter, all who seek creative solutions to construct a better tomorrow rather than look longingly towards a partially imagined past colored by nostalgia and wishful thinking, have been out-strategized, out-organized, outspent and out-thought. We may not have lost in the realm of ideas but we surely have failed to broadcast our ideas effectively into the American mainstream and into popular culture. We have failed to live our values because we have failed to advance or even defend them effectively in the the cultural realm.
- For the failures listed above, politically progressive ideas have become increasingly marginalized in American popular culture, in politics, in media, in almost every significant sphere of American life. The following, our underlying cultural premises and values, are under serious attack and are at risk. Respect for cultural and political pluralism and the rights of minorities, belief in looking forward to and building for the future, belief that acknowledges changing Global realities in this interconnected world and does not in reactive fear attempt to roll back time towards imagined halcyon days but which seeks constructive solutions for a better tomorrow, and our world view based in the Enlightenment values of inquiry, and scientific exploration that lead towards more, not less, objective truth and that build rather than degrade the moral foundations of society : and our faith that science and religion are not opposed but complimentary realms and - for those of us who believe in a creator - that exploration of the nature of physical reality only glorifies the beauty and mystery of the creation, the world in which we live.These central progressive values are now at risk.
- Because progressive values are becoming marginalized in American culture progressive attempts at political organizing - long underfunded also as liberal political strategists have pursued politics as a mere exercise in effective PR, advertising, and triangulation - have been less and less effective as American cultural values have gradually moved, pushed by the sustained efforts of the American new right, towards a laissez-faire and theocratic cultural set point favored by business interests and Christian Reconstructionism.
- To reverse the erosion of progressive values and progressive political strength, progressives must pursue a dual strategy : while ramping up efforts at political organizing, and at building effective communication and collaboration among progressive, liberal, and at times even libertarian and conservative political factions in order to advance our agenda, progressives must build, as the new right has done, their own parallel institutions while at the same time they reassert their values and ideas in mainstream American culture, to challenge the new American right in every geographic area and in every sphere rather than retreat to increasingly beleaguered urban enclaves : progressive must win the battle over whose ideas, and in the end whose values, will hold sway in American hearts and minds.
The following is a short treatise on strategy and tactics we might consider to advance those goals. As a important note : the word "environment" does not appear in the following text and that is by design : even though human existence is dependent on the biological realm, the well-being of planetary biological systems are now at risk from Global human impact, and so mitigation of that human impact, and a lessening of potential for catastrophic climatic change and biological systems collapse, is predicated upon changes in human culture and politics.
Further - and a key point - this strategy is not meant to supplant existing political activism but is intended to address a key strategic collapse in the American left over the last few decades : politics are predicated on underlying cultural beliefs, but the left has ceded the realm of culture to the colonization of laissez faire market ideology, media advertising and pop culture, and to the gradual advance of new American and religious right beliefs. Thus, progressives find themselves increasingly marginalized and even vilified.
Progressives should not cede the political realm, nor should they slack off in their efforts : in fact, the strategy outlined below will, if anything, increase progressive energy for political engagement.
Some of what is written below may be contentious, and no one will agree on the whole. That is natural, and it is not the intent that everyone should agree with everything, but the following can serve as a general outline for effectively reversing the political and cultural erosion of progressive and enlightenment values in American culture and politics : if we will not work for and learn new methods to advance our values in the face of adversity, are they really our values at all ?
This essay does not include a theoretical justification for, or even a definition of, a progressive (i.e., culturally progressive) society. Other writers have already done this with far more skill and erudition than I would be able to. For the sake of this essay, I will assume that the reader is already familiar with and sympathizes with the goal of a progressive society at some level.
However, few of those progressive thinkers, or anyone influenced by progressive thought, have made serious attempts to directly put their ideas into practice. The unspoken assumption seems to be that if enough time is spent improving our intellectual sophistication and honing our arguments, or hurling invective and bickering, and bemoaning the latest scandal du jour on liberal internet forums, that our ideas and outlook will win more and more converts due simply to their irresistible appeal, and by some mysterious mechanism which no one has ever chosen to explain, our society will slowly but surely learn to cherish progressive and enlightenment values.
This way of thinking must be categorically rejected.
This essay is based on the belief that the truth of an idea is not the primary reason for its acceptance. Far more important is the energy and dedication of the idea's promoters--in other words, the individuals composing a social or political movement. The cultural progressive movement in particular has paid next to no attention to the qualities of the people working in the movement, and the relation of such qualities to the achievement of our goals. At least part of the reason for our failure must be attributed to insufficient interest by progressives in organization, the personal development of activists, and--most importantly--action and engagement in the world. The progressive movement has suffered, in other words, from a lack of follow-through on its most meaningful ideas.
The Problem--An Over reliance on Politics As Usual
The progressive movement is defensive, defeatist, depressed, and apologetic. It lacks self-confidence, virility, energy, intensity, vigor, aggressiveness, vitality, and a firm belief in the rightness of its cause. This is because progressives have failed to devote the proper amount of energy to developing an alternative cultural world-view opposed to the dominant rightist one. They have instead devoted much of their energy to electing vaguely sympathetic politicians, lobbying the government to pass or overturn particular laws, and in the identity politics of promoting agendas of chosen, individual groups that rarely collaborate in meaningful ways or even acknowledge a shared, common agenda.
