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The democracy of the dead

Progressivism as the abandonment of wisdom

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Much to my dismay since I’d rather avoid him, California Gov. Gavin Newsom hit my radar again. On Oct. 3, he quietly repealed a law that not only slapped an “unprofessional conduct” label on physicians who gave their patients “COVID misinformation,” but also empowered the state medical board to revoke their licenses. The law collapsed under legal pressure from civil liberties lawyers, with even Newsom acknowledging the law could have “a chilling effect” on free speech.

The governor’s about-face is part of a trio of similar policy concessions by Democrats in recent weeks. After declaring as a candidate in 2020 that “there will not be another foot of wall” built during his administration, President Joe Biden recently resumed construction of Donald Trump’s “great big beautiful” border wall in response to the surge of migrants flooding into South Texas. Meanwhile, as San Francisco Mayor London Breed presides over a city teeming with prostitutes, thieves, and addicts, she’s facing an election challenge from Daniel Lurie, a philanthropist and fellow Democrat who is running on a … wait for it … law-and-order platform.

When modern Democrats capitulate to values like free speech, secure borders, and safe streets they are, as much as they may hate it, returning to tradition—and to the sorts of wisdom embraced by the largest voting bloc in human history.

“Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead,” G.K. Chesterton wrote in his 1908 book Orthodoxy: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who happen to be walking about.”

Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk positions human tradition as the heir of supernatural wisdom. In his classic 1953 book The Conservative Mind, he wrote that “men and nations are governed by moral laws, and those laws have their origin in a wisdom that is more than human—in divine justice.”

Scripture traces divine wisdom to the very Creation. “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old,” Solomon wrote in Proverbs 8:22. Elsewhere he lists wisdom’s fruits: prudence, wealth, honor, long life. Solomon locates wisdom “at a crossroads” and “beside the gates in front of the town” (Proverbs 8:2-3). She cries aloud “in the markets,” “at the head of noisy streets,” and “at the entrance to the city gates” (Proverbs 1:20-21). Which is to say, wisdom is not hidden but everywhere available in places of commerce, leadership, and social interaction, places where people make decisions that affect communities and nations.

It is important to note her lineage: Wisdom was present at the Creation. Men mined it for millennia, codified its best practices, and passed them down via ­tradition through some 400 generations of humanity.

By contrast, progressivism is barely 150 years old, an infant by historical standards—albeit with a histrionic strain of adolescent arrogance. Its lust for promiscuous reform has produced a global track record of cruelty, despotism, ragged poverty, starvation, and death in the tens of millions.

Like wisdom, this folly is not hidden. Progressivism can therefore be defined quite simply: It is the cynical abandonment of wisdom.

Worse, it never stops. Reforms become norms that themselves must be reformed: The family unit, sexuality, education, commerce, energy supply, income distribution, immigration. Criminal justice, environmental justice, animal justice. Monogamy, lightbulbs, words, white people. Math, pronouns, an excess of living babies. We must outlaw plastic straws but subsidize plastic prostheses to replace women with men and vice versa.

Conservatives believe we have “no right to tamper impudently with human nature or with the delicate ­fabric of our civil social order,” Russell Kirk observed 70 years ago. Solomon agreed: “Do not associate with those who are given to change, for their calamity will rise ­suddenly” and lead to ruin (Proverbs 24:22).

No wonder some “progressives” are holding their noses and returning to tradition.

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is executive editor of WORLD Magazine and producer/host of the true crime podcast Lawless. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Same Kind of Different As Me and Indianapolis. Lynn lives in the mountains east of San Diego, Calif.


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