Progressivism: Conserving Bourgeoisie Power from the Threat of Revolution
Del Noce helps us understand the logic and purpose of progressivism, why woke capital walks hand in hand with the progressives, and what the end game is. Progressives are the true "conservatives."
One of the problems I encounter all the time when talking politics is that people generally accept most of the political categories they are given. Democrats are “liberals” and Republicans are “conservative.” The “right” and the “left” are fundamentally different. Republicans and the right are supporters of “big business,” but Democrats are for the “average guy.” Following politicians and the political process is vital for understanding what is going on. In the west we all participate in some form of democratic rule. Elections matter. On and on one could go.
While it is useful to learn about concepts like the “administrative state” and to understand how power has shifted from factory owning bourgeoisie to the “managers,” and even though it does pierce the veil somewhat, it does not go deep enough. I have always suspected that the truth of the matter is, in many ways, a reversal of the categories we normally use. Reading Augusto del Noce, in Carlo Lancellotti’s excellent collection of his essays, The Crisis of Modernity, has been revelatory. All the things you sense are happening, but could never quite argue the way you want, are convincingly explained and reasoned out on page after page. It is hard to remember at times that many of these essays were written 50 or more years ago.
Take for example: “progressivism.” We usually think of this as a radically left-wing liberal movement. But the correct way to understand progressivism is that it is in truth a conservative movement which functions to neuter the threat of revolutionary Marxism to the bourgeoisie. Let that sink in. Once we understand this, and the true battle that the progressives are waging, the path forward to meaningfully threatening their power clarifies itself.
To properly place the things we are about to discuss in this piece, we must remind ourselves that a few hundred years back, the merchant class began to accumulate the kind of wealth through commercial ventures that would allow it to meaningfully threaten the old nobility and the land based economic system which undergirded its power. With the bourgeoisie assent to power came a whole host of changes. There was the Protestant Reformation. The introduction of representative forms of government. There was an explosion of learning, resulting in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. This brought science and technology. With the commercial class at the center of power, it is understandable that “the market” became central to their ideas of liberty. Free markets became the ideal. It would only be natural for them to describe the free exchange of ideas in commercial terms. Hence, the “marketplace of ideas.”
As these ideas aged and the political and social power of the bourgeoisie capital class coalesced, they used that power to ward of challenges to their position as society’s leadership class. It is this dynamic that we need to grasp. Typically, from a political point of view, the “conservatives” are the group in power who wish to maintain the status quo. They benefit from the current system and want to use the system to keep everything the way it is as long as possible. They want to use the system to keep their position of wealth and power secure.
At the same time, a ruling class that cannot adapt is also doomed. It is these adaptations to which we need to pay close attention. Because bourgeoisie power was built through the idea of free markets and with it ideas of political liberty and democracy, while at one time revolutionary, slowly they became associated with a “conservative” position. That is, these institutions associated with “liberty” and “the market” and so forth “conserved” the power of the bourgeoisie. Hence, they were “conservative.”
As markets consolidated, and through the process of industrialization, the needs of the bourgeoisie changed. Distributed ownership became widespread and with it the use of stock markets. As enterprises grew and became more complex, and because they were often not owned by one person anymore, new forms of management were needed. Over time, power within business shifted from the owners to the managers, the experts tasked with running businesses. The key thing to understand about the shift to managerialism, is that this is not a shift of power away from the bourgeoisie to another group within society, but it was rather a shift of power within the bourgeoise. It is vital to understand this point, that managerialism within corporations, government and a wide swath of other institutions is about the maintenance of bourgeoisie power and is thus “conservative.” Del Noce calls this shift an ideological reversal or inversion and shifts the ideology of the bourgeoisie away from markets, democracy, freedom and so forth—the old language of bourgeoisie conservatism—to that of progressivism. Progressivism is now the new language of conservatism. It still claims many of the old concepts as labels for progressivism, but empties them of their content and reverses their meanings. With that overview, lets dive into del Noce and put some meat on the bone.
