Most citizens believe in the model that US politics are divided into two polar ideologies. We call this the left-right paradigm. The two ideologies that come to mind are the “liberals” (a.k.a “left-wing” or “progressive”) and “conservatives” (a.k.a. “right-wing” or some as “libertarian”). Although one of the off-the-grid thinker’s goals should be to shatter the left-right paradigm, it is worth analyzing the elements of truth it has.
“Liberalism” of today focuses in on egalitarianism on the economic, social, and global spectrum. It includes progressive tax, relatively higher taxes, government regulation on businesses, government-provided public services, government relief for the economically disadvantaged, centralized government authority, centralized and fiat monetary policy, emphasis on the democratic process, relatively open immigration system, fair trade with neighbors, multilateral foreign policy, positive liberty from social norms and personal inhibitions, and tolerance in regards to different races, ethnic backgrounds, genders, orientations, and religions.
“Conservatism” today is the idea of retaining traditional social institutions. Today’s perceived traditions by conservatives commonly feature relatively low and simple and flat taxes, little-to-no government regulation, endorsements of the private sector to play a huge role in all forms of commerce and charity causes, decentralized government authority, decentralized and commodity-based monetary policy, emphasis on personal liberty, relatively closed immigration system, free trade with neighbors, non-multilateral foreign policy (either in the form of isolationism or interventionism), freedom and security from negative social and moral externalities, and freedom from outside coercion on demographic make-up and interactions.
In the United States today, the primary distinction between the two ideologies is the economic policy. Nonetheless, the two ideologies mentioned above are the CURRENT and PREVALENT competing ideologies. The competing prevalent ideologies have changed over the years from Hamilton’s Federalism vs. Jefferson’s Anti-Federalism (1776 to 1829), to Jackson’s Pluralism vs. Whig Institutionalism (1829 to 1861), to Lincoln’s Union Nationalism vs. Confederate Democracy (1861 to 1913), to today’s “liberalism” vs “conservatism”.
Although the ideas, coalitions and issues have radically changed over the centuries, there have consistently been two different prevailing ideological drives. They are progressivism and traditionalism.
Progressivism does not mean the current ideology of the progressive branch of the liberal-democrats, nor does it refer to the Progressive Movement in the turn of the 20th century. Progressivism is a way of thinking that can lead to any ideology. It is the ideological force of people who actively strives for progress toward better conditions, as in society or government. The striving for better conditions is dependent on the reliance on criticism which contain careful and analytical evaluations that often lead to negative judgment. To critically analyze something, one must convince himself that current and prevailing theories, postulates, “laws”, and “facts” could be either wrong, total opposite from the truth, or totally irrelevant to the greater truth. This is the first and hardest step because it requires the person to step outside of their comfort zone. One must then make qualitative and quantitative observations, formulation of results, formation of hypothesis, and then use that hypothesis as the “prevailing theory” and question that and start the process all over again in a never-ending process. Criticism not only can result in the changing of positions on ideas but it can also lead to the affirmation of pre-existing theories with higher certainty.
Likewise, traditionalism does not mean what we know as conservatism today, which is referred to as libertarianism or republicanism. Traditionalism is the adherence to an inherited way of thinking or acting. In order to stay with the inherited way of thinking, faith is needed. Faith is the complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Although the featured positions of today’s American Conservatism doesn’t have to be the result of the traditionalist mentality, it is more likely to be the case since conservatives’ positions come from old past figures or texts such a the Christian biblical doctrine and the teachings of the founding fathers. They adhere to these principles because they inherited that mentality through the influence of parents, media, churches, and schools. As a result, they rely on faith, and place complete trust and confidence in those ideas. Many traditionalists have faith in the features of American Conservatism. They have full faith that a society will be morally corrupt if certain identities or behavior is tolerated. They have full faith that invisible hand of the free market leads to overall socioeconomic justice and prosperity. They have full faith that different kinds people are fundamentally different by their nature. They have full faith that unilateralism can solve all of foreign policy issues.
