The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

I’m a Progressive Now

September 4, 2005

I haven’t posted much, in part because I’ve been at APSA. But I also have trouble bringing myself to write anything more about Katrina. We lived in New York on September 11th, 2001; for all the horror of that day, the slow unfolding of the disaster in New Orleans, the gross incompetence of our government and our elected officials, and the bestial situation people faced in the refugee pens (what else are we supposed to call the Superdome, Convention Center, and a strip of I-10?) feels worse right now.

We have met the enemy, and in so many different ways, it is us.

After the hurricane, I wrote the following:

The good news is that the Federal Government is mobilizing its resources, with some possible caveats, along with other groups and organizations throughout the nation.

On that note, let us take a moment to praise the advantages of economies of scale and remember why the balance of political power has, for good reason, tipped towards the federal government (and away from the states) over the last century.

I was so very wrong. I wish I hadn’t been.

It took decades for progressivism and liberalism to build the America I assumed we still had. It seems that New Orleans and parts of the Gulf Coast aren’t the only thing we need to rebuild.

One final note. I’d been uncomfortable with the label “progressive.” I thought it was a pathetic attempt to run away from liberalism. I’ve changed my mind. Progressivism didn’t just stand for trust busting, an expansion of the welfare responsibilities of the government, and regulating the excesses of business. It also stood for good government – for making government accountable to the people, limiting the role of patronage appointments, and generally enhancing its competence.

Progressivism’s time really has come again. That, I think, is the stark lesson of the last week.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.