In January 2021, reflecting the ideas of Higher Education, the Biden administration turned further toward Progressive governance to achieve equal outcomes and racial equity in an America of newly-identified systemic racism.1 The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and others seek and prepare for the return of governance reflecting the principles of our Founders, which I support. While the prospects for such an eventuality have recently improved slightly, today’s woke Progressive elites and youth—the progeny of Higher Education—have embedded ideas and practices in American governance and society that will be difficult to displace. This article addresses that challenge.
Ideas and Practices of Governance
Perhaps surprisingly, many of those ideas and practices are not modern or postmodern, but originated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the late-18th Century and were adopted from its outset by Higher Education, as discussed in my article for NAS of November 3, 2014.2 Rousseau is credited with destroying the Enlightenment—by extolling the primacy of feeling and will over the sovereignty of reason. Ironically, one might say that his ideas have accomplished the same for us.
Certainly, his ideas are largely encompassed in Progressive ideology and governance, including:
- Individuals are innocent and ignorant
- Perfection (not happiness) is the ideal of government
- Perfection is achieved through social justice
- Human nature can be changed to provide social justice
- General will replaces knowledge
- General will is provided by charismatic leaders (our elites)
- Politics is the highest form of government
- Political will is the collective life of the state
- Virtue is conformity with political will
- Progress/knowledge produces inequality/slavery
- Government should regulate property to prevent inequality
- Child/social-centered education should replace an adult/knowledge standard
Today’s Progressivism and Higher Education expanded the turn to feeling and will by adopting Critical Theory and the “identity” ideology, the way of thinking that places the struggle for social justice within the self. This way of thinking doesn’t appeal to Enlightenment reason or universal values, but to the authority of identity, or the “lived experience” of the oppressed victim.3
Further, today’s Progressivism—incorporating Critical Race Theory (CRT) and “woke” identity ideology (which believes that American inequality came more directly from slavery)—made “racism” rather than “equality” the new soul of American life after about 2014. Another of my NAS articles showed how Higher Education, reflecting the belief that differences in socioeconomic groups exist because of racist or sexist discrimination rather than achievement, developed the sociological inventions of “unconscious group racism,” “implicit bias,” and “systemic racism” from 2010 to support its concept of equal outcomes for America.4
The Civil Rights Movement that began in the 1950s and 1960s long sought to complete the provision of Constitutional equality to blacks (now around 12% of our population, increasingly immigrants) that had historically been limited, principally in the South. Individual and material “equality” is to be accomplished based on reason (within the framework of the Enlightenment). But, after more than fifty years of such programs and progress, woke Progressive racism and identity ideology, based on CRT, was transmogrified by new principles:
- Subjectivism/feeling by the self—not unjust laws—defines racism
- America is riven by marginalized groups of racial victims
- Progressivism must deconstruct the American power structure to cure racism
- Political will must transfer power to oppressed racial victim groups
- Equality is defined as reduction of disparate (statistical) outcomes among groups
- Identity power must make oppressed racial victims the higher achievers
- Providing racial equity
- Focusing on living experience rather than achievement
- Making equality of the individual impossible5
Identified below are some governing policies and practices that have already been put in place, within society or the state, by (1) Rousseauist Progressive elites (supported by young cultural Marxists), along with (2) woke Progressive elites (supported by young racial identity ideologues), both inherited from Higher Education. A key Progressive trait is to not compromise or modify their approaches. Thus, Progressivism will be difficult to dislodge and replace.
Perfection and the Individual
The Declaration of Independence established that all men are created equal with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. My article for NAS, Modern Versus Western Thought: Thinking from the Founding,6 showed how American individuals (citizens), through equal opportunity, families, and education were responsible to apply their own work ethic and competency under the rule of law to achieve such happiness. Immigrant citizens acquired the same rights.
Over the 20th Century, Higher Education adopted Rousseau’s ideas of perfecting individual happiness, which became equal outcomes. Early Progressivism turned to individual economic equality, changing its idea of fairness to equality of condition. Progressivism became perfection, including racial equity, which is being applied to blacks, by group.
The kinds of challenges posed by the new Progressive policies and practices are defined by the summaries above and specifics below. One example may illustrate the extent of such challenges. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies and standards have by now been developed by Schools of Education. The summary above shows that power is replacing achievement; that oppressed victims may already have replaced higher achievers in an education admissions hierarchy; that DEI provisions may already provide the kind of racial justice as a baseline.
Will and the Individual
At the founding, the individual believed in objective knowledge, truth, and the common good.7 Today, knowledge has been replaced with the interpretive feelings of the woke self. The meaning of truth has gone from objective fact to mere opinion or prejudice of the self. With objectivism and reason, agreement on truth is possible. With subjectivism, it’s usually not. Current tribalism rather than earlier compromise or founding prudence prevails.
