Progressive Liberalism as an Elite Ideology

Mr. Tibor Mándi

The paper will try to analyse elite political attitudes, mainly in a contemporary American and British setting, from a theoretical point of view. First, we will attempt a reconstruction of the dominant elite ideology of what we will call “progressive liberalism”, based on recent literature and widely recognized representations of the ideological outlook of the political, cultural, academic, media, and corporate elites on both sides of the Atlantic. We suggest that the main characteristic of this “progressive liberalism” is a marked leftward shift in elite ideology, prioritizing the value of equality over the classical liberal emphasis on liberty, especially with regards to freedom of speech and free enterprise. Another way of theorizing this shift would be through Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between the “negative” and “positive” concepts of liberty, with a pronounced move towards the latter in contemporary elite liberalism. The paper would also rely on insights by Plato, Alexis de Tocqueville and Friedrich Hayek regarding the relationship between liberty and equality as competing political values. A key question the paper would attempt to resolve is whether the recent “progressive” turn in elite liberalism is an inevitable consequence of the basic assumptions of liberalism – as recently suggested by some – or can be separated from the classical core of the ideology. We are also going to pay special attention to the unique predispositions of intellectual elites – namely, a highly rationalistic approach to politics and society – that contribute to the ideological presuppositions manifested in “progressive liberalism”; as well as to elite strategies of marginalizing, disqualifying and silencing views of opposing ideological nature.