Illiberalism is the Descendant of Imperialism

There is a lot of talk these days about the increasing trend of #illiberalism or #authoritarianism on what is considered the American Left, but the authoritarian Left are not leftists, not Liberals (in the sense of the Enlightenment philosophy that values freedom and equality) or liberals (in the sense of political attitude that seeks affirmative action of the state in advancing issues of social justice but also remains faithful to the bedrock freedoms of #Liberalism), and not Marxists or Communists. Neither liberty nor economic stratification is central to their outlook on life as it is for those in any of the many ideologies that comprise the Left. They are, rather, proponents of the ideology of #Progressivism, a philosophy that transcends the Left-Right dichotomy.

Progressivism is an ideology that champions limitless growth, unbridled use of technology, and dominion over nature. Under a Progressive model, humans exist primarily to grow the economy by continual work and constant consumption, not for any intrinsic sense of worth or fulfillment. Progressives are trying, largely successfully, to shape the world into a reflection of these ideals and do not care at all that others have different visions that are based in more humanistic values. We all get dragged along on the march of “progress” because Progressives assume any deviance from their values is inferior and not worthy of credit (and because they tend to control the world’s resources). Increasingly, Progressives emphasize specialization, expertise, and conformity, all of which are used to get people to comply with their vision of the world. Progress under this model is linear; the future is always an improvement on the past, and any attempt to resist change or divert course is seen as regressive and unscientific.

Progressives often appear as leftists because they talk a lot about the same things leftists are concerned about like equality, the environment, and social justice. Many of them truly believe in these causes while many others, especially politicians, strategically exploit these issues to gain traction for their own ends. But whether sincere or manipulative, Progressives’ proposals always result in strengthening and expanding the existing, inequitable system and further entrenching the existing, elite class. Progressives always propose band-aid policies rather than measures that would truly allow individuals and families to become more self-sufficient or otherwise reduce inequality because that would undermine the primary goal of unlimited growth. That is why Progressives increasingly take refuge in identity politics; it allows them to talk about changing the system without ever actually having to challenge the exploitative aspects of society that elite Progressives rely on for profit and growth. They then blame the increasing disparities on their opponents and dissenters for resisting “progress.”

Progressivism is the direct descendant of the #imperialism that shaped and dominated much of American history for centuries. While the common narrative of modern history would have us believe that imperialism faded away in the 20th century as military aggression was replaced with international, economic cooperation and democratic revolutions, imperialism never died. There has always been a duality of competing philosophies in the United States, a championing of Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality while simultaneously denying these same values to other groups who were conquered, exploited, or oppressed for imperialist goals of expansion and increased profit. Consequently, both Liberalism and illiberalism have reigned side by side throughout the history of the United States. The legacy of imperialism is just as deeply imprinted on the minds of Americans as Liberalism is, with many people unconsciously carrying on the imperialist legacy that has been handed down to them in their own lives. This is where today’s illiberalism comes from; the authoritarian “Left” fail to espouse the bedrock values of liberty and pluralism because they are embodying America’s alternate ideological legacy of imperialism, which is the foundation for today’s Progressivism.

Attributes of Imperialism

Imperialism is the practice of one group of people forcibly subjecting other groups of people to its authority and control for its own benefit, though imperialists often rationalize their actions as an attempt to save or improve its victims. The history of imperialism in the United States has lent certain traits to its successor Progressivism: an extractive belief system, an antipathy towards the natural world, a rigidly prescriptive mindset, and a pathological feeling of supremacy.

Progressivism, like imperialism, is built on the depletion of natural resources, with little concern for sustainability. This attitude extends not just to the plants, animals, and minerals we consume, but to humans (“human resources” or “human capital”) as well. Thus, the extractive belief system is evident in the slave and sweatshop labor that has and continues to subsidize the American economy as well as the rapacious attitude towards nature. As an acquisition-focused philosophy, Progressivism treats humans as objects to be possessed and controlled, especially for financial profit. Progressives show no qualms about manipulating people or depriving them of freedom or livelihood to coerce them into compliance because they have no respect for personal agency, seeing other humans as just another resource to be mined.

Progressives view humans as separate from the natural environment, treating nature as something merely to be tamed and conquered. Nature is treated as inherently flawed and in need of improvement by humans. Human solutions, especially technological solutions, are always seen as better than letting nature run its course even when the problems are man-made ones.

