Georgia Progressive Exchange



NEW! Are there "progressive" institutions

in the sense of "An established organization or foundation, especially one dedicated to education, public service, or culture" (sometimes referred to as a "think tank" or "policy institute")?

There are many organizations and publications that address progressive values and/or issues, often through the narrower objective of supporting particular political candidates or legislation. However, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose members (as Representatives in the U.S. House) are directly engaged in electoral politics, also expresses broad objectives (the Progressive Promise) that help to define "progressive."

"Progressive values" are what we (participating in the Exchange) have in common.

Here’s a compact description of what that implies:

From George Lakoff, The Political Mind (2008), pp. 47-48 [boldface added for emphasis by editor]:

     "Behind every progressive policy lies a single moral value: empathy, together with the responsibility and strength to act on that empathy. Never forget ‘responsibility and strength,’ because there is no true empathy without them.
     "During the conservative reign we have seen what Barack Obama has called an empathy deficit—a failure to care, both about others and each other. Caring is not just feeling empathy; it is taking responsibility, acting powerfully and courageously. You have to be strong to care, and to act on that care with success.
     "The ethics of care shapes government. Care requires that government have two intertwined roles: protection and empowerment. Protection is more than just the army, police, and fire department. It means social security, disease control and public health, safe food, disaster relief, health care, consumer and worker protection, environmental protection.
     "Empowerment by the government is everywhere: highways and bridges, so you can go where you want to go and ship products; the Internet and satellite communications, to keep you in contact with the world; public education, to open the world up to you and to provide skilled workers to business; the banking system, to allow bank loans, whether you're buying a house or your company is buying another company; the SEC, to allow the stock market to function; the court system, to enforce contracts and protect patents. Nobody makes a dime in this country without being empowered by our government. There are no self-made men or women. It's a myth!
     "The role of progressive government is to maximize our freedom—and protection and empowerment do just that. Protection is there to guarantee freedom from harm, from want, and from fear. Empowerment is there to maximize freedom to achieve your goals.
     "Progressive government is, or should rightly be through protection and empowerment, the guarantor of liberty. That is what a life-affirming government is about."

Progressive Goals

What kind of life do progressives want for (a) ourselves and (b) everyone else? Because we’re progressives, (a) and (b) are the same. In hierarchical systems, (a) is reserved for the upper levels of the hierarchy and denied to the lower levels.

First, we want the essentials for life: the nutrients necessary for a healthy body; adequate clothing and shelter to protect our bodies from the elements; health care to protect our bodies from the ravages of injury and disease; and security from anything that would cause us bodily harm. (This leads to the subject of bodily autonomy—a discussion for later.)

Second, we want the opportunities to acquire for ourselves and those important to us resources beyond the essentials, to increase our enjoyment of and satisfaction with life. In a progressive society, these resources may not be acquired by taking the essentials for life from others but only by participating in producing a surplus from the resources available to all of us. (This leads to the subject of property, common and private—a discussion for later.)

Third, we want a democratic government that will make and enforce mutually beneficial rules for our interactions with each other (direct or indirect) and will pursue and secure the fruits of progressive values (see below) for all citizens. (This leads to the subject of whether our government’s relations with other nations—and with undocumented immigrants—can be made consistent with our progressive values—discussions for later.)

Progressive Values

The previous goals lead to a discussion of the progressive values that are necessary to achieve those goals, that is, necessary to guide the development of more detailed principles and policies. The following proposed values—Freedom, Opportunity, Security—are from the publication Voicing Our Values: (Bold type in the following is the editor’s.)


     "Where government has no proper role, because public action would violate our individual rights, progressive policy is based on freedom. Freedom means the absence of legal interference with our fundamental rights: freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote....
     "Compared to an individual, government wields tremendous power, so a progressive policy adds great weight — in the form of strong legal rights — to the individual’s side of the scale....


