A Michigan philosophy grad student and friend (Chris Dodsworth) contacted me with two good questions directed at certain of my recent claims (made in On the possibility of getting through to the right and The dialogue continues on whether dialogue is worthwhile). First, he wonders: what, exactly, is the progressive agenda (that I claim is "clearly correct, by every reasonable factual standard and nearly every reasonable moral standard (such that provincial prejudices and antiquated religious dictates are not enshrined as virtues")? Chris worries that the referent of 'progressive agenda' is too vague to attack (or defend). Second, Chris wonders (insofar as I claim that " bettering the interests of the many as opposed to those of the already wealthy few is not an objective that can reasonably be questioned", and moreover that the facts are in as regards whether progressive or rightwing policies better satisfy this objective) whether I see the progressive agenda as motivated by a consequentialist meta-ethical framework (in which case, since people disagree over which of these frameworks is best, there would at least be this much room to deny that the progressive agenda is correct).
To Chris's first question, I respond that I don't think that reference to the "progressive agenda" is too vague to attack or defend. Though there is disagreement at the boundaries, there is a strong and stable core of progressive values, principles and would-be policies that nearly all progressives share, and which contrast with the values, principles and would-be policies that characterize the American right.
Two staples of the progressive agenda that I mentioned in my previous posts are:
(1) That the interests of the majority should not be sacrificed to the wealthy (and let's also say: the powerful) few, and
(2) That provincial prejudices and antiquated religious doctrines (and let's also say: unsound ideologies, like the neocon's imperialism) should not be enshrined, encouraged, or used to guide policy.
Other parts of the progressive agenda are, it seems to me, more or less
corollaries to these. So, for example, it is a core progressive value
that war is to be avoided except in the most extreme circumstances, and
should never be waged for purposes of profit, power, or the creating of
political capital (so that resources that could go towards improving
the lives of the many are diverted to enhance the power and wealth of
the few); that the processes of good government should be transparent
(so that the few powerful and wealthy don't get to set agendas that
increase their power and wealth, to the detriment of the many, behind
closed doors); that workers should have the right to and not be
intimidated against organizing (so that the few powerful and wealthy
aren't in a position to increase their wealth and power to their
workers' determinental expense); that social services like healthcare
should be (when feasible, as it surely is in the U.S.) freely available
and not financially onerous and that, as mentioned previously, the
resources that would make such social services possible are not
inappropriately diverted (e.g., to military corporations and other
industries that profit from war); that the government needs to and
should regulate the health and safety of workers and the preservation
of the environment (since, as a matter of fact, corporations run on the
profit motive don't willingly do these things by themselves); and so
on, and so on.
In my conversation with Chris on this matter, he responded "I don't think that anyone would *not* hold the two principles you cite".
But, pace Chris, I think that the denial of (1) is indeed a driving principle of the American right, and reflects this being effectively the party/faction of corporate and elite dominion. Of course rightwingers tend not to explicitly present their agenda as being against or incompatible with (1), since (as Benj and I have long been saying in discussing the asymmetry of reliability between the left and the right) if the majority of people really understood that their interests were being so completely subverted in favor of those of the wealthy and powerful few, they wouldn't vote Republican. This is why the right requires enormous propaganda mills, both to perpetuate distractions based on fear and cultural divisions, and to paper over (by ignoring) the ongoing upward transfer of wealth, unjustified but incredibly profitable warmongering, decimation of the environment, suppression of unions, corruption and croneyism, etc., in order to keep people voting Republican. As usual, we have to be able to distinguish between what people say and what people do in order to determine what they really believe/what is really motivating their behavior; and this is especially true for the American right. All this is related to whether rightwingers accept (2): again, pace Chris, the encouragement, enshrining and implementation in policy of provincial prejudice, antiquated religious doctrines, and unsound ideologies is part and parcel of the necessary strategy of distracting and whipping up the rightwing base.
To Chris's second question concerning whether I see the progressive agenda as motivated by a consequentialist framework, I reply: This is a good question, but not an easy one to answer, in part because I think this agenda gets formed on the basis of solid pretheoretical intuitions about what is good and just, as opposed to falling out of any specific semi-formalized account of what would be good and just. As those who have even passing acquaintance with the major semi-formalized accounts are aware, all of these break down under certain extreme circumstances of application. On the other hand, they more or less agree for the central cases. So far as I can tell, the progressive agenda is supported by any of the major semi-formalized accounts, that (again) do not enshrine provincial prejudice, antiquated religious doctrines, or unsound ideology, as virtues. This might rule out communitarianism and "self-interest above all" accounts, but I think it's perfectly compatible with a deontological account and also with virtue ethics, so long (again) as what counts as a virtue is not a matter of provincial prejudice, etc..
Thanks to Chris for giving me an opportunity to think more about these issues.