NOTHSTINE: Is more and more liberalism inevitable?

Opponents of North Carolina's HB2 law limiting bathroom access for transgender people protest in the gallery above the state's House of Representatives chamber as the legislature considers repealing the controversial law in Raleigh

In a pitch to progressives, Gov. Roy Cooper was quick to remind that the H.B. 2 compromise is not the end of government’s work for transgender rights. “But while these additional protections may be temporarily delayed, they will not be forever denied. And I will work to make sure they are not,” Cooper vowed after his agreement with legislators.Statements like these are commonplace in progressivism. For them, there is seldom a fixed ending point for government activism to right perceived wrongs and to harness the state in their effort to “perfect” society. When Martin Luther King Jr. brilliantly noted in his 1965 address at the Alabama state capital in Montgomery that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” for the progressives it was not a statement to a specific injustice and culture, but a never-ending journey for progress.Even when former President Barack Obama was still publicly an opponent of gay marriage for political purposes, he was supposedly “evolving” on the issue at least as early as 2010. The language of “evolution” in the political sphere predictably suggests something new and forward thinking. When Obama did publicly flip his support in 2012, North Carolina had just passed Amendment 1. The former president effectively sidelined the vote of North Carolinians as something in the past with his historic announcement.Broadening issues of human sexuality into the arena of civil rights has empowered government in previously unforeseen ways. Social issues are just one example of the rapid transformation of changing societal worldviews. But on economics and the size of government, the debate too has dramatically shifted.Conservatives are often ill-equipped to articulate an economic structure that can compete with the promise of payoffs and handouts. Even conservative backlashes at the ballot box, such as the Reagan and Republican revolutions towards the end of the 20th century, did little to stymie central planning and the bureaucratic state. As Milton Friedman noted in a phrase often echoed by Ronald Reagan: “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”Baseline budgeting has replaced concrete debates over federal spending. Slowing the rate of government growth is now a cut. The Tenth Amendment seems more like a relic of American history than an inherent protection enshrined in the Bill of Rights.The championing of victimhood and the emergence of more and more “oppressed” categories on many university and college campuses has captivated and captured generations. Predictably the remedies are more and more schemes for the redistribution of wealth.Secularism and materialism cultivates a worldview that often first looks to government and not higher things. American victory in the Cold War did not seem to ultimately unleash democratic-capitalism rooted in virtue, but rather a civilization and culture in crisis.There have been many cover stories predicting the demise of conservatism or even Christendom in the West. But timeless truths too have a way of reemerging in the wake of utopian schemes. “We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life,” declared the Russian novelist and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at Harvard in 1978. Solzhenitsyn’s speech was attacked by the secular press and Western liberals, but remains a prophetic reminder that political ideologies are no cure for the soul.Is more and more liberalism in our state and nation inevitable? It is understandable to believe so given the changing nature of the debates, where the goal-posts are often quickly moved by progressive angst. So far moved in fact, that many arguments emanating from the left are now illiberal. For America, it remains uncertain if cultural shifts and government dissatisfaction can turn back the rising tide of progressivism. But one thing remains true. Even if modern liberalism is inevitable, history reminds us it will inevitably rise for a time before it ultimately fails.
Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.