The Culture War: The Political Battle of Our Time
We need to remember that del Noce was producing his mature thought in the 60’s and 70’s. Already then, he was saying that the “culture war” (and he uses that term) is at the heart of what is happening politically. Culture is the decisive battleground. Winning the culture war is necessary for the bourgeoisie to maintain their power position. Scientism. Eroticism. Secularization. Atheism. All these are bound together at the heart of what is happening. He argues that the idea that progressivism is what it claims it is, and that it represents the fulfilment of and the highest form of the democratic impulse, and is the primary vehicle for fighting anti-fascism is a falsification of language.
At its root, the core idea foundational for progressivism is a denial of the divine, of any notions of transcendence. It must banish the spiritual, the supernatural and even the idea of a metaphysical moral order. It desires to replace all of these with materialism, positivism, empiricism, pragmatism and scientism. At its heart, progressivism is fighting a holy war against the Christian religion and the structures which strengthen it, chiefly the family. It views “science” as the one exclusive form of knowing. Any problem which cannot be examined “rationally” through scientific analysis, that cannot be measured or quantified is declared to be nonsense. No dialogue is possible with those who refuse to accept the conclusions of science. Scientism argues that people who disagree with its declarations are irrational and emotional. This was leaned on hard during the height of Covid, for example.
Because scientism denies the validity of all other forms of knowing, it is essentially a totalitarian way of thinking which desires to impose its one way of thought on everyone. Scientism desires a complete negation of the spiritual, the transcendent and the supernatural. This embrace of scientism by progressives is a totalitarian effort of negation and disintegration. Because Christianity instantiates its transcendent beliefs in historical structures which are professed to be in harmony with the transcendent metaphysical reality, it is necessary for progressives to attack these structures, the most important of which is the family. And with the family, fatherhood, and with fatherhood, the idea of a “fatherland.” The notion of “tradition” has its foundation in the goodness of these structures that are then passed on from generation to generation. All “fatherlands” must be targeted and destroyed. The main means to do this is through sexuality.
Once the family is destroyed, what replaces it will be the large corporations, the large organizations, both state and non-governmental, and political parties. These all work to the benefit of the bourgeoise ruling class. Technical managerialism is the operating system which binds all of these large organizational entities together. They begin to work in many ways like fiefdoms.
This, argues del Noce, is how the West ends. The destruction of the Christian faith, a living belief in the transcendent, achieved through the destruction of the family, whose function is then taken over by the corporations, the organizations and the political parties, and the enslavement of those who are defeated in the cultural wars. To secure their own power, the bourgeoisie use progressivism to destroy their one major challenger: the Christian faith and the family. The result is that all who are not managers become slaves to the managers. On a global scale. This is what we face.
The losers of the culture war will be enslaved to the winners. Looking out over the landscape of America today, this helps us understand much of what we are seeing all around us.
Once we face and comprehend what is actually happening, it becomes clear that all our current political categories are meaningless. The terms “left” and “right” are empty concepts. There is a new “ethical reality” that will remain unintelligible as long as we use terms like communism, fascism, liberalism, democracy and so forth. Even relatively new terms like technocratic and consumerist or “the affluent society” cannot adequately explain what is happening.
Today’s progressive totalitarianism has as its goal complete world domination through the disintegration of all culture, through the destruction of all ideas of the “fatherland.”
The Crisis in Anti-Fascism
So how did this happen? Del Noce argues that it sprang out of an internal crisis among those who were battling fascism. In the anti-fascist movement, the very idea of culture itself began to be associated with the idea of fascism. There was a hair trigger response not just to authoritarian figures (i.e. father figure populist leaders), but to anyone who looked to the past, defend the past, called upon tradition and so forth. The past itself became forbidden, a source of fascist inspiration.
This fear of the past becomes linked to standard ideas about the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution in particular, and represented in the minds of the emerging progressives a decisive break from “authoritarianism,” and was also seen as the inflection point in the transition to a post-Christian society, one in which the authority of church and Christianity would be neutered. What comes out of this understanding is an “axiological” attitude toward the past. Modernity is a value unto itself and represents a decisive break with the past, with tradition. It is an irreversible process with one direction that would eventually result in the disappearance of religious transcendence and the supernatural, such that it would be no longer possible to “revert” to such ideas. This would prevent the re-emergence of fascism. Secularization is the process of excluding the supernatural from society, from its public forms.
