“Brights” was the term popularized by evangelical atheists Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett to describe people who think like them: materialist determinists who scoff at faith and traditional wisdom, and proclaim their devotion to rationalism, science, and critical thought. The label was mocked to death for its smug narcissism, but the idea behind it is still a foundational assumption of progressives. The irony is much of the superiority progressives claim based on their “respect for science” is an illusion, reflecting instead scientism and ideology.
Indeed, as a political movement now over a century old, progressivism was founded on the belief that new knowledge of human nature and behavior required a revision of the American political order. Herbert Croly, founder of the New Republic and a leading progressive theorist, wrote that a “better future would derive from the beneficent activities of expert social engineers who would bring to the service of social ideals all the technical resources which research could discover.” This faith in “science” was embraced by progressive president Woodrow Wilson, who wanted to discard the Constitution’s popular self-rule filtered through divided government and checks and balances, and replace it with administrative bureaus staffed by the “hundreds who are wise” who would guide and control the thousands who are “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish.”
Wilson’s vision succeeded, which is why today we have a bloated federal government with 2.5 million workers and a nearly four-trillion-dollar budget, two-thirds of which is committed to entitlement spending. Thanks to Wilson, today we are subjected to a regulatory regime that “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate,” as Alexis de Tocqueville prophesized. This technocratic rule has diminished our freedom and autonomy, compensating for that loss by redistributing money through various entitlements that corrupt character and create dependency on our government overseers.
The ancients called this “tyranny,” a consequence of human nature’s lust for power and domination that frightened the founders and explains the structure of the Constitution. The progressives just added a new twist to the old tyrannical modus operandi: the claim that not greed or ambition for personal power or aristocratic honor, but the truths of science were the bases for their political innovations and concentration of power into their hands.