Toward a Progressive Center

There are two or three things that I hope this website can accomplish. The most important is that it be part of a larger effort of many Americans to try to frame a progressive imagination for an American future that at the same time understands its rootedness in traditional values. For me this means the great tradition of humanistic values that is peculiar to the Judaeo-Hellenic heritage of the West.

Exactly what that means for Americans is hard to define at this moment in our history, because as a people we are now lost in time at the end of an age. Most Americans have very little sense of the history and traditions of the West. They have been a practical, future-oriented people, with little patience for reflection or for the melancholic intellectuals who are always finding fault with them for one reason or another. Americans respect intelligence, but not the negative, carping kind. Theirs has been a practical, project-oriented intelligence focused on building a future. History, for the most part, is bunk.

But we Americans face a problem now that is hard for us to grapple with, and that is a loss of a robust sense of future possibility. As individuals we have our private hopes and personal ambitions, but as a people, what now are our hopes and ambitions? As a people I would describe our collective condition now as rather hopeless. Who is there among our political or cultural leaders who is articulating a compelling vision of what American Society ought to become in the coming century?

When a society has no robust sense of future possibility, when it can no longer define itself in terms of its hopes, it reverts to defining itself in terms of its past, and in season and out, this has been the project of the cultural right. For the greater part of the Twentieth Century the cultural right has played only a minor role in shaping American culture and politics, but in the closing two decades of the last century it has grabbed hold of the American collective imagination rather by default.

My ideas about things are hardly fixed. I’m quite aware of the limitations of what I know and what I see. I know that many of the people reading about the ideas presented on this site don’t share my basic convictions, and that’s as it should be. But chief among my convictions is that both of the major parties have been hijacked by groups who have legitimate interests, but who have a disproportionately large influence in shaping their party’s culture and policies. They have been able to do this because they are disciplined and often fanatical in the pursuit of their political agendas. And in conflicts between fanatics and normal, unorganized, reasonable people, the fanatics always win.

What’s needed in American politics and culture is a dynamic, proactive, progressive center as a counterbalance to the fanaticism of extremists of both the left and the right. The DLC in the Democratic Party is not that progressive center; it’s really right of center and far too reactive to initiatives from the right . That group simply does not represent the future.

The part of the political world that I personally would feel most comfortable in right now doesn’t exist. It would be fairly left of center but only because Republican domination of political discourse has dragged the center so far to the right. I’m not comfortable with the label liberal, in part because of how it’s been so negatively caricatured by the right, but more because it’s a term that just doesn’t mean much. Are radical environmentalists liberals? I don’t think so. Is Evan Bayh or Al From a liberal? I guess Strom Thurmond and Tom DeLay think would think of thems as such. Are libertarians liberals or conservatives? Yes.

The American future will not be determined by the extreme right or the extreme left. It will be defined by a progressive, future-oriented center, that has not yet emerged. The purpose of this website is to be one of the places where some evolving consensus about what the shape of that Progressive Center might be. I have my ideas about it, and I'll be writing about it in the columns that I send out from time to time. But I also hope that others will contribute. In the long run I want this to be a forum for the development of a consensus, and I look at what I write as nothing more than one person's fairly limited attempt to think things through and to be a stimulus for others to think along with me.

So I envision the website as having three main parts. First a daily weblog entitled "In the News" that will be my take on the news and my identification of the articles or other links that relate to the concerns of people interested in developing a Progressive Center. Secondly an archive of the columns I've been writing on the subject. And thirdly, a message board or some mechanism through which people can participate. The third part is under development, but I hope to get it up soon. In the meanwhile you can email me your ideas or other links that you think are relevant to the purposes of this website, and I'll put them up on the site.

For the meaning of "eschatological," see the Bio.

Jack Whelan

November 2003