How Do Progressives Connect Ideas to Action?

In the past few years, Americans who are politically left of center have adopted "progressive" to replace "liberal" as the label of choice, hoping that, as "progressives," we might have a fresh start. Yet the historical and philosophical roots of progressivism cannot be overlooked.

As part of a series of discussions marking the tenth anniversary of the Open Society Institute's U.S. Programs, Bill Moyers and a distinguished panel of commentators addressed the health and future of the progressive movement and discuss three related questions:

  • What are the historical and philosophical roots of progressivism?
  • Who might develop the public's understanding of these roots, and why is their contribution missing from most public debates?
  • What is the health of the intellectual and organizational environment for supporting progressive values, as part of a larger movement of ideas?

A shared sense of history has acted as an intellectual glue for many conservative leaders and activists, binding their diverse interests into an effective movement. Might this work for progressives, who so often organize around and then spilt over discrete policy issues?

It's not just history and philosophy that seem missing from debates about progressivism; it's also the people who think about history and philosophy–scholars, intellectuals, and especially academics. Conservatives frequently complain about the leftist tendencies of professors, but as a practical matter, few progressive academics make their ideas heard in public debates. Why not? Is there a way to harness progressive intellectual resources more effectively?

Further, ideas need organizers who can help them gain traction. Ideas must be communicated to the wider public and adapted to address practical concerns. Foundations, advocacy groups, and grassroots organizations do this work. Among progressives, however, coordination and cooperation often seem to be lacking—individuals and organizations with similarly progressive goals often dilute their power by working alone or even working at cross-purposes. As Americans who are politically left of center move forward, questions of infrastructure, communication, and collaboration are particularly important. The progressivism of the past may contain valuable lessons as we build a strong new movement.

Moderated by Moyers, the roundtable featured:


Date: November 29, 2006
Time: (All day)

OSI-New York