Progressives have an obsession with data, technocracy, and standardization that creates a false veneer of objectivity that they use to reinforce their belief in the supremacy of their ideas and to discount the viewpoints that are discordant with Progressive ideology, often disdaining opposition as unscientific and false. This is true even where the dissent is something unfalsifiable, like satire, an opinion, or a philosophical objection. Progressive imperialists see their own opinions as absolute truth and fail to recognize their own biases and implicit assumptions. Once a Progressive opinion or belief is treated as fact, any opinion that disagrees is accordingly deemed false or misinformation. Unable to distinguish between fact and their own beliefs due to the dominance of Progressive ideology, they do not recognize the subjectivity of their own beliefs or that their beliefs are grounded in their own self-interest, just like how early American imperialists deemed their own racialized worldview as scientific and used whatever differences they could quantify between whites and blacks as further evidence of their own supremacy.

Imperialists’ belief that they have ownership of truth fuels their belief in their own supremacy. They believe they are better and smarter than everyone else and therefore that their beliefs are also superior. Once their beliefs are established as unquestionable truths, deviants and dissenters are viewed as inferior just by virtue of their deviance from the primary dogma of Progressivism. Progressive imperialists assume moral superiority on all matters and smugly treat opponents as savages that need to be tamed and controlled.

It is this feeling of supremacy that makes Progressives dangerous. Like the imperialists before them, Progressives’ belief in their own superiority is what is used to justify forcing their will on everyone else. They see no problem with censoring criticism, depriving individuals of freedom, and forcing lifestyle choices on others. Imperialists like today’s Progressives are narcissists on steroids; they have no respect for boundaries and fail to differentiate between control of their own lives and control of everyone else’s. They often see forcing a decision on someone else as merely an extension of their own personal choice. They have the hubris to believe that they have an innate right to control other people.

Domestic Imperialism Today

One can recognize Progressive imperialists in the wild because they are the ones who think their own beliefs are facts and opposition is misinformation to be censored. They are the ones who believe there is only one right way to do things and everyone should conform to that belief. They may pay lip service to freedom of choice, but upon further questioning you will find that that they also believe that people who make a choice in contradiction of Progressive orthodoxy should be punished for exercising that “freedom.” They are the ones who increasingly believe that people on the wrong side of Progressivism should lose their livelihoods or be excluded from society because of their heresy. They are the ones who believe they are morally justified in forcing other autonomous humans to bend to their will.

“Vaccine hesitancy” is a great example of Progressive imperialism today. The term itself is a propagandistic tool to pathologize non-compliance with an imperialist vision. Notably, the term implies that there can be no choice on the matter, that it is only a matter of time until everyone gets it. The entire discussion has been framed in starkly imperialist terms—asking how the state can overcome people’s objections and force compliance—rather than in the Liberal terms of personal sovereignty and pluralism (acknowledging that different viewpoints are equally valid and that the decision should be based on personal choice).

I know some will protest that the sacrifice of individual autonomy and the state coercion of vaccination is morally defensible because the intention is ostensibly to save lives. That very response is a perfect illustration of the uniquely imperialist mindset that I am describing. That certainty that one’s position is objectively, morally right; that there can be no room for diversity on the matter; and that one’s superiority of belief is so obvious that it justifies forcing other individuals to submit their very bodies (and, in the case of those who may suffer fatal reactions, possibly their lives) is the epitome of imperialism, the basis from which all oppression in this country has been borne. The assumption of infallibility and the feeling of entitlement to play God with someone else’s health is pure colonization of other humans. The very tendency to assume that someone else’s personal choices about his or her own life should be subordinate to your beliefs is the essence of imperialism. It is an expectation that one can and should dominate others. Such a person is carrying on the storied legacy of the numerous American imperialists before them. Every generation has them, and these people are this era’s imperialist oppressors, though of course, like all imperialists, they see themselves as heroes.

