October 26, 2001
Liberal Democracy vs. Transnational Progressivism
The Future of the Ideological Civil War Within the West
by John Fonte

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, on October 5, 2001, Francis Fukuyama declared that his "end of history" thesis remains valid twelve years after he first presented it shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Fukuyama's core argument was that after the defeat of Communism and National Socialism, no serious ideological competitor to Western-style liberal democracy was likely to emerge in the future. Thus, in terms of political philosophy, liberal democracy is the end of the evolutionary process. To be sure, there will be wars and terrorism, but no alternative ideology with a universal appeal will seriously challenge the ideas and values of Western liberal democracy as the "dominant organizing principles" around the world.

He correctly points out that non-democratic rival ideologies such as radical Islam and "Asian values" have little appeal outside their own cultural areas, but these areas are themselves vulnerable to penetration by Western democratic ideas. The attacks of September 11, notwithstanding, "we remain at the end of history," Fukuyama insists, "because there is only one system that will continue to dominate world politics, that of the liberal-democratic West." There is nothing beyond liberal democracy "towards which we could expect to evolve." Fukuyama concludes by stating that there will be challenges from those who resist progress, "but time and resources are on the side of modernity."

Indeed, but is "modernity" on the side of liberal democracy? No doubt, Fukuyama is very likely right that the current crisis will be overcome, and that, at the end of the day, there will be no serious ideological challenge originating outside of Western civilization. Nevertheless, I would like to suggest that there already is an alternative ideology to liberal democracy within the West that for decades has been steadily, and almost imperceptibly, evolving.

Liberal democracy has traditionally meant a self-governing representative system comprised of individual citizens who enjoy freedom and equality under law and together form a people within a liberal democratic nation-state. Thus, liberal democracy means individual rights, national citizenship, and democratic representation. Yet, all of these principles, along with the very idea of the liberal democratic nation-state, are "contested" today within the West, suggesting that we have not reached "the end of history" in the ideological sense delineated by Fukuyama.

It is entirely possible that modernity thirty or forty years hence will witness not the final triumph of liberal democracy, but the triumph of a new type of transnational hybrid regime that is post-liberal democratic, and in the context of the American republic, post-Constitutional and post-American. I will call this alternative ideology "transnational" or "global" "progressivism." This ideology constitutes a universal and modern worldview that challenges in theory and practice both the liberal democratic nation-state in general and the American regime in particular.

The Key Concepts of Transnational Progressivism

(1) The ascribed group over the individual citizen

The key political unit is not the individual citizen who forms voluntary associations and works with fellow citizens regardless of race, sex, or national origin, but the ascriptive group (racial, ethnic, or gender) into which one is born. This emphasis on race, ethnicity, and gender leads to group consciousness and a de-emphasis of the individual's capacity for choice and for transcendence of ascriptive categories, joining with others beyond the confines of social class, tribe, and gender to create a cohesive nation.

(2) A dichotomy of groups: Oppressor groups vs. Victim groups, with immigrant groups designated as victims

Influenced (however indirectly) by the Hegelian Marxist thinking associated with the Italian writer Antonio Gramsci and the Central European theorists known as the Frankfurt School, global progressives posit that throughout human history there are essentially two types of groups: the oppressor and the oppressed, the privileged and the marginalized. (For a detailed examination of Gramscian or Hegelian Marxist influence in contemporary American political life see my "Why There is a Culture War: Gramsci and Tocqueville in America" (Policy Review, December 2000/January 2001.) In the United States, oppressor groups would include white males, heterosexuals, and "Anglos;" whereas "victim" groups would include blacks, gays, Latinos (including obviously many immigrants), and women.

Multicultural ideologists have incorporated this essentially Hegelian Marxist "privileged vs. marginalized" dichotomy into their theoretical framework. As political philosopher James Ceaser puts it, multiculturalism is not "multi" or concerned with many groups, but "binary" concerned with two groups, the hegemon (bad) and "the Other" (good) or the oppressor and the oppressed. Thus, in global progressive ideology, "equity" and "social justice" mean strengthening the position of the victim groups and weakening the position of oppressors-hence group preferences are justified. Accordingly, equality under law is replaced by legal preferences for traditionally victimized groups. Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that illegal immigrants as a class are discriminated against, thus placing them into the victim status entitled to preferential treatment as a group.

(3) Group proportionalism as the goal of "fairness"

Global Progressivism assumes that "victim" groups should be represented in all institutions of society roughly proportionate to their percentage of the population or, at least, of the local work force. Thus, if women make up 52% of the population and Latinos make up 10% of the population, then 52% of all corporate executives, doctors, and insurance salesmen should be women and 10% should be Latinos. If not, there is a problem of "under representation" or imbalance that must be rectified by government and civil society. Thomas Sowell recently wrote-as he has been writing for several decades-that many Western intellectuals perpetually promote some version of "cosmic justice" or form of equality of result, what American political scientist Robert Dahl calls "substantive justice." The "group proportionalism" paradigm is pervasive in Western society, even the U.S. Park Service is concerned because 85% of all visitors to the nation's parks are white, although whites make up only 74% of the population. Therefore, the Park Service announced recently that it is working on this "problem."

(4) The values of all dominant institutions must be changed to reflect the perspectives of the victim groups

Transnational Progressives in the United States (and elsewhere) insist that it is not enough to have proportionate numbers of minorities (including immigrants, legal and illegal) and women in major institutions of society (corporations, churches, universities, armed forces) if these institutions continue to reflect a "white Anglo male culture and world view." Different groups such as ethnic and linguistic minorities have different ways of viewing the world. Their values and cultures must be respected and represented within these institutions. They should not be expected simply to conform to the mainstream or dominant ("hegemonic") culture. At a U.S. Department of Education conference promoting bilingual education, SUNY professor Joel Spring declared, "We must use multiculturalism and multilingualism to change the dominant culture of the United States." He noted, for example, that unlike Anglo culture, Latino culture is "warm" and would not promote harsh disciplinary measures in the schools.

(5) The Demographic Imperative

Global Progressives declare that demographic changes require Americans to alter their value system. The demographic imperative tells us that major demographic changes are occurring in the United States as millions of new immigrants from non-Western cultures and their children enter American life in record numbers. At the same time, the global interdependence of the world 's peoples and the transnational connections among them will increase. All of these changes render the traditional paradigm of American nationhood obsolete. That traditional paradigm based on individual rights, majority rule, national sovereignty, citizenship, and the assimilation of immigrants into an existing American civic culture is too narrow and must be changed into a system that promotes "diversity," defined, in the end, as group proportionalism.

(6) The Redefinition of democracy and "democratic ideals"

Global Progressives are redefining democracy from a system of majority rule among equal citizens to power sharing among ethnic groups composed of both citizens and non-citizens. For example, the current Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in 1995 that it is "undemocratic" for California to exclude non-citizens, specifically illegal aliens, from voting. Former Immigration and Naturalization (INS) general counsel, T. Alexander Aleinikoff declares that "[we] live in a post-assimilationist age" and states that majority preferences simply "reflect the norms and cultures of dominant groups" (as opposed to the norms and cultures of "feminists and people of color"). James Banks, one of American education's leading textbook writers says: "To create an authentic democratic Unum with moral authority and perceived legitimacy the pluribus (diverse peoples) must negotiate and share power." In effect, Banks is saying, existing American liberal democracy is not quite authentic; real democracy is yet to be created. It will come when the different "peoples" or groups that live within America "share power" as groups.

(7) Deconstruction of National Narratives and National Symbols