Attorney General Bill Barr said some self-proclaimed "progressives" have become increasingly militant and totalitarian in their collectivist and revolutionary policies. In a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention on Wednesday, Barr said the goal of the progressive movement is to create a permanent coalition of able-bodied citizens dependent on government.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: While many factors have contributed to the polarized politics of today, I think one significant reason our politics has become so intense and so ill-tempered is that some in the so-called “progressive” movement have broken away from the fold of liberal democracy to pursue a society more in line with the thinking of Rousseau than that of our nation’s Founders. That has played a major role in our politics becoming less like a disagreement within a family, and more like a blood feud between two different clans.
Over the past few decades, those further to the left have increasingly identified themselves as “progressives” rather than “liberals.” And some of these self-proclaimed “progressives” have become increasingly militant and totalitarian in their style. While they seek power through the democratic process, their policy agenda has become more aggressively collectivist, socialist, and explicitly revolutionary.
The crux of the progressive program is to use the public purse to provide ever-increasing benefits to the public and to, thereby, build a permanent constituency of supporters who are also dependents. They want able-bodied citizens to become more dependent, subject to greater control, and increasingly supportive of dependency. The tacit goal of this project is to convert all of us into 25 year-olds living in the government’s basement, focusing our energies on obtaining a larger allowance rather than getting a job and moving out.
Political philosophers since Aristotle have worried that democracies are vulnerable to just this form of corruption. Probably the greatest chronicler of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, foresaw that American democracy would be susceptible to this evolution. As he described it, our society was vulnerable to a soft despotism wherein the majority would gradually let itself be taken care of by the state – much like dependent children.
Yet this process would be slow and imperceptible. The tyranny that results, Tocqueville wrote, “does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupifies, and finally it reduces [the people] to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
It would be totalitarianism beneath a veneer of democratic choice. As Tocqueville summed it up: “By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again.”
Historically, our country has relied on a number of bulwarks against this slide toward despotism, each of which has been essential in preserving the liberty that has defined our democracy. Today, I would like to discuss three institutions that have served this vital purpose: religion, the decentralization of government power, and the free press.
The sad fact is that all three have eroded in recent decades. At the end of the day, if we are to preserve our liberal democracy from the meretricious appeal of socialism and the strain of progressivism I have described, we must turn our attention to revivifying these vital institutions.