There are two problems with this strategy. The first and more obvious is that it is exceedingly and progressively more difficult to exert political influence when the cultural assumptions underlying progressive political goals are being steadily driven from, or supplanted, in the popular culture if no serious attempt to retard or reverse that erosion of progressive cultural influence is ever made.
Secondly, an over reliance on political change via laws and court decisions seems to reinforce the very politicization of society that progressives often bemoan, by ratifying the notion that an individual's personal happiness is inextricably bound up in the activity (or inactivity) of government. It is not enough to demand equal rights for minority groups or acquire those by judicial fiat : the majority must be persuaded or backlash politics become almost inevitable. Ground hard won in court battles or legislative bills signed into law must be defended in the cultural realm. Government must be seen as promoting majority values, and the American majority's enthusiasm for societal diversity, equal rights for minority groups, and political pluralism diminished in recent years.
Meanwhile, although government is certainly intrusive and although it has grown every more dysfunctional in terms of the foundational principles of American democracy, the government is not yet totalitarian. There are plenty of opportunities to make our society more culturally progressive, and our lives richer and fuller, apart from political change, but progressives have shown very little interest in pursuing those opportunities. They have shown far more interest both in expanding personal political freedoms and in asserting identity politics, but also mainly in withdrawing from the fray altogether - in a failure to advance or even vigorously defend, in the realms of politics and culture, pluralist and progressive values they profess to hold - than in making good use of the freedom they already have. As a result, they are now embattled in both areas : progressive and individual and minority rights are all under attack.
The result of these un-holistic and solipsist tendencies on the part of progressives is a society that increasingly does not recognize culturally progressive views, and is gradually coming to despise them. The Right has long understood that nothing can be achieved politically unless and until one can capture the imagination of the people--and imaginations are seldom captured by policy wonks on C-SPAN. They understand that a governing regime must acquire moral legitimacy before it can win the consent of the people, and all governments, particularly one such as ours, require some level of consent to govern.
The relatively recent successes of New Right ideas in law and legislation have only been made possible because their proponents have first developed broad influence over cultural institutions--e.g., the media (especially media broadcast capability), religious institutions, publishing houses, and advertising agencies. Progressives have by and large been surrendering influence over these institutions to the Right, with any opposition being limited to assorted muffled complaints and pathetic appeals for fairness. Meanwhile, progressives dedicate themselves to scattershot political activism - and disjointed protest politics - all the more furiously in the hope that they can compensate for their weakness in the nonpolitical sectors of society. These efforts in large part must be dismissed as hopeless and self-delusional.
Progressives must honestly assess the predicament that we are in. We must understand that the American people are no longer on our side, at least not reliably so, and they will be less so as time goes on. But more worrisome still is the fact that progressives themselves often no longer understand or support a truly culturally progressive vision of America. Being progressive has come to mean nothing more nuanced than holding the belief that everyone has the inalienable right to pursue one's life without concern for the wider political and cultural realm of American life : the ethic of engagement in American civic and political life has atrophied and the core of the progressive agenda, the advancement of social and economic justice and equality, has been in large part banished from the mainstream political calculus even as it is in process of being supplanted in American culture by rightist ideological beliefs. True traditionalist progressives are now seen as oddities who must be tolerated, or even silenced in order that the movement appear credible in the eyes of Washington D.C. consultant-oracles of allegedly sound liberal political advice.
Further, an overarching basic problem confronting us is that those who are familiar with the theoretical underpinnings of progressivism are not particularly interested in putting their ideas into practice, and those who are engaged in activism are not well-read and are obsessed with public policy matters. Those who think do not act, and those who act do not think. If this continues, the progressive movement will cease to exist in every way but name.
A New Direction
The dire predicament in which we find ourselves demands a drastic change in underlying progressive strategy. We will never succeed in taking over, or retaking, political structures until we can convince the American people that we can be trusted to take them over, and to do that we must win the people over culturally--by defining how people ought to act, how they ought to perceive the world around them, and what it means to live the good life. Political arrangements can only be formed after these fundamental questions have been answered.
Once this basic belief is accepted, our next task is to develop the means by which it can be put into practice. We must develop a network of parallel cultural institutions existing side-by-side with rightist dominated mainstream and rightist alternative cultural institutions. The building and promotion of these institutions will require the development of a movement that will not merely reform the existing postwar progressive movement, but will in fact be forced to supersede it--if it is to succeed at all--because it will pursue a very different strategy and be premised on a very different view of its role in society.
Our movement--which we will call the New Progressivist movement--will not seek to immediately replace the dominant culture. A retreat will allow us to regroup and find our bearings. The overemphasis on somehow effecting change through fancy political positioning, marches, slogans, and ephemeral, media oriented, symbolic political protest activism has left us disoriented, distracted, and overly prone to accept the creeping advance in the cultural assumptions promoted by the Right. We need to re-center and regroup, to consolidate both our political cultural base in order to enable eventual strategic victory.