This is particularly salient when you consider the racial dynamics at play with regard to “vaccine hesitancy,” with reluctance to take the vaccine being higher among blacks and other people of color. What could be a more striking example of modern-day, domestic imperialism than today’s rich, white elites assuming that the reluctance of people of color (as well as non-compliant whites) to take the vaccine is invalid, irrational and ignorant and must be overturned? When you see the means that they are employing to entice these communities to comply—using everything from free fast food to hip hop videos—you realize that Progressives think that people of color fail to comply because they are too stupid to appreciate what Progressives believe to be the obvious truth of their beliefs. Progressives do not think people of color are capable of having intellectual and philosophical rationales behind their decisions to opt-out and so rely on cheap attempts to manipulate them emotionally, which leads them, for instance, to believe that black people can be swayed from a profound health decision by merely watching a hip hop video telling them to get vaccinated. It is the kind of patronizing appeal that could only come from people who already assume they are superior and have no respect for the intelligence of any groups they deem inferior. Once again, we see the privileged white upper class acting as missionaries to spread their beliefs as absolute truth to classes of people they deem inferior to themselves, the modern-day savages whom they must tame, control, and manipulate in service of their supposedly objective worldview.

Like the missionaries of old, Progressives rationalize their tyranny by telling themselves that they are doing it for the good of their victims and society as a whole. But make no mistake, the end-goal is their own Progressive cause. That is why, despite claiming that their desires for vaccine mandates are about saving lives, the lives of those people who died after getting these novel technological interventions do not matter to Progressives. Those people died in service of Progressive goals so their deaths do not matter. To a Progressive imperialist, every such death is a righteous one because humans are just another tool to fulfill Progressive ends.

The topic also highlights the Progressive loathing of nature. The idea that someone could want to rely on natural immunity—what humans have relied on for the maintenance of health since the dawn of human history—rather than a completely novel technology is disdained by Progressives as ignorant and pseudo-scientific. We are no longer permitted to live as human beings have lived for millennia because Progressives have decided that such ways of life are outdated and wrong. We cannot opt out of new technologies. Never mind the fact that there has been a consensus on the existence of natural immunity in the scientific community until last year when Progressives censored any scientist and scientific data that failed to corroborate their directives and replaced them with their own dogma. Progressives hate nature and refuse to respect its laws, so we must all fear nature and live in disharmony with it. Progressives will not allow any other philosophy of living but their own. And the fact that people can still get and transmit the virus after getting the vaccine makes it little more than a superstitious ritual that we all must observe as unwilling participants in the religion of Progressivism. It is an example of how adept imperialists are at transforming their own self-interest into moral imperatives for everyone else.

That is why Joe Biden and Progressive politicians around the world are ramping up their rhetoric around the idea of censoring supposed misinformation, which is any information that is even obliquely critical of the Progressive stance on the pandemic. The failure to see dissenters as equal, full-fledged, rational human beings who are competent to make up their own minds is astoundingly condescending but notably characteristic of imperialism. The supremacy attitude and the sense of entitlement to control others and deprive them of rights and privileges are the hallmarks of imperialism, the same qualities that have under-girded all the atrocities of the past and those underway and to come.

It is ironic that the people who are today most vocally outraged by the United States’ imperialist history are the same people who are beholden to the imperialist-oriented mindset. Progressives talk a lot about being on the right side of history, but the right side of history that they are referring to is the Liberal side that recognized and respected the humanity and personal sovereignty of other individuals despite their differences. The Progressives’ failure to adopt that same appreciation for pluralism and autonomy and to instead carry on the illiberal tradition of imperialism is why they are in the standing to be this era’s oppressors.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 humbled me and made me aware of the echo chamber I exist in and the failures of the media to present in good faith the thoughts and realities of those living outside urban, affluent, college-educated, Democratic enclaves. While I did not understand the appeal of Trump as a politician, I also did not believe as most on the left did that the people who voted for him were just racists and idiots. That explanation, besides being smugly offensive, was too reductionist to explain the motivations of a large, heterogeneous group of people, many of whom, I imagine, felt as frustrated with the lack of options as I did.

Even after Trump was elected, the media failed to report adequately on his policies and continued to this day to focus almost exclusively on the smoke and mirrors that are his tweets and contradictory, inflammatory statements. I was following the gold standard of news—the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, etc.— and yet I knew little of what was happening policy-wise in the federal government. It took a conservative commentor lauding Trump’s policy accomplishments in response to a derisive op-ed that would have had me believe that Trump was accomplishing nothing that made me realize that I was learning nothing of substance from the news media. I was increasingly frustrated that the media was providing infotainment rather than information, and I was exhausted by the perpetual outrage cycle that the media was constantly feeding into. By focusing almost wholly on sensational click-bait stories, the media was creating a flawed and incomplete narrative of the state of the country, and I lost confidence in the news. Eventually, I cut back my consumption of news and took these revelations as a call to humility, a recognition that I need to try better to understand how others think outside of the narrative that I’d been presented with.

