Friday, November 17, 2023


Yesterday, in the Opinion section of The New York Times, Pamela Paul published a piece titled "Progressives Aren't Liberal." It's pretty much what you'd expect from her:
More reactionary still is the repressive nature of progressive ideals around civil liberties. It is progressives — not liberals — who argue that “speech is violence” and that words cause harm. These values are the driving force behind progressive efforts to shut down public discourse, disrupt speeches, tear down posters, censor students and deplatform those with whom they disagree.
I will note that the link Paul attaches to the words "speech is violence" takes you to an opinion piece by Jonathan Turley that doesn't quote anyone saying "speech is violence." It does quote a heckler at an Ann Coulter speech at Cornell who said, "Your words are violence." I wonder whether Paul knows that in 2002 Coulter said to a sympathetic interviewer, “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.”

But Paul wouldn't object to that joke about a terrorist bombing aimed at the company that employs her, right? She says it's "reactionary" to believe that "words cause harm." Oh, wait, sorry -- she doesn't actually believe that, as we learn from a later paragraph in her column:
(One might argue that it is similarly illiberal for universities to suspend or cut funding to student groups that support Palestinian rights, as several have done, though those actions often came after chants by the groups that administrators considered threatening toward Jews.)
PAMELA PAUL: It's reactionary to think that words cause harm, and it's illiberal to censor students and deplatform them because you disagree with what they say. ALSO PAMELA PAUL: It's fine to shut down student groups because of their chants.

But the readership of The New York Times is dogmatically left-wing, so surely this column must have been met by howls of outrage! Right? Well, no, not really. Of the eleven comments that have received 400 or more reader recommendations, only two are in any way critical of the column. Here's the most-recommended comment (1548 recommendations):
Thank you! I've been struggling to understand why progressives often rub me the wrong way. I wondered if I was missing something, but this article helps me understand why I am a proud liberal, but not a progressive.
Here are excerpts from other highly recommended comments:
This is 100% true. The progressive movement of the 2020s is a terrifying regime of exclusion, division, alienation, racial primacy, and ideological totalitarianism. If you dare to question progressive catechism in the slightest, prepare for excommunication and extreme retribution. And now they are veering into MAGAesque violence and disruptive tactics — they have become the very people they despise.


A liberal wants to make society better and tries to do so. A liberal priorities virtuous action.

A progressive wants to engage in performative acts so that everyone knows that they want to make the world better. A progressive prioritizes virtue signaling.


Agreed. I no longer call myself progressive for exactly these reasons. These loud purity police have become intolerable, but how do we take back the reins for moderation?


Thanks, Ms. Paul. I increasingly believe that many members of the very young generation who like to think of themselves as woke, or progressive, are not only not liberal, they're not even left-wing.

I see their bigotry--their ageism ("Ok, Boomer"). I see their ageist misogyny. (They even turned the word millions of older women are called, "Karen," into a slur--which is no different from turning the word for someone's skin color or religion into a slur, and associating those slurs with ridiculous caricatures to try to exert control. And yes, before anyone protests at the comparison, older women have been discriminated against for as long as there has been a patriarchy--mocked, sidelined, and even burned alive *en masse* as witches whenever they spoke up or otherwise opposed the patriarchy. Don't these kids know that lumping people into groups and using slurs is bigotry in its purest form?)

I hear their absolutist, black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us, good-or-evil speech and and am reminded, appallingly, of other such concrete thinkers of history who believe they, and only they, have right on their side. There are many ways to describe such people, but "left wing" isn't one of them. Nor is "liberal." And if the world they are advocating for is "progress," then god help us all.

I'm tired of hearing the media describe these absolutist, free-speech-hating, cancelling, and now even pro-Hamas kids as "left wing." On the contrary, they're as far to the right as they come.


I'm glad to see this finally articulated. The modern progressive no longer seems to share truly liberal values. As a liberal, I've always considered the core of my values to be fairness and compassion. Modern progressivism is more akin to an outrage machine, always looking to create clear sides on every issue, or to compare hatred between groups like it's a badge to be the most marginalized. Liberals condemn injustice everywhere while the new progressives seem to thrive on its continued existence- and consider any belief opposed to theirs so inconceivable, they shout down all other voices. I suppose the political spectrum is a circle, if you go either way far enough all you get is totalitarianism and ignorance.


Excellent essay. You have described my once progressive self and now liberal self exactly. Progressives have lost their way. They obsess about their identities instead of universal health care. I’m sorry to say that to me progressives have grown increasingly hostile towards anyone who dares to challenge them. They have no interest in working with liberals and moderates. Anyway, I’m no longer homeless; I’ve found a home with liberals.
This is the target audience for the Times: people who tell themselves they lean left because they hate Donald Trump, support abortion rights, and invite their gay relatives to Thanksgiving without flinching, but who are barely on the left, if they're there at all.

It's fine to be troubled by some of what takes place on the left, but Paul's disgust rises to the level of monomania, and her readers' gleeful agreement with her suggests that whether they realize it or not, they'd be more comfortable with a President Trump than a President Ocasio-Cortez. That's not liberal.

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