A central mission of this movement is to advance a true progressivist counterculture based on altruism, excellence, and self discipline. The New progressivists will not be exclusively altruistic, but many of them inevitably will be. What binds the New Progressivist is a belief that each individual has a duty to obey a higher good than her or his own will and appetite. New Progressivists reject materialism, hedonism, consumerism, egoism, and the cult of self-actualization which permeate modern life. We share a willingness to face reality and repudiate ideology--i.e., a set of beliefs that bear no relation to how people really think and how people really live.
There will be three main stages in the unfolding of this movement. The first stage will be devoted to the development of a highly motivated elite able to coordinate future activities. The second stage will be devoted to the development of institutions designed to make an impact on the wider elite and a relatively small minority of the masses. The third stage will involve changing the overall character of American popular culture.
Still Engaged--But Outside of Politics
It must be emphasized that this new movement will not be "disengaged" from the wider society, only "differently engaged." We are, quite simply, replacing political activism with cultural activism as the center of our focus. And while the visibility of the new movement will be less pronounced than the existing (political) progressive movement in the short term, the seeds that we now sow will have dramatic repercussions over the long term. We have the capacity to fundamentally transform the face of American culture in the 21st century by following a different path, one built on the aggressive dissemination of our cultural values, rather than the idle hope that enough of our cultural values still remain in the body of the American people to carry us on to a few more isolated electoral victories.
We will never stop being engaged in the wider culture. We will not "hunker down" and wait for the storm to blow over. Our strategy will be to bleed this corrupt culture dry. We will pick off the most intelligent and creative individuals in our society, the individuals who help give credibility to the current regime. To do this, we will promote a set of beliefs more compelling than that of our opponents. We will launch a movement with more energy and more intensity than our opponents are capable of summoning. When the choice is made clear, the people--cultural elites and non-cultural elites alike--will vote with their feet by either joining or patronizing our institutions and abandoning those of the Right, and the reigning rightist regime will collapse from lack of support.
Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. Existing institutions which we cannot reform we will weaken, and eventually destroy. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions and centers of cultural strength.
We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Right. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Right. We will not give them a moment's rest. We will endeavor to prove that the Right does not deserve to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American. We will offer constant reminders that there is an alternative, there is a better way. When people have had enough of the sickness and decay of today's American culture, they will be embraced by and welcomed into the New Progressivist movement. The rejection of the existing society by the people will thus be accomplished by pushing them and pulling them simultaneously.
We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs. For example, we could have every member of the movement put a bumper sticker on his car that says something to the effect of "Feeling Sick ? How's Your Health Care Plan ?" This will change nobody's mind immediately; but it will raise awareness and consciousness that there is a problem. Most of all, it will contribute to a vague sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with existing society. We need this if we hope to start picking people off and bringing them over to our side. We need to break down before we can build up. We must first clear away the flotsam of a decayed culture.
In terms of our long term prospects, because we will be seen as a purely defensive movement, not interested in imposing our views on anyone, only interested in being left alone, we will surely gain the sympathy of the public. The dominant culture will see its life-force being sapped, and it will grow terrified. It will do whatever it takes to destroy its assailant. This will lead to the perception that the dominant leftist culture is empty, hollow, desperate, and has lost its mandate to rule, because its only basis for authority is coercion. Sympathy from the American people will increase as our opponents try to persecute us, which means our strength will increase at an accelerating rate due to more defections--and the enemy will collapse as a result.
Remaining Importance of Defensive Politics
We must stay involved in the political arena. We do not expect to make any gains through politics. But as our movement grows, the Right will become increasingly likely to try to use the powers of the state to squelch our movement, using whatever pretext they are able to invent. We will need to stay engaged in politics for purely defensive purposes. But all hope for long-term restoration must lie with the new movement. Our only involvement in the political process should be designed to more effectively accomplish secession from, and perhaps eventually, a widespread influence over, the wider culture.
We have repeatedly shot ourselves in the foot by expecting too much from the Democratic Party. Of course, New Traditionalists should not defend the Democratic Party when it mimics the ideology of the Right or pushes legislation that makes the government more intrusive than it currently is. But we should not sacrifice a united front by trying to badger the Democratic Party into doing what it is incapable of doing. That is a waste of the political capital of the party and the time and energy of our people, simply for the sake of "fighting the good fight."
New Progressivists and Liberals
There are operational liberals and there are ontological liberals. There is nothing in this movement that an operational liberal would find objectionable. It does not seek to replace an intrusive rightist state with an intrusive progressivist state. Moreover, the likelihood that this movement would result in a liberal society is far higher than the likelihood of any strategy succeeding that self-identified liberals are advocating, because this movement does not promote a direct confrontation with the state, but a sort of "weaning off," or a "walking away" from the state. The state will lose its power when people no longer feel they need it, and only then. Our goal should be to teach the cultural elite, and all people, to find meaning in their lives outside of politics. If they do, perhaps they will leave the rest of us alone.