It begets the question, where did these ideas come from? It is not like these ideas have existed since the beginning of time. Someone must have innovated them. Christian biblical teachings evolved from the Abrahamic Prophets, and the ideals of the Constitution and Bill of Rights have been crafted by the founding fathers. Even those today seen as traditional value were in fact progressives at their time. They innovated new ideas through deep philosophical insight. And ever since, progressives has arisen to bring us new ideas. Many ideas of today’s version of American liberalism are relatively new creations of progressives. Since critical analysis is needed in order for a progressive idea to emerge, new progressive ideas are always born due to the questioning of pre-existing revered ideologies. Socialism and Keynesianism was born as a direct result from the criticisms of classical economics. Multinational institutions was directly born as a result of the desire of change from the long history of unilateral actions and its resulting global chaos. The idea of positive liberty for homosexuals and women is driven by the criticisms of their traditional status. Many people today view the ideas of the current form of American liberalism as traditional because they grew up thinking that this is normal and any other idea is strange and uncomfortable to accept.
By understanding that traditionalism is the full faith in an inherited ideology irrespective of that ideology; and that progressivism is the critical analysis of past, current, and potential future ideologies irrespective of where that takes you, one can see how many different possible combinations of different ideologies emerge from the two forces. If a thinker has worked vehemently to find answers by exiting the comfort zone, questioning past beliefs/conclusions, doing proper critical analysis, and concluded that Christianity and Austrian economics is the sustainable and just way of life, that thinker would be a progressive. This particular thinker’s conclusion, via progressivism, he has resulted in a belief of Christianity and Austrian economics. This person would be considered a progressive Christian-libertarian. Some (especially, today’s liberals) would argue that this particular person is rare because only few people who conduct critical analysis and come to those conclusions (especially Christianity). This is true because progressivism by itself is active and requires intellectualism. For this reason, this is why there are very few progressives compared to traditionalists. But even progressives run into risks when they settle on conclusions permanently, and therefore become traditionalists by default.
This is why it is necessary for one to constantly re-question his conclusions to stay a qualified progressive. A progressive Christian libertarian needs to re-evaluate his past conclusions (telling himself, maybe Christianity is just a flawed human innovation, maybe the Austrian economics is unsustainable, etc…)
A person who follows the communist ideology of Karl Marx and liberal ideology of John Stuart Mill and adores their ideologies to the fullest extent, would be defined as a traditionalist liberal-communist. This person may never have read a single one of their books and could have simply swayed by certain professors, friends, family, or media outlets. This is a common phenomena among traditionalists. Traditionalism for the most part may involve mindless obedience to an idea through the means of leaders and peer pressure. The problem is that they risk diverting from the actual teachings of that ideology due to the result of the improper transmission of teachings by the leaders and peers. A traditionalist who is easily swayed by peer pressure and does no research on the founder of the ideology would be called a passive traditionalist. There is a chance that this traditionalist falsely attributes the theory of individual rewards for work output to Marx’s teachings (who didn’t say that). There is a chance that this traditionalist falsely attributes the teachings of the homosexual rights movement to John Stuart Mill (who didn’t mention that). This is why traditionalism is more pure if it is done in an active intellectual manner, in which the traditionalist must become the scholar, leader, and immune from peer pressure. To be a pure active intellectual traditionalist, one would had to read all the books and accounts of Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill and make every effort to understand their teachings and intentions to the fullest extent. That being said, it is safe to say that there are much fewer active intellectual traditionalist.
One may notice a theme here. It can appear that progressives are only concerned with the present and future while traditionalists are only concerned with the past. This is not true. Progressives use history all the time in their thinking process. While Progressives are conducting critical analysis, they make observations in the present (mostly through experimentation, data research) and the past (through primary historical resource). With those observations and formulations of results, suggestions and projections can be made about the future. Likewise with traditionalists. Traditionalists primary rely on historical sources, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t think about the changing future. They live today with their traditionally driven ideology because they view it as permanent and applicable to everything in life. The founders and sources of certain ideologies of the past make numerous commandments or laws that are applicable to any point in time. They also can make prophecies, predictions, or hypotheticals concerning the future. The bible states numerous commandments and laws that apply today and makes many predictions about the future. The books of Austrian economics also stats many theories and hypotheticals applicable to us today and the future. Same with the Keynesian books… and the communist books… etc…
So to sum it up: to be a real progressive and a real intellectual, who does real research and uses hard evidence and mathematical numbers to back up the findings. Then one must take that scholarly research, and apply it to make a better earth, and move things into the future to create a more efficient planet. One must challenge and question what he has been taught. The true traditionalist is the resolved and disciplined. They are determined to stay true to their true original core principles. The ideologies may come and go but the ultimate ideological forces will always be progressivism and traditionalism.