Progressive Populists, Religious Activists, the Tea Party, and Other Types of American Progressives
We explain the different types of American progressivism including left-wing progressivism, religious right-wing progressivism, Tea Party progressivism, and other types on the political left, right, and center.
TIP: In common language in America “progressive” generally refers to “moderate progressive social liberalism“. It denotes an ideology focused on equality and liberty, an extension of classical liberalism which seeks to progress toward the ends of social justice and social equality by cultural and state-based means. However, even looking back to the father of American progressivism Williams Jennings Bryan and other spiritual fathers of progressivism like Jefferson, Lincoln (especially the Radical Republicans of the time), and the Roosevelts, we can see that “moderate progressive social liberalism” is only one type of “progressivism” (with even that type containing many factions; just think Wikileaks, Anonymous, Green party, Bernie Sanders, Obama, Elizabeth Warren.. ok, they aren’t all “moderate”, but you get the idea). This page discusses how we can view other left, right, and center ideologies as “types of progressivism” through a broader lens where we can see the activism of groups like the Religious Right and Tea Party as “progressive” (after all they are driven by hope and have “change” at the top of the agenda, they too seeking their ends though the state and cultural means).
The Progressive Era: Crash Course US History #27. The idea that there are different types of progressives as illustrated by the progressive era.
TIP: A world where all “hope and change” looked the same would be simple. We don’t live in a simple world. Both Trump and Obama were elected on a message of “hope and change”. Call change radical or progressive, that part is little more than semantics.
TIP: Compare this page to our page on the types of American populism. It is a very similar subject… but it is not “exactly the same”.
What is Progressivism?
Progressivism is any ideology based on the idea of progress.
Progressivism typically also favors the people, at least rhetorically. With that said, i’d argue that elite ideologies like neoliberalism, neoconservatism, and imperialism are all progressive in practice, as they all desire progress and change.
Thus, progressivism is similar to populism in many ways, but where some populists might desire a lack of change or generally always favor the people over upper class (like the Young America movement), progressivism is unique in always pushing for change, even when it forms coalitions of between the classes.
Generally, Progressivism is associated with the modern liberal left and is focused on the advancement of science, technology, economic development, and social organization in an effort to improve the human condition.
Also generally, progressivism seeks to use the state as a means to those ends.
However, from a broader definition, one that considers all that we call radical or progressive on the left and right (including those who seek deregulation as a means), we find many more types of progressivism than just the original.
In ways, each voter issue or coalition formed around a general political ideology can see a progressive faction form around it. For example, the tea party and occupy Wall Street or the Democrats and Republicans.
It is this broader definition that allows us to better understand America and its heroes like Hamilton, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Bryan, the Kennedys, LBJ, Reagan, the Clintons, the Bushs, Obama, and Trump and the movements that supported them… all of whom which were looking for different forms of “change” and “progress”… and are thus progressive in some way.
- Want to “make America great again”?… hate to break it to you… but that is progressive as it requires “change”.
- Want “hope and change”?… change is progressive by definition.
- Want to increase taxes and ensure the rich pay their fair share? Progressive.
- Want to tax Wall Street. Progressive.
- Want environmental regulations? Progressive.
- Want to deregulate and cut taxes? Progressive. Progressive neoconism specifically.
- Want “neoliberal globalization“? That is progressive.
- Want a welfare state that ensures a UBI? That is progressive.
- Want to subsidize farmers and ensure a strong rural America?… progressive.
- Want to police the world ensure the principals of liberalism abroad?… progressive militarism.
- Want to teach evolution in schools? How progressive of you. That is religious progressivism.
- Want to ban pot and alcohol with a sudden rule change? You are a moral activist and thus, progressive.
- Want tell people what to eat or drink, what they can or can’t say, not to get vaccines, etc? Witch trials? All sort puritanically progressive stances on key issues. To different degrees of course.
- Want to ban a race, creed, or color?… you guessed it. A change like that is technically… progressive despite it socially conservative aspects.
Saying one type of progressivism, like Tea Party, isn’t “progressive” is a judgement call and a thing of semantics. Their whole thing is fighting against government for the forgotten man. We aren’t talking about what the Green Party thinks, we are talking about what a faction’s ideology is, what it wants. If it wants change that [at least rhetorically] favors the people, then it is progressive.
American Imperialism: Crash Course US History #28. Imperialism… or Progressive imperialism rather. Something i’m sure a radical progressive like William Jennings Bryan would fight about, against another radical progressive like Theodore Roosevelt, who all disagreed with another radical progressive like Hitler. See the complexity, what you are progressive about matters greatly.
TIP: Consider, in the Progressive era all the parties were progressive. How can this be? Was there no left or right? Indeed there was a left and right, but all sides were reacting to the elite-driven Gilded Age (where progressive industrialization occurred alongside arguably little social change outside of Reconstruction) and the people wanted change. Hence “the progressive era” and the different types of progressives.