But the New Progressivist movement must be willing to lose allies among the liberals we brought on board the postwar progressive coalition. While our movement is not anti-freedom, and the practical effect of our ultimate ascendancy to political power (should that happen) would be an increase in political freedom for Americans, we choose not to make a fetish of political freedom. We recognize that there are other freedoms besides political freedom--such as the freedom not to be subjected to a barrage of ideologically driven media propaganda at every turn. In fact, it could be argued that this is a more important freedom, because popular culture is considerably more pervasive than the hand of government in most people's lives.
The ontological liberals make their arguments in terms that the perfectly happy life is a life free from all restraint. The use of these arguments has been a convenient way to achieve some of the short-term goals of liberals, because this argument is presented in ontological terms acceptable to the Right--but it has been disastrous to American society. It was an alluring temptation that should have been resisted. It has reaffirmed the world-view of the rightist, which holds the unbridled ego at its center. We have undermined the foundation of any resistance to the Right based on the promotion of a fundamentally different world-view. This devil's bargain has therefore helped to perpetuate the decimation of traditional American culture, with its accumulated wisdom and mores and traditions of self-restraint, which is the basis for any hope of a truly workable political freedom.
Liberals must make their arguments in terms of the moral benefits of freedom, and not in terms of the glories of nihilism, if we can consider them allies and not opponents. As cultural activism becomes more important to our movement, and political activism less so, we may find that we have less and less in common with many liberals whose philosophical foundations are not sound.
Movement Must Serve as a Force of Social Shaming in Its Intermediate Stage
We must create a countervailing force that is just as adept as the Right at exerting societal pressure on people and institutions that are used as tools of right-wing activism but are not ideologically committed, such as media and news celebrities, multinational corporations, and business leaders. We must be feared, so that they will think twice before opening their mouths. They must understand that there is some sort of cost involved in taking a "controversial" stand--although positions cannot honestly be labeled "controversial" if progressives are unable to mount a meaningful opposition. Perhaps once we are able to mount such an opposition, we will be able to take some of the trendiness out of rightist cultural activism, because lukewarm advocates of rightist causes will be forced to actually get their hands dirty. Support of rightist causes will no longer be the path of least resistance.
Some Basic Premises
The Movement Must Understand What Motivates Human Beings
We must perform a brutally honest analysis of what motivates human beings. We must understand what makes them tick, whether that motivation is attractive or not. We must channel undesirable impulses to serve good purposes. For example, it is important to emphasize that the alternative counterculture must be just that--alternative. It must be different from anything people are familiar with. It is a basic fact that an us-versus-them, insider-versus-outsider mentality is a very strong motivation in human life. For better or for worse, this has to be recognized and taken advantage of for the good of the movement.
Moreover, the New Progressivists must be interested in learning about sociology, social psychology, and the dynamics of social change. We must study examples of dissident and countercultural groups that succeeded in ascending to dominance--we must learn from them.
We must recognize the world as it is, not as we may like it to be; but we must never let this line of thinking descend into cynicism.
Good Results More Important than Good Intentions--Naiveté? Not Excusable
We will apply a scientific analysis to every problem. We will be results-oriented rather than good intentions-oriented. Making a good-faith effort and being ideologically sound will be less important than advancing the goals of the movement. We must learn to be more self-critical. Our efforts should be less haphazard, less prone to fits and starts, and they should make better use of accumulated knowledge and past errors.
We must not get hung up on the evils of our opponents. We can only control our own actions and responses. We must stop whining when we see an example of rightist double-standards and hypocrisy and accept reality as it exists. The only question to be asked is, what are we going to do about it? We must learn to change our own thinking and our own behavior. We must always operate based on this cardinal principle: Rightists are never morally responsible for the evil they commit; but we as progressives are morally responsible for not having done more to prevent them from committing that evil. We must learn to treat rightists as natural disasters or rabid dogs. If we act as if this were in fact true (of course, it is not), we will not needlessly expend our energy on being upset with our opponents.
This is not to discount the importance of reminding ourselves on a regular basis why we ought to hate rightist ideology, in order to keep ourselves motivated to better fight it. But we must be aware that this is what we are doing as we do it--such propaganda must be seen as a catalyst for action, not a substitute for action. We must always understand exactly why we do what we do as we do it, and why our opponents do what they do. We must stop operating according to self-delusion and wishful thinking. Good intentions and good effort count for nothing.
The new movement must learn never to be satisfied with the way things are. We must ask a long series of "whys" to understand how we arrived at our current condition and what must be done to change it. For example, if a fight is winnable, why have we not won it? If it is not, why are we not diverting our efforts elsewhere?
We must always recognize and anticipate the strategy of our opponents. There is no excuse for ever being surprised by the ferocity or ingenuity of their attacks.
One especially naive belief held by most progressives (at least as betrayed by their actions) that seems to have real staying power is that ideas have a way of disseminating themselves. In many progressive publications, for example, it is unclear who the intended audience is. Articles tend to cover old ground and rehash old arguments, which is pointless if the intended readership is made up of progressive activists who are already familiar with them. But if the intended audience is made up of people who do not already agree, they most likely will not be reading such a specialized publication, but rather reading a newspaper or watching television news, or more likely, they will not follow public affairs at all.
