Contrary to what Beck would seek to lead his viewers to believe, the driving force behind progressivism has not been communitarianism (i.e., what he calls socialism), but a very individualistic understanding of liberty.
The technical term for the political ideology that exalts the sovereignty of the individual is “Liberalism.” Liberalism, as classically construed, contains both the “conservative” and “liberal” ends of American politics, for both of these have, as their central tenant, the personal liberty of the individual.
As David Koyzis writes in his excellent book, Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (2003, IVP),
__“Today, we Westerners live in a world where it is taken for granted that people cannot enslave other people, that people can practice their respective faiths without harassment, and that intellectuals can promote controversial ideas without fear of at least legal if not social reprisals. All of these are the ripe fruit of liberalism, whose positive side cannot be denied. So thoroughly has this liberalism come to suffuse our political culture, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, that virtually all of us can be said to be liberals in some sense, even if we explicitly repudiate the label.” (pp. 44-45)
But the Liberal political ideology (i.e., of individual liberty) also has its flaws, according to Koyzis.
The reason that the “Progressives” (like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, JFK, and Lyndon Johnson - all the people that people like Glenn Beck say they "hate") initiated changes was not because that they were “socialists” but because they believed in individual liberty.
__“It is not only unable to account for the ontological status of community; it also ignores the connectedness of individuals to previous and succeeding generations. It pretends the individual is an isolated runner in the race, whose success of failure depends wholly on herself.
__“When it becomes apparent that this is not the case—that is, when liberals bump up against reality—they are often driven to pursue policies quite at variance with classical liberalism’s initial antistatist orientation."
What they were actually trying to do was subsidize people's ability to make personal choices. For instance, "children growing up in the south Bronx or the west side of Chicago lack the sorts of opportunities available to the child raised in suburban New Rochelle or Oak Park. If life is indeed a game, then the contestants have by no means got an equal start. Some have taken off from the starting gate with an extra advantage... Given their heightened sense of fair play, liberals seem driven to reexamine the rules of the game if some contestants are unjustly handicapped from the outset" (Koyzis, p. 59). The desire of American individualistic political theory is for each individual to get a "fair shake," an equal opportunity to the American dream. This is why the welfare state came into existence - it was an attempt to give individuals their liberty from the unfairness of what they inherited from their parents.
Koyzis shows that Beck's equation of today's progressive politicians to socialists is not quite right.
__“It is perhaps one of history’s ironies that liberals came to be identified with government programs so thoroughly that in
North Americathe ‘liberal’ label is almost always used to describe someone favoring the expansion of the welfare state to ensure greater economic equality. Elsewhere in the Western world such policies are usually labeled ‘social democratic,’ thus indicating a connection to socialism. It must be noted, however, that while socialists might favor the welfare state for distinctly communitarian reasons, liberals favor it for basically individualistic reasons. The welfare state is simply a means to enhance and expand the range of free choices available to the individual, not a weapon of class warfare.”
The Classical Liberals of Glenn Beck's ilk are responding to the expansion of government by the New Liberals by espousing that we revert back to an unregulated free market (what Koyzis calls the "Night Watchman State" - see my last post). But Koyzis has these wise words for us:
__"However, the classical liberal response to the bloated state...is fundamentally inadequate because it seeks merely to reverse a lengthy - and possibly inevitable, given liberalism's presuppositions - historical process, rather than to question in the first place liberalism's reduction of the state to a mere voluntary organization charged only with fulfilling the shifting terms of the social contract."
__"There is a seemingly vast distance between the classical liberal night watchman state and the late liberal bureaucratic state undertaking to subsidize freedom of choice. Yet what they have in common is that both are reducible to the aggregative wills of their constituent members. To the extent that this is so, liberals are unable to recognize the state to be essentially different from the church, the school, the business enterprise, the labor union, or the amateur baseball team. In this vision government exists not so much to adjudicate properly the multiple diverse interests in society, as to fulfill the aspirations of individuals, whatever form these may take at a given historical moment." (pp. 64-65)