Liberals and Progressives


The age-old question of “liberal” versus “progressive” prompted a reasonably reasonable post from Martin Peretz, and a surprisingly unreasonable (see Henry Farrell) one from Jacob Levy. I describe myself both ways, and thought I’d introspect a bit on my usage of the terms.

To me, “liberal” denotes a certain political philosophy whereas “progressive” is more like a political coalition. Certain strands of environmentalist thinking are, for example, pretty philosophically alien to my approach to politics, but we’re still all part of the same progressive political coalition, opposed to a conservative political coalition that fights any and all restrictions on industry’s ability to pollute. More generally, the evidence strongly suggests that the vast majority of people don’t have anything resembling a coherent political philosophy. Nevertheless, many of these voters are consistent members of the progressive political coalition out of self-interest, reflex, demographic habit, whatever.