What the activists instead need is a better understanding of how the current situation has arisen and how to coordinate strategy, so they will be prepared to take action in the real world. For instance, they need to know more about the history of the Right than any rightist. They need to be able to beat a rightist in any debate. They need to be able to make him look utterly foolish. They need, in other words, to become hyper-intellectual--this will make them more self-confident, and with self-confidence, they will have the power to prevail. But the progressive movement is not properly preparing its activists to do what needs to be done. They are instead tossing random opinions into the circulation of national discourse, and merely hoping for the best.
Support of an Elite More Valuable than Support of the Masses
We will initially operate according to the belief that it is more important to win over the elites (or create a new, better one) than to build up a mass movement. Furthermore, it is more important to have a few impassioned members than a large number of largely indifferent members. The amount of energy, élan, and self-assurance that we are able to inculcate in the leaders of our movement will ultimately determine its success or failure.
The new movement must be, in part, exclusive and elite. It must not be afraid to pass along a body of knowledge that is not readily accessible to and understandable by everyone. The strong appeal of a feeling of espirit de corps rooted in an ethic of altruism and excellence will give our members a reason to endure the slings and arrows of popular disapproval.
The New Progressivist movement will appeal to the masses, but not immediately. The ideas of the masses never come from the masses. To the extent that the masses are more progressive than the currently ruling elites, this is primarily because the masses have a long collective memory, and they still value the beliefs articulated by a long-lost progressive elite. The progressive instincts of the American people will continue to erode unless a new elite is formed to refresh that memory.
We must recognize that literature and philosophy do not appeal to the masses. This is why we must develop ways to spread our philosophy using non-rational means--especially the moving image.
Value of Art and Images
We must place a high value on art, because the most important thing any movement can do is capture the imagination of the people. One must give them dreams and ideals that have been put in terms they can understand, and that touch their hearts, as opposed to their rational minds. If we cannot capture the imaginations of our members, then we cannot expect our members to make great sacrifices for us. There must be a common repository of books and movies that everyone in our movement is familiar with and inspired by, so anyone can quote a line that will be recognized by everyone else. Young people already do this, only with the wrong movies, songs, and other products of popular culture.
We have the example of schoolboys studying Homer in Ancient Greece. No Greek would be considered properly educated without an intimate familiarity with Homer. This taught Greeks what their ideals should be, how they should act, and gave them a common base of reference which united them as members of a society.
There is no medium that moves hearts and captures imaginations than the moving image, and our movement must learn to make use of this medium. A skillfully produced motion picture, television documentary, Flash animation, or uTube video has tremendous persuasive power. It has the power to bypass not only the old prejudices that have been assiduously cultivated by the Right over the past few decades, but also the innate skepticism of the viewer, the resistance to new ideas. Rational arguments simply do not have this power, and all arguments made in print tend to appeal to the rational, critical faculties of the mind to a greater or lesser degree.
The visual image allows us to illustrate our beliefs and arguments to our members and others in highly compelling terms--we will be able to show all the examples of cultural decadence, irrationality and disingenuousness in public debate, combined with our commentary, selectively edited and arranged for maximum impact. It avoids the vagueness and generalizations that tend to characterize many progressive arguments. It also allows us to show what we think is right about our current culture--examples from movies or television that we as cultural progressives support and are excited by. The large amount of capital needed for involvement in this medium is hard to come by, and those with the most creativity and skills in this area are by and large not cultural progressives--but these hurdles must be overcome sooner or later.
Value of the Tangible Versus the Abstract
This movement will understand that it is not enough to talk in abstractions only. We need to offer clear examples whenever possible. And the ideas must be lived by our members if they are ever to be actualized in the wider society. The power of example is far greater than the power of exhortation. This is a cardinal premise of the new movement.
An excessive amount of intellectualization divorced from application in the real world is a kind of escape from reality, or the creation of a virtual reality. Thinking becomes tired, static, and inward-looking. People become more interested in creating mental utopias than in having a real impact on society. Scholars become mere pedants; ideas are no longer creative and vital.
Ideas interest us only insofar as they offer a guide to action. There is a place in society for abstract, academic discussion. This is not that place.
Movement Must Be Based on the Transmission of Ideas, Not Their Creation
This movement is not about the creation of ideas, it is about the transmission and dissemination of ideas. Intellectual cultural progressivism already exists, but it is largely unknown. As it finds its audience, intellectual cultural progressivism will become more creative and will respond to the challenges of the present. The creators of the future will find their inspiration from the great ideas of the past. We maintain that the dearth of new creative thought grounded in progressive sensibilities is due to a disconnection from the great ideas of the past, because those ideas have not been given life and relevance. The New Progressivist movement will be a revolution in organization, not ideas, but the results will be equally, if not more dramatic.
The ideas that form the basis of the new movement have been well articulated by people who value theory but not action. It will be the job of the New Progressivist movement to transmit these ideas to a more action-oriented elite, and through them, to the masses. An action-oriented elite is necessary to force people to confront ideas they would otherwise not be exposed to. Ideas do not automatically have consequences. They do not have an impact in direct proportion to the truth they contain. They have an impact only insofar as adherents of those ideas are willing to take measures to propagate those ideas.
