Ed Driscoll writes about the paradox of the nostalgic progressive. Paul Krugman, Woody Allen, John Cleese—all look back to the days of their youths as a time when things were better. And, in some ways, they were. We should not let Krugman forget that his blessed 1950s were times when America was far less affluent than it is today; the middle class families he recalls with such fondness were lucky if they had one car, one bath, and children who didn’t have to share a bedroom. And the greater equality was largely a statistical artifact of people sheltering income from confiscatory tax rates. Still, there was a solidity, self-reliance, independence, and moral depth to our culture in those days that is now largely gone. Progressives destroyed that culture, intentionally, and now seem stunned that both the culture and the institutions and patterns of behavior they attacked have deteriorated into something far less healthy.
Progressive nostalgia sounds paradoxical. But actually I think it goes way back to the beginnings of the movement. Rousseau wrote longingly of the noble savages, all of whose needs were satisfied in the state of nature. Marx and Engels decried the bourgeoisie largely because of the change they brought about:
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.
Despite its pretensions, the Left has always been an enemy of the future as well as the present.