‘We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.’
-Woodrow Wilson (1909)
I feel that those words go beyond what I see as progressivism. I find the taint of elitism inherent in that expression of Wilson’s no different than the elitism that may dwell within the most conservative, materialistic, self-serving capitalist. I feel that at a certain point, one’s ‘good deeds’ become less about morality or about one’s commitment to social justice and more about boosting one’s own ego, and about gaining a sense of self-satisfaction. The self- declared autocrat, who may begin with most pure and benevolent intentions, can easily succumb to the intoxicating effects that power and zeal deliver.
There are those who may see no fault in Wilson’s quote, defending his point, perhaps pointing out that every society needs groups to accomplish those tasks that most will not want to do. Maybe that is the case, but I find fault with a centralized, pre-arranged plan that justifies itself by claiming it aims for equality. Though that may be the touted aim, it is likely it will fall victim to some form of favoritism sooner or later. To say that an authoritative body, group of leaders, or association of individuals entrusted with privileges that are not granted to the average person can be absolutely trusted with unlimited or unchecked power is not only naïve, but truly dangerous.
It’s the situation we find ourselves in now. A group of individuals, who are supposed to be our collective voice, who are said to represent us, and who are supposed to remain vigilant of our rights, have rendered our opinions unimportant, and have undermined the value of our selfhood, abating the individual rights and liberties that once characterized our country.
For me, progressivism has brought about many benefits to this society, but where I find fault is at that instant when constructive, conscientious measures begin to infringe upon our foundation of freedom and liberty. At that point, it is a disservice to the individual. Progress turns into hegemony—rather than offering a new array of options to choose from, choices are curtailed, and one is often forced into a streamlined choice, which may be said to be for the good of the whole, but which is really an insult to the individual. It is then that man is no longer man, but machine. It is one of the major fallacies that I could not yet see in communist or sometimes socialist systems while growing up, when everything seems to be ideology—when one has not yet experienced what it is like to live while wondering whether one’s government works for us or if one in fact works for the government.
Those measures which do away with choice, that decide what we, as individuals, should be deciding, cage us, rather than bring us benefit. I find absolute freedom more valuable because it carries with it the risk of failure, which is what makes success truly meaningful, and that is absent in a sheltered, programmed life, which is devoid of creativity and the genuine character within each of us, and that strives to make copies of us all.
J. González Solorio