New Progressivists Must Be More Culturally Sophisticated
The new movement cannot be seen as a movement of fools, kooks, knee-jerk yahoos, or surly malcontents. We must make it clear that we are seceding from popular culture not because we are unable to cope with modern life, but because we are superior to modern life. We understand popular culture--we get it--we simply find it empty and meaningless.
We may reject the culture of our opponents, but we must never fear it. We must understand the appeal of popular culture before we can hope to draw people away from it. People will not take us seriously until they are convinced we have taken the time to understand its appeal. We need the perspective to be able to compare our current culture with culture at its best, so we not only know when popular culture falls short, but also when it, on occasion, provides examples of culture at its best.
It Is in the Movement's Self-Interest to Improve the Quality of Its Membership
We have a dearth of human material that shares our progressivist values. These people must be created in our own institutions. They must be given a refuge as their nascent beliefs are coming into fruition. They must be sheltered and protected. Improving the quality of the people who make up the new movement will be a primary concern.
The new movement must understand that it is not enough to wait for people to come to us. Progressives now seem to feel that the success a progressive activist can achieve in the progressive movement is his own business, merely a matter of building a career. This view must be categorically rejected. It is in the interest of the New Progressivist movement that every member be given the support to reach his maximum potential. It is imperative that every member be made to feel more confident about his beliefs and abilities, because the movement as a whole suffers from a lack of confidence. Furthermore, there must be a place for people who do not work in the movement for a salary. The New Progressivist movement is a cause, not a business.
The new movement will promote discipline and loyalty and self-sacrifice. Advancing one's personal interests by harming the interests of the movement will not be tolerated. Modern progressivism shows an intolerable acceptance of back stabbers and traitors--it reflects a movement that lacks the self-confidence to demand victory for itself, and to ostracize individuals who interfere with the realization of our goals. I do not refer to genuine differences of opinion. This is not a totalitarian movement. I refer to "progressives" who feel tempted to denounce other progressives merely to gain the approval of the cultural elite, or for personal gain. The distinction here is simple : those who criticize other progressives for careerist advancement and personal gain must be ostracized.
New Progressivists Must Concentrate on Students and Young Adults
The new movement will inevitably be geared toward children and young adults, especially their education. We will accomplish the goal of retaking our country only when large numbers of young people are exposed to progressive values and insulated from the corrupting influences of consumerism, advertising-driven media, network political propaganda, and popular culture overall. At this point in their lives, many of their ideas are still in the formative stage, the more so the younger they are. Furthermore, young adults (of college age and above) should be given a large role in the organization of the New Progressivist movement, as many older people, because of work and family life, simply do not have the time to devote to reading, discussion, and action (and all three are equally important). They also often lack the necessary energy, enthusiasm, and idealism that is prevalent in youth. However, retirees could also make a valuable contribution to the movement.
College students must be a key audience for our movement, since they are free of excessive time commitments and they find themselves in an environment that (theoretically) encourages activism and exposure to new ideas. We should consider creating alternative cooperatives where Progressivists can live, interact with each other, learn from each other, socialize with each other. New Progressivist cooperatives can help replicate lifestyles from the past--emulate "progressive" behavior from the past--by discussing progressivist ideas, literature, and art, and then acting based on what has been learned. Members of the cooperatives and collegiate study groups should build each other up in every possible way: in terms of public speaking skills, debating skills, physical fitness, intellect, manners, aesthetic sense. It is imperative that our ideas be lived and not merely discussed.
A basic problem is that many bright, creative, dynamic, energetic young people with leadership skills are selected, guided, incentivized and funded to become rightists, and this is why many new student leaders--who eventually become leaders of society--tend now to be rightists. Until we can provide the funding, career guidance, and infrastructure that now supports developing rightist leaders, New Progressivist coops and collegiate study groups can help reverse that tendency.
The Movement Must Be Willing to Appear Obnoxious
Our movement must be highly provocative. The thing we have most to fear is that we will be ignored.
Cultural progressives must understand the predicament we are in. We must be willing to take measures that perhaps we would be unwilling to take under different, more ideal circumstances. We will have standards--we will never try to justify dishonesty, destruction of the personal reputation of our opponents, cheating, assault, etc., in the service of victory for our movement. However, we will not consider ourselves above appearing "unseemly" or surrendering some our personal dignity. We must be willing to shake people out of their complacency--which means being obnoxious if the situation requires it--because given the fact that the dominant rightist, corporatist, profit driven culture is safely ensconced, complacency only serves the interests of our opponents.
It is not enough to say that progressive philosophy is more sensible than that of the Right. If we leave it at that, we will only attract "sensible" people to our movement. But "sensible" people do not go to the barricades, they do not make great sacrifices for a movement. And the experience of the progressive movement has shown this to be the case. We need more people with fire in the belly, and we need a message that attracts those kinds of people. As Plato said, "madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human." We should keep this in mind if we expect our people to make superhuman sacrifices for the movement. We must reframe this struggle as a moral struggle, as a transcendent struggle, as a struggle between reason and destructive insanity. And we must be prepared to explain why this is so. We must provide the evidence needed to prove this using images and simple terms. Putting the debate in terms of mere freedom, the "leave us alone" mentality, does not inspire heroic fervor.