The bourgeoisie spirit agreed with this axiological view of history. The idea of God was shifted from a transcendent being to something horizontal. God is active in society and history. God is active in human progress. God is the process of progressive history. To go back to tradition becomes a denial of God. In this sense, fascism becomes a sin against history, a sin against human progress. It is those who fear the future and want to take refuge in the past who are likely to form a fascio, a club or group, and put themselves into the hands of a charismatic, authoritarian, leader.
To the progressive, goodness is located in the future and sin is located in the past, in tradition and in the structures which support and maintain past traditions. To look to the past is the to look for your salvation in sin itself. It is a desire to cling to sin. This creates a binary. All traditionalism is inherently fascist in nature, and thus bad or evil. This is why any movement that seeks to restore the original meaning of the Constitution, or install originalist judges, or Make America Great Again, or even the desire to recover the America of the 1950’s or 1990’s, even the slightest impulse in that direction demonstrates an unhealthy bias towards the past, which is a bias towards what is bad, and is evidence of fascist impulses. All progressivism casts itself as anti-fascist and therefore good. Del Noce call this binary nonsense.
What understanding this does for us, though, is that it properly identifies the true nature of the battle. The fight is essentially a moral and spiritual conflict. It is not historical, political or economic. Engaging the war on those grounds is essentially losing before you even begin to fight, because you are admitting and accepting the progressive terms of engagement and their framing of the battle. The one thing that the progressive truly fears is genuine a Christian religious revival occurring for its own sake, in large part because a living Christian faith is rooted in a long enduring tradition and metaphysical moral order.
What this means, in the end, is that politics, economics and even technical progress must be subordinated to transcendent spiritual and moral values.
Communism and Fascism: the Post-Nietzsche Environment
“The contradiction between conservatism and revolution within the progressive position leads to a falsification of language, which is the foundation of every aspect of today’s situation, both the crisis of democracy and of moral disintegration.”
The first step to breaking free from this axiological understanding of the past and historical progress within progressivism (and thus being able to see the essentially conservative nature of progressivism), is to abandon the idea that both fascism and Nazism are reactionary movements. Because the idea of “revolution” has itself taken on a positive moral value, there can be no “bad” revolution. Therefore, the argument goes, because fascism has been deemed “bad” it therefore cannot be a revolution. It must be something else. It becomes “reaction.” It reacts to the good by elevating the evil.
But, argues del Noce, we should not understand fascism as a “traditionalist” movement because it accepts the claims of Nietzsche about the “death of God” and rejects the idea of “truth” in favor of power. Thus, both fascism and Marxism spring from the same intellectual context. In fascism there is no religious belief in the transcendent. The past is mere “myth” to be exploited in a revolution. In this sense, Mussolini and Hitler are thoroughly modern in the axiological sense and share the same materialist foundations as does Marx. They are two sides of revolutionary modernism in that both deny the transcendent. Fascism is revolutionary past utopianism. Marxism is revolutionary future utopianism. For the fascist the primary category is “race.” For the Marxist the primary category is “class.”
In the battle against Mussolini and Hitler, there was the impression among the intellectual set, the bourgeoisie intelligentsia, that in order to be anti-fascist, one had to abandon being anti-communist. Because of the modernist bias towards the future and the prejudice against the past as inherently authoritarian, Nazism was cast as being anti-modern, which it was not, because it accepted Nietzsche’s categories. But for intellectuals, unless you wanted to be branded as a fascist, you quietly let go of your anti-Marxism. You convinced yourself that Marxism would eventually become “democratic.” Increasingly after World War 2, secular enlightenment liberalism was reconciled to Marxism in socialism largely through the mechanism of technical managerialism.
This reconciliation was achieved by banishing the idea of a truly transcendent religion and with it the supernatural and embracing the materialism of scientism. In this transformation process, “criticism” shifts from being critical of the present bourgeoisie order and power structures, to a criticism of the past and all traditional ideas. The past essentially becomes fascist in its nature. What this does is that it keeps the notion of “criticism” that the Marxists love by directing it at the past and all traditional institutions, forms and beliefs; while at the same time rejecting the revolutionary ideas and so keeping the classical liberals happy, allowing them to continue to embrace the “market.” This secularization results in the extension of “scientific” knowing into pretty much every field of knowledge, thus birthing scientism.” This fusion also gave birth to culture politics.
