Imperialism: The Antecedent of Contemporary Illiberalism
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.