Some will argue that "progressives" no longer believe in impassioned, heroic fervor. The reader should simply ask himself, is he happy with the state of cultural progressivism in this country? If not, does he think it likely that conditions will improve in the future by operating according to the current rules? And if not, is he willing to witness the death of true civilization in this country so that progressivism will not suffer the ungentlemanly taint of "fervor"? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, this movement will not appeal to the reader.
Ground Zero of the New Progressivist Movement: The Study Group
What Are Study Groups?
The study groups will develop a cadre of scholar warriors. They are the vanguard of a countercultural movement. Study groups are the basis of all short-term activity.
Study groups will be imperative because they will be the means by which we combine thought and action. Members will be asked to read relatively difficult or abstract works of political and social philosophy. They will then be asked to come up with examples from our current society that might illustrate some principles contained therein.
This will not be a movement of talkers. Participants will be expected to engage in tangible, constructive activity. They will be asked often what precisely they have done for the good of the movement. The new movement will not, unlike much of modern progressivism, be a hobby to be taken up or tossed aside on a whim or treated as a spectator sport. The message must be emphasized that the looming problems and even catastrophes before us cannot be addressed by a small technocratic caste of professionals who "fix" things : we must reawaken a culture of progressive political and cultural engagement.
Study groups, as their name implies, will be engaged in the intensive study of culture and ideas, but the understanding achieved through that study will be applied in the form of action. Action is defined as either 1) the reform of rightist-controlled institutions, or 2) the creation of our own institutions of civil society, whose sole purpose is outreach to, and the conversion of, non-progressivists. Action is partly designed to lead to direct results in society, mostly as a way to build up the qualities of the membership. A membership that never acts is useless, because it does not become more capable, and does not learn from its mistakes. Furthermore, action in the world encourages the identification of the member with, and dedication to the group.
For example, we will go to public events and lectures given by rightists and ask them "impolite" and highly critical questions. We must, of course, be fully prepared beforehand for these sorts of excursions, and we must also be prepared to embarrass ourselves, especially at first.
Money for the new movement will come primarily from the membership at first, because very few foundations will be willing to support us initially. As our movement grows, even if more funding comes from foundations, requirements for personal contributions must remain high to make people believe they are personally invested in this movement. Again, members cannot be allowed to think of themselves as spectators in this movement.
Study Groups Will Cultivate Enlightenment Values
The coming battle for the hearts and minds of Americans is ultimately a battle between Enlightenment values, and religious zealotry and barbarism. The fight between Enlightenment values, and barbarism and religious zealotry is a fight that takes place in society at large, as well as in the heart of each individual.
Enlightenment values mean, in part, a tradition of respect for societal diversity and political pluralism and a spirit of self-restraint rooted in an altruistic commitment to the common good, an ethic of civic and political engagement, and a belief in free inquiry and the scientific method, and a belief that while we can never achieve absolute objective truth we must nonetheless distinguish opinion, ideology, and religious belief from that which science can tell us. Further, Enlightenment values hold that our society must be sustainable and in harmony with our essential human nature, and that we must learn what science can tell us of what our human nature actually is : and, Enlightenment values must, if they are truly held, include mechanisms by which they can be sustained and perpetuated in human culture lest they be overwhelmed by forces of ignorance, bigotry, religious and ideological zealotry, and barbarism. Enlightenment values are the opposite of those tendencies, which appeal to the lowest human instincts and drives; barbarism means fidelity solely to oneself, not to an enlightened social code worked out over centuries, representing the accumulated wisdom of generations of men and women. Religious and ideological zealotry sacrifice human needs, human lives, objectivity, and scientific truth upon the altar of human abstraction, and abstract belief. Albert Jay Nock defines Enlightenment culture at its best as "lucidity of mind, intellectual curiosity and hospitality, largeness of temper, objectivity, the finest sense of social life, of manners, of beauty." And this view of culture is clearly incompatible with abstracted ideology and zealotry of all kinds, and with mere egoism.
This is the opposite of a society produced by ideology and zealotry - the impassioned pursuit, despite the cost in human terms and otherwise: those are substitutes for genuine thought and are destructive of enlightened civilization. A central goal of the movement will be the destruction of ideology and ideological zealotry in whatever form they take. It will not strive for its replacement with a "progressivist ideology," because such a thing is a contradiction in terms.
The study groups, and through them, the New Progressivist movement as a whole, will be the means by which the goals of enlightenment civilization are infused back into society. We have claimed the prerogative to be bold and even obnoxious when the occasion demands it. Furthermore, we recognize that the ethic of pluralism and obnoxious behavior, or the New Progressivist cause, can conflict. A rule of reason will mediate. Means should not be allowed to compromise ends, but talk of ends is moot if there are no progressivists in existence to pursue those ends.
Study groups will provide an opportunity to discuss movies and books and other cultural products that reflect the values of this society and those of societies separated from ours by time or place. Study groups will rediscover and disseminate our progressive and Enlightenment heritage. They will share examples of the progressive ethos at work today, perhaps even unbeknownst to the creator of the work. From there, the long-term objective will be to encourage the creation of new works of art that self-consciously reflect the values of the New Progressivist movement. We operate according to the belief that current popular culture is distinctly uninspiring, and a great people ought to be able to find inspiration in its culture.
