July 9,2012
Hey Fellow Reframers,

Cherri, just saw your email, so am going to send this now. I didn’t end up liking that Alternet article either. Here’s what I started working on a few days ago, so I’ll finish for now ….. but I”m doing it in parts, and this is part one I guess.

I’m going to challange you, Glenn, on your distinction between contemporary liberals and progressives, and especially on your definition of contempoary American progressives and progressivism. I am setting out to do some research on the issue. It seems you’ve found a source that”s convinced you, Glenn, since you’ve never seemed before to speak so assuredly, or with such conviction, about your understanding of this difference between the two words. I know that historically there has been a more “pragmatic” idea of what the progressive is, and certainly in various parts of the world and and at different times the meanings have changed.

I also know that there is the great “enlightenment” idea of liberal, which has also varied in contexts of time and place. But your summary, Glenn, of progressives being somehow cold and calculating, always seeing a fixed bottom line in their essentfial motive, and that liberals, in contrast, are the only ones, not progressives, who are by nature and instinct always open, and forever concerned with the fairest place  of  each and every individual according to his or her ability — or something along these lines. So I’m going to be trying to understand your opinion and, if it’s what it seemed to be to me the other night, show that it is limited because it’s mostly out of date. (I am dying to know where you’ve come by the opinion you seem to have at present,  or where you gathered it from and how you formed it.)                         

There is the point that it is just a label, which I do find daunting and, seeing myself so ignited by this difference in opinion, wonder why it seems so important to me. I guess at some point, I did decide to call myself a “progressive” as a decidedly more radical label that the one of “liberal.” It’s never bothered me to be called a liberal by the likes of conservatives or the right wing. I believe there were many like me who took this same stand with the word liberal, abandoning it for progressive.

A leftist paper my friend Holly, in Hoboken, worked at for seven years was called “The Progressive.” For some reason, I don’t think it would have done well at all, even with the exact same work inside, known as “The Liberal.” And none of the progressives I’m thinking of, myself included, philosophically/politically believe in “Progress” with the capital P. There may be or may have been some progressives who believe alternative energy technology, and possibly other technologies, might keep humankind from the most hideous scenarios as we transition out of the fossil fuel age, or suffer the consequences of climate change and no longer being able to live on earth . But they aren’t the types who still imagine bigger and more is better, or that the “developing world” needs strip malls or super highways.
I’ll have to present my argument in bits and pieces as I go along. First, here is a small paper I love, which most of you probably read too, Common Dreams, which says it is for the “progressive” community.

And here’s a list of organizations, some people, Common Dreams lists in its “progressive community” section to make sure people are aware of them. Cherri, in this list is the League of Women Voters, and Bernie Sanders, to name only two.

David Sirota’s definition of progressivism and liberalism, which I tried to explain is mine, the other night:

Another definition of progressivism vs liberalism :

Progressivism – Wikipedia:

Liberalism – Wikipedia :

Liberalism has a history going back to the middle ages, includes accomplishments like ending The Crusades, leading to the French Revolution, giving us the formal concepts of human and civil rights, and being universal.  Progressivism is a newer, limited, mostly political term first used in response to industrialization, is used differently everywhere, and has changed over time. The New Deal is an example of an early American progressive policy.
To be fair, then, we’re comparing the use of liberal and progressive as two political stances, compared in a more recent political use and context.

I also found a Wikipedia page for both Liberal Education and Progressive Education that might prove interesting to check out too.

Any ideas or comments would be appreciated, Cherri or Glenn. Or from anyone else, of course .                            



This is from the Quora article. Of course, I have very definite opinions about this matter 🙂

Generally progressives are willing to go further than their more moderate cousins. This is seen in taxation conversations where liberals will allow the wealthy and businesses to pay less and the progressives want to shift tax burdens away from the middle class and working poor. Health care in the U.S. is another good example where liberals under Clinton and Obama came up with a compromised plans to temper conservative attacks instead of pushing for universal coverage like progressives wanted. Generally progressives support programs that level the playing field between classes so that success is more broadly distributed where as “classism” can be a dirty word for liberals.

I see this as a good working definition for the difference between American liberals and American progressives.

From where I sit as a political economist, the difference lies primarily in this area. Liberals want capitalism to be fixed so that is more fair. Progressives and their more leftish brothers and sisters see the problem thusly: capitalism is inherently unable to be “fixed for fairness.” The last 40 years demonstrates this view. Corporations have now escaped the control of governments by spreading their assets and workforce across the globe. I see no way to reverse that trend, and corporations will never go back to the good old days when they were based in individual communities and everyone had a stake in their success or failure.

In the law, this is called “forum shopping.” That is looking for the venue where the laws or lack of them most favor the accumulation of outrageous fortunes.


Yikes Nell,I don’t understand that being progressive involves being “cold and calculating, always seeing a fixed bottom line in their essentfial motive, and that liberals, in contrast, are the only ones, not progressives, who are by nature and instinct always open, and forever concerned with the fairest place  of  each and every individual according to his or her ability — or something along these lines.”I don’t think I said this and, if I what I said could be extrapolate to mean this, I am very sorry.Glenn
This entry was posted in Frankly Political. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.