     "Where government acts as a referee between private, unequal interests, progressive policy is based on opportunity. Opportunity means a level playing field in social and economic affairs: fair dealings between the powerful and the less powerful, the elimination of discrimination, and a quality education for all.
     "Competing interests usually hold unequal power, so progressive policy adds weight—guarantees of specific protections—to the weaker interest....


     "Where government acts to protect those who cannot reasonably protect themselves, including future generations, progressive policy is based on security. Security includes protecting Americans from domestic criminals and foreign terrorists, of course. But it also means insuring the sick and the vulnerable, safeguarding the food we eat and products we use, and preserving our environment.
     "There is always a threat that larger or unexpected forces will attack any one of us, so progressive policy adds weight, in the form of government institutions and programs, that helps protect us from harm...."

NEW! What We Stand For in Twelve Words

"Progressives should support: fair wages, fair markets, health security, retirement security, and equal rights for all. Let’s discuss each in turn...."

Truth, Disinformation, and the Role of Institutions

In the administration of President Trump, in which claims about "the truth" spilled over previously understood boundaries, the role of "institutions" came into question. The following defense of institutions—in contrast to political parties or ideologies—is from an article titled "The Constitution of Knowledge" published in 2018 (a copy is archived on this website), well into that administration:


"...Who can be trusted to resolve questions about objective truth? The best answer turns out to be no one in particular. The greatest of human social networks was born centuries ago, in the wake of the chaos and creedal wars that raged across Europe after the invention of the printing press (the original disruptive information technology). In reaction, experimenters and philosophers began entertaining a radical idea. They removed reality-making from the authoritarian control of priests and princes and placed it in the hands of a decentralized, globe-spanning community of critical testers who hunt for each other's errors. In other words, they outsourced objectivity to a social network. Gradually, in the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, the network's norms and institutions assembled themselves into a system of rules for identifying truth: a constitution of knowledge.


"Though nowhere encoded in law, the constitution of knowledge has its own equivalents of checks and balances (peer review and replication), separation of powers (specialization), governing institutions (scientific societies and professional bodies), voting (citations and confirmations), and civic virtues (submit your beliefs for checking if you want to be taken seriously). The members of the community that supports and upholds the constitution of knowledge do not have to agree on facts; the whole point, indeed, is to manage their disagreements. But they do need to agree on some rules.

"One rule is that any hypothesis can be floated. That's free speech. But another rule is that a hypothesis can join reality only insofar as it persuades people after withstanding vigorous questioning and criticism. That's social testing. Only those propositions that are broadly agreed to have withstood testing over time qualify as knowledge, and even they stand only unless and until debunked.

"The community that follows these rules is defined by its values and practices, not by its borders, and it is by no means limited to scholars and scientists. It also includes journalism, the courts, law enforcement, and the intelligence community — all evidence-based professions that require competing hypotheses to be tested and justified. Its members hold themselves and each other accountable for their errors….

"…The community that lives by the standards of verification constantly argues about itself, yet by doing so provides its members with time and space to work through their disagreements without authoritarian oversight.

"The results have been spectacular, in three ways above all. First, by organizing millions of minds to tackle billions of problems, the epistemic constitution disseminates knowledge at a staggering rate. Every day, probably before breakfast, it adds more to the canon of knowledge than was accumulated in the 200,000 years of human history prior to Galileo's time. Second, by insisting on validating truths through a decentralized, non-coercive process that forces us to convince each other with evidence and argument, it ends the practice of killing ideas by killing their proponents. What is often called the marketplace of ideas would be more accurately described as a marketplace of persuasion, because the only way to establish knowledge is to convince others you are right. Third, by placing reality under the control of no one in particular, it dethrones intellectual authoritarianism and commits liberal society foundationally to intellectual pluralism and freedom of thought...."

All of the participants in this “Constitution of Knowledge” are not benign. There probably are no aspects of human activity that are without attempts to manipulate for narrow advantage, so progressives can’t afford to be naïve or to allow naiveté to prevail. If institutions are to function in the above ideal manner, they require active, vigorous defense from the destructive forces also discussed in the article.

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Date Revised

September 19, 2021