Study Groups Will Provide a Communal Experience
Modern progressivism ostensibly holds a communal ethic but is in act atomized and excessively individualistic. We must find meaning as part of an organization with shared values. For example, it is not enough for a progressive writer to watch a movie, write up a good review in a magazine, encourage other people to watch it, and expect that to form the basis for a movement that is able to stand up to the dominant culture and political order. We must watch movies together. We must feel part of the group as we watch it. And we must then discuss that movie as a group. To begin with. Beyond merely watching films together, we must again learn to cooperate, to effectively work together to advance shared goals and achieve tangible results. Shared, communal activity will provide the social glue of the movement and shape its emotional core.
Study groups should engage in charitable activities, partly to build esprit de corps, partly to create positive feelings about our group in the minds of the public, partly to create an alternative to government solutions, and - lastly - to advance a selfless ethic that will challenge the egoistic nature of modern mass culture. Study groups together with other organs of the movement should provide everything that a person could want in terms of social interaction, with the exception of the workplace and religious or faith associations (although those will in some cases be allied with the movement).
We must recognize that bonding with others in one's generation or society is the means by which values are strengthened and perpetuated. It is vitally important that we bond in such a way that the values perpetuated are our own.
Book Clubs Lay the Groundwork for Study Groups
The movement should imitate the communist distinction between party members and fellow travelers. Study groups will require high levels of dedication, discipline, and self-sacrifice. Those who are unable to perform will be asked to leave. But it would be unwise to send the signal that there is no place in the movement for people who are otherwise sympathetic to our message. They will be considered allies, but they will not be accorded the status of movement leaders.
Based on this premise, the book club is designed to be the organ of the New Progressivist movement that is most accessible to outsiders. The book club will be open to all interested individuals, and will be responsible for introducing its members to progressivist ways of thinking. The level of commitment required of book club members will be much lower than that required of study group members.
The study group will recruit mainly from the book club. Members of the book club will discuss ideas at a lower level of intellectual sophistication than the study group. Once the study groups have been firmly established and have arrived at an adequate level of intellectual sophistication, the leaders of the study group will be responsible for choosing the books or other cultural products that will be discussed in the book club, and drawing up the agenda and list of discussion questions for each meeting.
Acceptance by Fellow New Progressivists More Important than Acceptance by Wider Society
The members of the New Progressivists must make public affirmation of their identification with the new movement. They must seek approval for their actions from other New Progressivists, and not from the wider society. It is unrealistic to assume that very many mortal human beings will be able to withstand in isolation the vitriol and hatred that our movement's program will engender. Culture wars generally seem to inspire higher emotions than verbal wars over economics, foreign policy, etc., because they address the most fundamental questions of what matters in life. Our people must learn to disdain and pity wider society, and reject it in all ways. This will never happen so long as our people seek accommodation with it.
It is important that we form fully well-rounded people who feel that they are lacking nothing that the dominant rightist culture can offer them. For example, sports leagues will be included for young people in the intermediate stage, in order to bring in people who might not otherwise be interested in joining. It is important that there be something for everyone, that there be a place for all kinds of different people. Not all members will be intellectuals, although intellectuals will instigate the new movement.
Even if We Lose, We Still Win
Even if our views do not become the dominant views in society at any point in the near future, this must not be seen as a defeat. At least we will have offered many Americans another choice, a refuge from the dominant culture, and a way to at least live a reasonably decent and pleasant life in the midst of rampant social, ideological, political, and religious corruption. We will provide people with access to the best enlightenment civilization has produced--literature, philosophy, and art. We will be a godsend to those who want to raise themselves up, make themselves more than what they are. Popular culture now acts as a giant narcotic, offering an escape from the difficulty and hard work of realizing our higher selves. Our movement's intention is to break that addiction for as many individuals as possible.
Discussion Lists Have Little Value -- Action Is More Important
We must be careful not to over theorize, or wait until we have everything thought out perfectly before we start to take action. Action is the most important element at first, because much of learning is evolutionary, and one of the best ways to learn is by making mistakes in the real world--but, of course, there is never any excuse for making the same mistake twice.
Progressives have an excessive tolerance for incessant talking. The discussion list based on this essay will only involve as much discussion as it takes to form the philosophical basis for local study groups in various parts of the country, and the list will then coordinate the agendas of the study groups. Study groups will be in charge of conducting actual activities. Study groups must form the primary venue for the transmission of ideas, because a discussion list cannot lead to action. Again, the basis of our movement is the integration of thought and action. Neither one is more important than the other.
We should expect some infighting and sectarianism in our movement at first, as we try to decide what exactly we think should be the basis of our movement--precisely which cultural values we are fighting for. This should not worry us especially, because over time, as we engage each other, as well as the wider societ
Paul Weyrich's Teaching Manual For The New Progressive Movement | 1 comment (1 topical, 0 hidden)
Paul Weyrich's Teaching Manual For The New Progressive Movement | 1 comment (1 topical, 0 hidden)