TIP: The founding liberal patriots? Essentially all progressives. Nothing is more progressive than overthrowing a King and creating a brand new Constitution based on principals rarely embraced by any country in history up until that point. Oddly, if we were to ordain a King and pick a state-religion, it would be progressive today. We would be progressing toward traditional conservatism (which yes we could also denote as conservative… but the path is one of progression).
Understanding the Types of American Progressivism
To assume Bernie Sanders is progressive and the Tea Party is conservative is a misreading of history and reality. America is a liberal nation founded by liberals, and while it is tempting for a left-leaning American to paint the Tea Party as purely conservative, nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, they are socially conservative on some issues, but look a little closer, they are rebelling against big government… that is “left” and they desire change… and that is “progressive”. Deregulating and saying “we are taxed enough already” isn’t conservative… it is just a type of progressivism that is socially conservative in comparison to other types. We can accurately call it nativist, populist, left-right, socially conservative, classically liberal progressivism… or we can be mean and call it radicalism (but that is just semantics).
A true conservative, one who does not want progress of any type, is hard to find in America. Instead, some on the left want to progress toward a small government where their is social justice and little other rule-sets (the anonymous sort of left), others want to progress toward a Rooseveltian big government “welfare state”. These two types of “left-wing American progressivism” look so utterly different trying to give them both the same exact name and calling it a day is downright confusing.
The Rooseveltian ideology is actually very classically conservative, as it wants a king-like figure and big government to ensure social justice, AND it wants to impose morality on society. The other type wants some government (like a basic safety net), but seeks a more Democratic and arguably libertarian alternative. Meanwhile, the Bernie Sanders type falls somewhere in the middle, the Obama type errs toward Rooseveltian while ensuring business interests (the Clintonian mixed-market ideology), Green focuses on environment, socialists favor workers, extreme socialist progressives want the state to run the Fortune 500 companies, and it keeps going until we get those few fringe who want a total Communist state (which would take an extreme amount of progression to achieve).
Quick History: The Bull Moose Party.
William Jennings Bryan: Founder of Religious Right and Populous Left! Dick Morris TV: Lunch ALERT!.
Meanwhile, on the right-wing we have a few different types of American progressivism too. We have… a type which seeks prohibition and church-state politics (they want to progress toward a moral church state, seems very conservative… but how different is it from Roosevelt?). We have a Jacksonian type that wants states’ rights and to “kill the banks”, which is very left, yet is socially conservative (as it isn’t exactly seeking social justice for all races, sexes, and creeds). We have a Jeffersonian type that is even more left-leaning and libertarian than Jackson, seeking a rural America free from banking, globalization, and foreign wars.
…We also have a fascist type of progressivism that wants to progressively change the nation “back” to Judeo-Christian Anglo get-your-refugees-out-of-my-country America. Hitler was a national socialist, he changed Germany completely. We may not see it as progress forward, but it was a type of progressivism.
Age of Jackson: Crash Course US History #14.
War & Expansion: Crash Course US History #17. Manifest Destiny, a form of progressivism.
This is to say, while today “progressive” means left-leaning Democrat and “liberal” means left-leaning democrat, we are really only saying Democrats generally want social justice, social welfare, diversity, and are fine with the state ensuring it. We can call that progressive liberalism, but real ideologies are complex. A libertarian who wants all those things, but doesn’t want the state involved is also “a progressive” “liberal”.
Our country was founded on liberalism. The Tea Party is socially conservative… but they are socially conservative liberals in a liberal country that want progressive change. They are left-right, they want to return to the days of Jefferson and Jackson (the anti-Federalist liberals).
Tea Party America BBC Documentary.
In summary, in casual conversation, we can say progressive and get that we are talking about Bernie, Obama, and the general American left. However, when you dig into our history and try to tell stories like “how the American political parties evolved from the founders to today” you find yourself having to face the simple truth. There are MANY different types of liberals who all love liberty and America equally, but agree on little else.
The advice then is the same advice Hamilton gave us way back when:
“It’s not tyranny we desire; it’s a just, limited, federal government…. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.” – Hamilton stating a timeless truism, that while we may seek progress, we must ensure a moderate government that can balance and resect the needs of all.
19th Century Reforms: Crash Course US History #15. Some reforms are social-justice-y, like the 19th, some more traditionally or socially conservative, like the 18th. Both are progressive. If you don’t offer qualifiers then today in America liberal and progressive mean Democrat, Green, or generally left leaning… but from a broader perspective, we can see that all Americans have liberalism and progressivism in their roots… and most have a little traditional or social conservatism in them as well. It is a complex world and we are diverse nation of 50 different states.
- Progressives, Left and Right
- The Progressive Era (1890 – 1920)
- Tea Party movement
- The Progressive Era (1890 – 1920)