The Ratchet

Spinoza writes:

A while ago, your theme was cyclical progressive “great awakenings”, wasn’t it? I think you meant by this that reality eventually catches up to progressive excess every generation or so, to be followed by another awakening.
But lately you seem worried that the progressive victory is permanent.
If I am correctly representing two views you have, do you see them as compatible? I hope so.

I’m not sure reality ever catches up with Progressives. They simply exhaust themselves and go into a dormant phase for a while. The Progressive Movement under Wilson pushed through a massive expansion of Federal power, but eventually ran out of steam in World War I. Some of Wilson’s more egregious polices were rolled back, like the Sedition Act, but much of it remained. The movement went dormant in the 20’s, but came back to life in the 30’s with FDR and the New Deal.

Similarly, some of the New Deal was rolled back. The big programs like Social Security remained, but much of the central planning was slowly peeled back. Still, the paradigm had shifted and there was no going back to the pre-FDR ways. The Federal state would play the dominant role in the lives of Americans.

It is the ratchet effect. The Progressive push begins and we get a series of clicks until finally some push-back and the advance is arrested. The core holds for a while and then the advance begins against. Click, click, click and then another pause.

We’re certainly headed to a period of normalization, but there will be no roll back of anything we have seen over the last decade. I’m not even sure there will be any attempt at roll back. Eisenhower talked about a reigning in the military-industrial complex. Reagan talked about a rollback the welfare state. There’s exactly no one in public life talking about a course correction, much less rollback.

The great question is whether we have reached a point where the traditional American core is so weak and so broken that it cannot stabilize. After the cultural revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, there was still a large stable base of sensible, prosperous Americans able to restore sanity to the country. That base is greatly diminished today and may simply be too weak to rally after the latest onslaught.

That said, it is easy to lose sight of the silent majority. In the 70’s, people really and truly thought the country was lost. Jimmy Carter gave speeches about how it was all downhill and we better get used to it. I recall G. Gordon Liddy talking about how he and his coevals thought they were facing a revolution. That did not happen. Things stabilized and we had a nice run of peace and prosperity. You never know what is over the next hill.

7 thoughts on “The Ratchet

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  2. The growth of government via Progressive schemes for more socialism and its attendant “programs”, requires money and lots of it. When the money stops, so will the programs, and government will shrink or rearrange itself into a more manageable size. Who knows when the gravy train for Fed. government runs out, but Greece and Puerto Rico are the canaries in the coal mine.

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  4. Things in public/political life can never return to where they were. It is like a spiral that may, for a time, go one way but it even going the other direction doesn’t stop it ever expanding.

    When the UK’s Labour government in the immediate post wars years introduced all sorts of nationalisation including the National Health Service, the die was cast that all public/political discussions from then on were never likely to be whether a ‘service’ at the public expense should be curtailed, but only how it could be ‘improved’ or ‘refined.’ In the case of the NHS, it became such political hot potato that no subsequent government even remotely dared to challenge whether this was the best system or not. Even the most supposedly right-leaning Tory government was always at pains (no pun intended) to emphasise how committed they were to the ideal of the NHS.

    This by the way doesn’t stop all the protests from the hard-of-thinking lefties who scream that ‘The Tories Are Out To Kill The NHS’ when there is never the slightest doubt the Conservatives would never consider such an option in a zillion years. Both socialist and supposedly right-wing administrations spend vast amounts time and effort on the NHS and all of them pump billions into it and merely argue the direction of this huge ‘investment’

    The issue however does get clouded by for example the appearance of Blair in 97. All politicians began to think that left-leaning, young(ish) looking and ‘with it’ was the only way forward. The old (and for that matter, the experienced) were out and so too was anyone who wasn’t ‘switched on’ and had camera appeal. So Cameron wins and spouts the same thing that Labour would spout if they won. True, it doesn’t stop the lefties hating him but then they hate their own leaders too, so at least in this nothing changes.

    • You hear the same thing about Social Security here on this side of the Atlantic. Just once I’d love to hear a candidate for office, when accused of wanting to get rid of Social Security say “Yeah, I DO want to get rid of it.” As for Reagan, he stopped the rate at which the wrench moved forward, but not the movement. I’m with Derbyshire- I think we are doomed!

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