Conservatives look to the past as a guide to the future. The past tells them who human beings are, and how they behave, and what is possible. In their approach to the future, conservatives are pragmatic and ground their hopes in experience. When the Founders were drawing up plans for the Republic they looked at the history of past republics and concluded that democracy was the least problematic form of government but that it posed the danger of a populist tyranny. So they instituted a system of checks and balances to guard against tyrannies of the majority and to provide the public with a cooling off period in which their emotion driven agendas could be corrected by reflection.
Progressives, by contrast, look to an imaginary future as a guide to the present and regard the experience of the past as “reactionary” and “backward.” Progressives have in their heads an image of what the future should look like based on emotion (hope and change), and they discount the experience of past and present as products of ignorance, prejudice and selfish interests, which they are determined to overcome.
Their agendas are actually much worse than this would suggest, since progressives imagine a future that is perfect, a new world in which there is no poverty, no bigotry, no irreconcilable conflict -- where there is “social justice.” Against this imaginary ideal world nothing that exists can be justified or defended, or in the words of the arch rebel “everything that exists deserves to perish.” These were words were spoken by Goethe’s Mephistopheles, and quoted approvingly by Karl Marx.
Progressives are focused on destroying what is in the name of an impossible what-can-be (“hope and change”) and it’s very hard for them – impossible for the truest believers -- to correct course when they are on the march and their programs aren’t working. All contrary counsel is seen not as experience-based wisdom but as obstruction and reaction.
Some years ago there was a C-Span debate between the “Democratic Socialist” -- an oxymoron if there ever was one -- Barbara Ehrenreich and the bloviating Cornel West on the left side and two Heritage Foundation fellows on the right. The subject was socialism and its failure in the Soviet Union and China. The Heritage team pointed out very politely and circumspectly as though embarrassed for the socialists on the platform that progressives had encountered some problems in implementing social justice in these countries and there were some casualties along the way. Responding, Barbara Ehrenreich said (or words to this precise effect): We’ve only been trying socialism for 250 years and it’s not surprising that mistakes were made. Side note: This woman’s book attacking American capitalism and re-invigorating socialist delusions is assigned reading for students in virtually every university in the nation – at some schools required for all incoming freshmen with no countervailing text.
The investment of progressives in an imaginary future that is perfect is the reason their loyalties to their country often seem uncertain. Every movement force threatening America (or as they would frame it “American power”) however barbaric (think Saddam Hussein or Hugo Chavez or Ahmadinejad or Hamas) can readily be seen by them as striving towards the imaginary future – the utopia of social justice – however distorted. It is always the reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries who are responsible. Cuba has been bankrupted by a deranged dictator and economic crackpot, but the American “blockade” is responsible. The Palestinians behave like Nazis with a national culture that is a death cult, but Israeli “apartheid” is responsible. Muslim radicals are homicidal racists, but that’s just because they’re oppressed by corporate America. Once they’re liberated and able to enter the kingdom of social justice, they will become enlightened like their progressive apologists.
While sabotaging America’s wars abroad and national security measures at home, progressives will protest that they are patriotic and love their country, and want it to live up to its ideals. But their love is reserved for an ideal America that doesn’t exist and as long as it is inhabited by flesh and blood -- and therefore corruptible -- human beings never will.