We’ve long accepted being governed by a growing Progressive politics rather than conducting our own lives within a more limited governing order. Herbert Croly began an expression of public democracy through an activist-driven majority’s “democratic will.” However, it was concluded that such public will must be realized through government and its political will, separately assisted/supported by public activist movements (such as Black Lives Matter).
In 2021, national governance was assumed by Progressivism. Perfection, including woke racial equity, were made America’s objectives. Elites and ideologues define and implement this agenda through the administrative state, the rule of law, and politics, which has become will. In politics or political will, subjectivism rather than objectivism prevails, but is never acknowledged.
The above challenges must be recognized in addressing the issue of will and the individual.
Capitalism/Knowledge Produces Inequality/Slavery
The Founders saw private property as an outlet to avoid historic societal conflict and failure from individual use of power, to satisfy Greek thymos—or, in modern usage, self-esteem or dignity.8 At the founding, individuals possessing private property and competency, through achievement and equal opportunity, exercised their dominance and hierarchy, earned self-esteem, satisfied envy, and practiced reciprocity, consensual exchange, and self-interest—all while producing for the common good, the essence of human nature and eventually capitalism.
Conversely, Progressives, Marx, and Rousseau believe that government should heavily regulate the economy to prevent inequality and slavery. I have shown that former NAS Chairman Stanley Rothman identified that our elites have chosen power over achievement.9 This is consistent with the anti-bourgeois beliefs of cultural Marxism taught within Higher Education. Our woke Progressives assert that systemic racism caused black inequality. The Education blob is far advanced in imposing the concepts of racial equity. Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) standards would support a highly regulated economic system at a time when the need is for many more skilled workers.
In confronting woke Progressive Perfection and racial equity, the future nature of the American economic system and education of workers will be a fundamental issue.
Traditional Standards of Achievement or Merit
Progressive education long ago embraced Rousseau’s concepts of child/social-centered education. Top-quality American education and standards—based on knowledge—peaked in the 1970s before being undercut by the dominant ideologies and pedagogies from Schools of Education, which most recently incorporated curricula based on CRT and racial equity. Reports show dismal contemporary results from American education, which once led the world. DEI standards have replaced historic standards of achievement or merit based on adult knowledge. This comports with the dismissal of the founding concept of achievement. Classes based on CRT are yet another form of indoctrination by our woke elites.
The task of bringing education back to high standards, satisfactory to parents, will be long and arduous.
Science and Medicine
Similarly, American science and medicine—and perhaps objective reality itself—have already begun to adopt wholly subjective woke standards and practices—and of politics—that will take years to overcome. The challenge to new governance includes the dismissal, again led by Higher Education, of objective truth or fact in favor of subjective identity, self, or mere opinion, narrative, or prejudice. Too much science has come to ignore evidence or confirmation. NAS has already recognized and is acting on this.
America is divided over the kind of governing political order that might succeed the current woke Progressive Perfection and racial equity. I have sought only to display the elements of the current order and the challenges it presents to those who would change it. Many of those ideas, intertwined with other postmodern and identity concepts and despite their deficiencies, have become a familiar way of life to much of America. Should the opportunity to displace those woke Progressive approaches arise, the difficulty of replacing them and achieving change cannot be underestimated. The possible nature of such change would need to be the subject of another article(s).
1 William H. Young, Political Will and Social Construction Versus Human Nature, National Association of Scholars (NAS), 9 November 2021. William H. Young, Turning Higher Education and America from Racism, National Association of Scholars (NAS), 4 December 2020.
2 William H. Young, Academic Social Science: Rousseau Redux, National Association of Scholars (NAS), 3 December 2014.
3 George Packer, “How America Fractured Into Four Parts,” The Atlantic, July/August 2021.
4 Young, Turning Higher Education and America from Racism, 4 December 2020.
5 Jonathan Butcher and Mike Gonzalez, “Critical Race Theory, the New Intolerance and Its Grip on America,” Heritage Foundation, Civil Rights Report, www.heritage.org, 1 February 2021. Carol M. Swain, “Critical Race Theory’s Destructive Impact on America,” 1776 United, January 15, 2021. “Critical Race Theory,” Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org, 10 February 2021.
6 William H. Young, Modern Versus Western Thought: Thinking From the Founding, National Association of Scholars (NAS), 4 June 2017.
7 Young, Modern Versus Western Thought: Thinking From the Founding, 4 January 2017.
8 Young, Modern Versus Western Thought: Thinking From the Founding, 4 Januar 2017.
9 William H. Young, Modern Versus Western Thought: Power vs. Achievement, National Association of Scholars (NAS), 3 October 2017.
The Honorable William H. Young was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and served in that position from November 1989 to January 1993. He is the author of Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (2010) and Centering America: Resurrecting the Local Progressive Ideal (2002).