Freedom “from,” Not Freedom “for”
This essentially forces progressivism into a paradoxical position in that it becomes the climax of bourgeoisie conservatism, allowing it to fend off its two major revolutionary challengers, Marxism and fascism, neutering them both in the process, and, thus, maintaining its power position. When the powerful maintain the status quo, that is essentially the “conservative” position. But, the process of absorbing the revolutionary impulse resulted in a change of meaning to one of the key enlightenment ideas, that of “freedom,” by drawing in the revolutionary idea of liberation and thus equating libertinism with the Enlightenment ideas of liberty. Thus freedom, become freedom “from” all restraint and bonds. The older idea of freedom “for” the pursuit of virtue is then discarded. Freedom from all bonds and rules is the libertine ideal.
This is aided greatly by mixing and combining it with the ideas of scientific and technical progress. Del Noce here provides and extensive quote from Jacques Ellul’s Autopsy of Revolution (which is now on order!):
“We must recognize that technology provides [i.e. produces] a society that is essentially conservative (though rapidly developing of course), integrated and totalizing, at the same that it induces far reaching changes: but these are changes of an identity, of a constant relationship to itself. Technology is anti-revolutionary yet suggests total change because of the ‘development’ it brings, whereas in reality only forms and methods are altered. It destroys the revolutionary impulse by increasing conformity to its own integrated structure. It brings on a fundamental implosion by creating a libertine explosion, which is purely superficial.”
What Ellul and del Noce are highlighting is that the libertine nature of progressivism is superficial to the true dynamics which are happening underneath the surface. It appears that people are free to make whatever choices the want, but in truth the corporate, administrative and party structures underneath enforce ever greater conformity, reinforced by the technical system, by managerialism which uses technique as its operating software.
Thus bourgeoisie conservatism is able to absorb and neutralize the revolution (both the Marxist and Fascist variety) through progressivism by transforming enlightenment liberalism into libertinism and embracing the idea of perpetual technical, economic, and social progress through the application of atheistic scientism in a totalizing manner.
In a sense, the revolution becomes just another consumer good, a brand that you wear. It is all superficial. There is no revolution. It’s never coming because progressivism gives the appearance of revolution while at the same time securing, maintaining and extending the power of the bourgeoisie order largely through its technical expertise which is fundamentally conservative in nature.
This success of the privileged class is achieved through the reduction of revolution to the mere desecration of the past and through the propagation of sexual libertinism. These two actions work to bring about the dissolution of the proletariat (the working middle class), who are then enslaved by the economic power of the bourgeoisie. Here del Noce brings up the observation that Georges Sorel documented the connection at the end of the 17th century between the bourgeoisie, the idea of progress and decadent moral behavior. This is not a new thing. As a class, they were very receptive and ready to welcome the libertine turn of progressivism.
We have to understand that the idea of “progress” and “revolution” are not compatible. In fact, they are in many ways antithetical. Progressivism is a rejection of the revolutionary idea, that there must be a decisive clean break with the present such that the present order is swept away. Progressivism embraces the current order arguing that will continue on in perpetuity getting better and better and better. Progressivism aims to conserve the current order.
The Atheist Public Space
Because of the bourgeoisie embrace of progressivism, we now experience democracy and our public life as something utterly devoid of the sacred and the transcendent. This space must be “rational” and “scientific.” The religious, transcendent, basis of society is replaced with a “social” foundation. Del Noce argues that the growth of the progressive state unrestrained by any morality, metaphysics or transcendent principles at all is at once the fulfillment of Marx and the complete betrayal of Marx.
Because of this atheistic foundation, he argues, both Stalinism (which was a masked form) and Nazism (which was the naked version) have the will to be totalitarian. In some sense, he argues, Nazism won philosophically even when it lost on the battlefield and proclaimed loudly Nietzsche’s death of God which ushers in the age of totalitarianism. Hitler lost because he was too open and sincere in his intentions. He did not mask them as something else. Progressivism has not made that mistake. It skillfully masks its totalitarian impulses.
But with the transformation of revolutionary atheism into progressivism, there are three characteristics of this new totalitarianism:
Progressivism is an empire that pretends not to be an empire.
