Progressivism Gone Awry
Religion & Liberty Online

Progressivism Gone Awry

Saul Bellow, 1990Saul Bellow is a writer who has affected me profoundly before. I have recently found a pair of essays given by him as part of the Tanner Lectures under the title, “A Writer from Chicago.”

They are substantive and serious, and occasionally pithy. For instance, Bellow observes that “a degenerate negative romanticism is at the core of modern mass culture,” “Humankind is always involved in some kind of metaphysical enterprise,” and, “The descent into subhumanity begins with the thinning out of the imagination.”

Bellow gave these lectures in 1981. He had won the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes five years before, and was entering a phase of life where in his mid-60s one could more openly detect a sentimentality of sorts, a politically incorrect and sometimes brusque judgmentalism.

Here’s a section, however, that illustrates in incisive fashion where Bellow thinks that modern progressivism went awry:

My own opinion is that American confidence in education and progress went wrong somehow when the country made a giant effort to improve and to assist and lift up and to educate, and when, under the New Deal, the New Frontier and, later, Johnson’s Great Society programs, hundreds of billions were spent on liberal programs. The efforts of the government gave the country a sense that all the problems were manageable, that its troubles were being handled by experts, and that solutions could be bought and paid for. Washington was being moral for us. We were thus able to think well of ourselves, covered by moral insurance, federally centralized. Everybody was publicly for all the good things – public health, free education, equal justice – and against the bad ones. People were consequently free to ‘realize’ themselves. There was money enough for every purpose.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.