But many of my peers have done the opposite. They are more tuned in than ever into the cycle of outrage, each headline further reinforcing the narrative that the county faced an unprecedented threat in the form of Trump. For years I have watched in horror as purported liberals ironically adopted illiberal ideas in response to their fears that Trump’s term would usher in fascism. Apparently concluding that the ends would justify the means, they turned to illiberalism supposedly to protect against the decline of #Liberalism. Now people arguably on the left actively strive to censor ideas they do not like often on paternalistic grounds and to control the thoughts, speech, bodies, and behaviors of everyone else. Though operating in the name of anti-fascism, they became vocal proponents of fascist ideals.

This shift created a schism between myself and my supposed political allies on the left. The Liberal (in the classical, philosophical sense of ideology, not in the common usage that describes the political attitudes of people who tend to identify with the Democratic party and the left. I will use a capital ‘L’ to denote when I am referring to the Enlightenment philosophy rather than modern political attitudes.) values of liberty,  independence, pluralism, government restraint, and reason that I hold dear—that the country was founded on—used to be values that united the otherwise disparate populations of the United States.

Such cultural values form a creed, or a set of beliefs that the population shares, and creeds act as the nation's and individual's operating system, constantly running in the background of a person's mind so that they may not even be consciously aware of it though it shapes every action they take.  Increasingly, I find myself in a minority by continuing to champion these once bedrock ideals of Liberalism. There has been an ideological shift, and I frequently observe that Americans are disturbingly eager to cede longstanding Liberal ideals in favor of short-term exigencies. Even former champions of Liberalism like the ACLU are now retreating into this new illiberal mode of thought. In effect, many Americans now have a new set of values they operate on, values that are largely incompatible with the old. 

The Ideology Of Illiberalism

This burgeoning, illiberal ideology has the following values attached to it:

Collectivism: The mob rules over everyone. The individual is disposable and can be constrained to accomplish the group’s goals. It is proper to abridge the rights and welfare of the individual whenever the majority wishes it.

The individual is not intelligent or competent. The individual is easily swayed by information deemed dangerous by the group and therefore must be protected from that information through #censorship. There are no protections for deviant minorities.

There is a hollow dialectic of equity that fails to acknowledge that the group’s choices benefit some in the group more than others and a disregard for the harms suffered by those not favored by the group.

Authoritarianism: They believe heavily in expansive government and reliance on the state rather than on individual or local community reliance. Rather than limit government to protect individual freedom, government power should be utilized to the utmost to compel individuals into conforming to the majority. Again, since the majority assumes moral superiority, there are no protections for minority groups. They do not respect the concept of rule of law; rather, they feel the rules should be changed and constitutional rights violated to serve the desired ends. Moreover, general, unwarranted surveillance of the populace is appropriate, and the government should be able to compel individuals to act when it deems it necessary and without any due process.

Because of the jaundiced view of the individual as incompetent and ineffectual, there is a bias towards institutional solutions to every problem, especially government institutions. It is appropriate for the government to expand without limit to meet the goals of safety and conformity.

Further, every aspect of life and area of knowledge is outsourced to credentialed experts who are empowered to prescribe how the individual should act. #Science is reductionist and sacrosanct and, when wielded by authority, can quash non-quantitative, philosophical objections, including Liberal objections. Not complying with authority figures and experts is seen as immoral. Authority figures should be questioned sparingly. Absent state accreditation or other formal certification, the individual is not considered competent to question expert advice, which taken to the extreme means that the private individual should not question or criticize government policy. The lack of recognition of individual competence means the individual’s actions are not legitimate or appropriate when they contradict authority.

Risk Intolerance: They are completely intolerant of risk and discomfort, and they seek to eliminate all risk and suffering at all cost without reason. #Freedom is less important than safety. There is no balancing act, no recognition that some risks provide rewards, that some suffering can be necessary or even positive, or that the costs of eliminating the risk may outweigh the benefit. Anything that could cause pain is deemed an unmitigated evil to be avoided. These people believe that that which does not kill us does not make us stronger, and it is appropriate to employ government to avoid non-lethal risks. Every person is deemed drafted without due process to serve the cause of safety of others even at the expense of one’s own welfare. The collective pursuit of safety trumps the individual pursuit of happiness.