Progressivism is a secular religion which pretends to be something other than a secular, that is, atheist, religion.
Progressivism is a subversive organization of world conquerors which pretends not to be subversive world conquerors.
With fascism as its whipping boy, progressivism was able to use anti-fascism after World War 2 to push the idea that “social” renewal was to be understood as liberation from the constraints and ideals of tradition in all its forms, whether mythical or living, especially if that living tradition is religious. Tradition is invalid because it is of the past. The past is not part of “progress.” Progress is good and the past is bad. Nazism is proof of this.
Thus, under progressive totalitarianism, man is cut off from the past and deprived of any feelings of apprehension about the future because the future is the realm of “new and improved.” No internal or moral change is ever demanded of progressive man, because all change is social and technological. Man now lives in a perpetual present without past or future. Nothing is handed down from the past. Progress is the inevitable move of history which takes care of the future. Thus freed from obligation to past and future, progressive man has no greater care than to seek pleasure in the moment, liberated from all restraint.
Man now lives in a perpetual liberated present. This is freedom, he is told. He is fragmented, living in a series of moments with no sense of self. He derives his vitality from sensation and novelty, opening himself to a manifold host of addictions.
Because of this anti-traditionalism, criticism is directed at the evil past and all protest movements become complicit in the oppressive progressive order because they target for destruction the old structures which support tradition.
The group that controls production and power does not aim at trying to achieve an ideal order (while professing that this is what they are doing), whether that be a metaphysical ideal or a future ideal; rather it seeks only to affirm and maintain its own position. The individual is thus reduced to their utility, their instrumentality, their usefulness in maintaining the system. This is the “reversal” of progressivism, in that, while professing to be the highest expression of liberal and humanist values, is actually the negation of those same values. It brings about the highest degree of homogenization as people are socialized into the progressive system. Even while proclaiming human freedom and liberation, the progressive system negates the person.
The danger for the Christian is to embrace theological immanentism, that God is to be found in the forces of history, as this leaves room only for clericalism. That is, religion which exists only for its utility and instrumentality. It is to become yet another cog in the progressive machine. The doctrine of original sin and the idea of hell become dangerously reactionary in this environment. To the progressive, sin is a lower form of social development. Righteousness is obtained by mere participation in the progressive present.
Del Noce’s conclusion is that the self-destruction of western society was largely avoidable. It came about from the mistaken idea that traditional ideals were exhausted, and so rather than re-energizing them, they were swept aside without there being any new ideals to replace them.
Does This Suggest a Path Forward?
While it is true that you cannot go back, that “return” is not an option open to us, this does not mean that we must accept the progressive argument that modernity is “axiological,” and that the past is closed to us. I agree with del Noce that one of the first steps to resisting progressivism is to reject their understanding of history, that the past is bad and the future is good. Also, that the past is closed to us. But our past cannot be in the form of “myth.” Tradition must be a living thing that is passed on to us by our fathers and forefathers.
Where do we find living tradition? Within the Christian faith. This must be a genuine faith. It cannot be Christianity that is seen as valuable for its moral teaching alone, or because it is useful for life, or it has political or social value. This is the danger of Christian nationalism, that Christianity becomes the “myth” which drives an authoritarian movement. That is the fascist error all over again. It must arise out of a genuine religious revival. The Christian faith is embraced for its own value, regardless of its political or social utility. Christians being Christian because they actually believe. In and through this a transcendent metaphysical moral order is embraced and lived from within this living faith tradition. This is the one thing that progressives fear more than any other: a genuine revival of the Christian faith and its accompanying moral order, especially in regards to sex and sexuality. So whatever they can do to undercut, dissolve and ruin the faith life of Christians is fair game. As we will see in my next piece on del Noce, this is precisely the point of the sexual revolution. It is a direct assault on the Christian faith so as to undermine tradition, metaphysics, morality and with that the family.
I am of the mind that nothing else but the Christian faith has the power to resist the corrosive power of progressivism. Remember that their goal, if you are not a member of the ruling bourgeoisie, a progressive in good standing, loyal to big business, the organs of administration, and to the political parties, you are being targeted for destruction and enslavement. The heart of your resistance begins with your living Christian faith. Out of this living faith, its moral system orders your life. That is the heart of your resistance. All secular forms of so-called resistance already accept all the basic atheist premises of progressivism. You have already lost. You just don’t know it yet.
