Progressives in Crisis

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 16, 2006

In yesterday's weekly essay on his website, James Howard Kunstler asked a sobering question: "Is it even possible these days to define a valid doctrine of political Progressivism?"

Kunstler argues that progressivism tied itself to industrial development and growing wealth, which, as he notes, "was tied to abundant new energy sources, mainly oil." Progressivism was the ethical imperative to allocate a growing pie of wealth more equitably.

So what happens, Kunstler asks, when the pie starts shrinking? Will the middle and working classes, who traditionally supported progressive politics, even be interested in fairness when they are struggling to hold the line on their own threatened prosperity? He draws a telling reference to the Republican strategy of "enabling the allocation of false wealth" in the form of easy credit and notes that this one-trick pony will eventually fail.

A way out for progressivism, Kunstler argues, will be through restoring the public realm so that scarce resources can be shared and allocated more fairly. That public realm would be concrete, not abstract: restoring a continental railway system so people can still get around, re-activating harbours so goods can move, and rebuilding local farming infrastructure so people can eat. "The private goods of suburbia will now have to be liquidated and we will be left with little more than parking lots and freeways too expensive to use."

The question, one which Kunstler deliberately leaves hanging, is whether Americans (and Canadians, by extension) can give up the value system of sprawl - private, energy-intensive living in a degraded public realm - and embrace a new relationship with each other that recognizes the necessity to share what's left.

Unfortunately, the governing parties in both America and Canada are dedicated wholly to maintaining the fiction that people can continue to live hyper-privatized lives in perpetuity. The real tragedy in this is that both purport to be traditionalists, and yet what we absolutely need today is a more traditional relationship between individuals and their communities.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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