Because risk pervades all aspects of life, extreme risk avoidance coupled with #authoritarianism results in enabling government to police nearly every aspect of a person's life. The government can interfere to make the individual “safe” whether the individual wants it or not. Any person who admits a tolerance for some risk or hardship is deemed foolish, selfish, or malicious. Illiberalism encourages a culture of performative victimhood and discourages personal responsibility. The institutional bias inclines citizens to externalize all of their problems onto others and seek solutions outside of themselves instead of acknowledging their own loci of control.

This creates a cycle of fear; individuals are perceived as increasingly ineffectual in the face of institutional solutions, and that sense of impotence makes the world appear more dangerous in relation to the individual, who now has no sense of control over his own safety. The more risky the world appears to be, the more government and other authority figures are called on to make society safer, further disempowering the individual.

Conformity: There are right and wrong ways to behave and think, and the individual must conform to the group. There is no room for experimentation. Rather than tolerate diverse manners of lifestyles and faiths, the group expects the individual to bend to the majority. Once the group forms a consensus about a thought or action, then any deviance should be punished and eliminated. Dissenters are enemies, and questioning or criticizing the consensus even mildly is not permitted. If you are not with the group, you are against the group. Speech is deemed violence when incongruent with the group consensus. Loss of livelihood and ostracism are appropriate punishments for speech crimes and other deviant acts because it is important to send a message to those witnessing the speech that such divergence is unacceptable, which purposefully chills further such speech.

The marketplace of ideas needs to be highly regulated, and the individual should not be able to judge for him- or herself whether an idea has merit; rather, the group should actively censor supposedly inflammatory ideas and arguable misinformation to avoid allowing the individual, who is incompetent to judge for himself, to be seduced into deviance. The group must take control of the media in all its forms to ensure that only the accepted narrative is presented to the corruptible individual. It is an anti-intellectual and anti-scientific ideology, more concerned with ensuring that every person is indoctrinated into the proper mode of thought as determined by the elite members of the majority rather than trying to better understand the truth of a matter. Once the proper mode of though has been established by the majority (or more specifically the powerful elites who control the majority), it shall not be questioned, not even by disinterested scientists. If any new studies cast doubt on the group consensus, those studies should be censored. #Truth is something decided on by the most powerful voices in the #majority.

Post-Modernism: Nature is inherently flawed, individuals are broken, and technology is necessary to tame and correct both. There is no agreed upon #reality aside from the subjective group consensus dictated by the elite, no self-evident truths. Everything material is socially constructed and therefore not real, but the subjective is real when promoted by the majority. The focus is on fragmentary identities and labels that separate us from one another rather than on those universal truths that unite us. It is society’s and the individual’s job to validate other people’s subjective, internal realities and to constantly keep these subjective realities at the forefront of our existences, which perpetually reinforces the seeds of division that prevent true collective action and mobilization.

Liberalism vs. Illiberalism

Thus, illiberalism is a deeply paternalistic ideology that diminishes individual autonomy, eliminates diversity in thought and action, negates intelligent discourse, and uses government and institutional force to manipulate the populace into complying with the wishes of the elite. These modern values are in violent conflict with Liberalism’s values of individual liberty,  independence, pluralism, limited government, and reason. Americans now seem increasingly hostile to the Enlightenment ideals that provide the foundation for the country’s government. They value conformity more than liberty and diversity and cannot tolerate that their fellow citizens can think and believe differently than they do. And while these illiberal values have been flourishing on the left, many of the same tendencies are evident on the right as well (Although, due to reflexive opposition to the left and the fact that conservatives have become the target of leftist illiberalism, it is common to see those on the right today at least nominally defending Liberal values, unlike many on the left.).

Americans are more than willing to sacrifice freedom if it means they can be the ones dictating how others behave. No longer concerned with defending against illegitimate power, Americans now want to ensure they have the power to control other people's lives, bodies, thoughts, speech, and actions. Modern Americans value power more than freedom. We have regressed to the point that many Americans now openly sympathize with dictatorial appeals rather than the ideas of Enlightenment revolutionaries and philosophers. Consequently, the very rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution are under threat.

This illiberal ideology amounts to a secular #religion that a large portion of the population are attempting to foist on everyone else. The believers of illiberalism see their values as indisputable truth and will deride, police, ostracize, criminalize, and quash anyone who dares to question the new religion. To question or criticize is heresy. Consequently, to be a Liberal in today's society is to be a modern heretic.