(Just in case you are wondering: where does the Republican Party fit into this analysis? They don’t really. That is the fundamental problem of the Republican Party. They are “conservative” in the sense that they work to maintain the power of their own class, which is the same class as the Democrats who are openly progressive. The degree to which you are not of the bourgeoisie as a Republican voter, you have to understand that the Republicans are working hand in hand with the rest of their class to destroy your life and enslave you. This is why they are ok with horizontal, secular Christianity, but want nothing to do with actual believers, their traditions and morality. It is why they support the culture war against the working middle class. They won’t acknowledge that is what they are doing, but it is. They want to keep you as loyal hard-working serfs who go out there and legitimize their power, the power of the party, and then are happy when Republican politicians act hand in glove with progressives to destroy you. Just saying.)
Excellent piece. I'm guessing you have read Thomas Sowell but he has commented in the past on how meaningless political labels often are. As if progressives are the ones for progress, and only conservatives wish to conserve things. Kind of absurd. They definitely manipulate language big time and undermine it so your point here is well taken.
I also agree that we have a very libertine culture. I am a fan of Joe Rogan in general but i'm not sure if you saw his conversation with Matt Walsh; in it they get stuck talking about gay marriage and Walsh argues why he's generally against it and instead of responding to his moral arguments Joe basically just comes back with 'but what if that's what they want to do?' There seem to be very few limits in our culture on what people are encouraged to do or allowed to do. If you wanna do it, great, give yourself up to your impulses.
Your posts are always thought provoking. I think we are engaged in the same search: what is the nature of our current crisis and what is the answer? I have come to the same conclusion as you, namely, “The fight is essentially a moral and spiritual conflict.” and that the answer is a Christian revival. I arrived at this conclusion from a different line of thinking from yours. I will try to explain and offer a few friendly critiques at the same time.
First, the story of how we have gotten where we are today in the West is long and I won’t be able to do it justice in this comment. Secondly, if our crisis truly is a spiritual one, and I believe it is, then we must view it through a theological lens. Any by this I mean a story of belief. Let me take one of your points as emblematic of both our agreement and disagreement.
“To secure their own power, the bourgeoisie use progressivism to destroy their one major challenger: the Christian faith and the family.”
I fully agree with the latter part but not the former. Not that I think it is incorrect, rather I think there is a deeper, more fundamental cause. For a long time the West had, as its center, God, Tradition, and The Church. And then, slowly at first, came rationalism--the great weakness of Western thought. Rationalism put Man at the center. This developed until the volcanic eruption of the French Revolution. The French Revolution established a paradigm that is still with us today, virtually unchanged: paradise on Earth, as conceived in the human mind, is at hand, we need only destroy that which stands in its way. The French Revolution never really ended, we still live in the Age of Revolution today.
Long before there was such a thing as “progressivism” the Jacobins had already called for, among other things, the destruction of the family, morals, and all religion. This kind of thinking was continued by late 19th century revolutionaries like Bakunin (see for instance his “Revolutionary Catechism” and note that he calls it a “catechism”). It informed the revolutions of the 20th century as well (Communist and Fascist Revolutions alike). It also informs progressivism, tepid as they may be in their revolutionary zeal, the end goal is the same.
The spirit of revolution is destruction. The destruction of everything. All the high-mind language justifying it is a lie. We do well to remember this; almost all political language is a lie and we should never take it at face value. As to why rationalism in theory becomes destruction in practice, I think that, recognizing no limit or power above itself, it quickly spins out of control. The orgy of destruction in all revolutions since the French (and even some pre-cursor outbursts prior) demonstrates the point.
As for the bourgeoisie, they are, in my view merely “riding the tiger”--the tiger of Revolution. They are doing their best to profit from it but they cannot control it. No more than Robespierre could. It will eventually eat them as well. In our revolutionary age, there are lulls. We are likely in one now. But the spirit of revolution is still there, waiting for the next crisis.
So, it seems to me that the best thing we can do, perhaps the only thing, is re-center our lives according to God, Tradition, and The Church and reject the worship of rationalism and Man.