Time was, folks calling themselves progressives dismissed any attempts to quantify - or even qualify - the value of human life as inherently right-wing. Whether fighting child labor in Pennsylvania or battling Franco in Catalan, advocating for women's suffrage in Britain or exposing Hitler's eugenics program to an unwilling world, it was progressives who argued that human beings had a value intrinsic to their mere existence. That we didn't need a God or a king to grant us value - we possessed it by the mere fact that we lived.
And that we had obligations to one another; that to threaten any of us was to threaten us all. That no one ever had a right to inflict harm on another except in self-defense.
Those days are, sadly, long gone. In fact, the term "progressive" is hardly recognizable anymore what with so many who claim the heritage of the Left instead advocating policies drawn from the furthest reaches of the right.
From abortion to assisted suicide, there is a steady erosion of leftist support for the value of human life. Especially on the issue of abortion, where the mass of those claiming to be of the Left offer vociferous support for the "right to privacy."
But there is nothing at all progressive about abortion - it is as reactionary a practice as one could imagine.
Indeed, its main early proponent in the United States was an open admirer of Adolf Hitler. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, proposed many of the same policies Hitler implemented.
It was Sanger, in her 1922 book "Pivot of Civilization," who called for sterilizing blacks, Asians and Latinos (a position she never recanted). It was Sanger who, in 1934, called for a one-child policy in China - not to improve the lives of the Chinese, but to stop "the incessant fertility of [the Chinese] millions spread like a plague."
The only difference between "Mein Kampf" and Sanger's book is that Hitler has been disgraced by history, while Sanger remains respectable.
So respectable, in fact, that even her more outrageous suggestions are now becoming accepted policy.
Many self-proclaimed progressives now advocate "assisted suicide" for those with a "diminished quality of life."
But when asked to define that quality of life, it inevitably comes down to consumerist values right out of the Brady Bunch: being physically or mentally disabled in such a way that one is no longer seen as normal or enjoying the material benefits of modern society.
Or worse, lives are deemed unworthy of living when they can be sustained only through dependancy on others.
But is it not the open and honest recognition that we are all interdependent that is at the heart of a progressive value system? That none of us can exist without our brothers and sisters? That, indeed, no man is an island?
It is the exact opposite that is the basic philosophy behind abortion: I am an island, sovereign to myself, with no obligations to the greater society around me. I can do with my body what I like and nobody has a right to say otherwise.
It is, in fact, the same right-wing individualism (often dressed up today as libertarianism) that drives the militia movement. It is the same set of reactionary values that was used to justify slavery, child labor and treating women as property. We've gone from "It's my plantation, I can do what I want with it" to "It's my factory, mind your own business" right up through "This is my home, you have no say in how I treat her" to the present "It's my body and I can do what I want."
Whether one agrees with the sentiment or not, it is clearly not one based on the progressive values of community, interdependency and respect for one another.
What it does have in its favor at a political level is its appeal to the consumerist mentality of the ruling white middle class. Two generations of American bourgoise have been conditioned by Madison Avenue (through television, films and glossy magazines) to believe that they have a god-given right to full material happiness - and anything (or anyone) who gets in the way of that is shit out of luck.
An unwanted pregnancy? No different than an unwanted CD player - simply get rid of it and go on to the next commodity.
What is shameful is that many progressives believe as I do - that abortion is simply another manifestation of social inequality and America's inclination to solve all problems with violence - yet don't speak out. With the Politically Correct movement acting as all fascists do and bullying anyone who dares to question or challenge, too many progressives have allowed themselves to be silenced out of fear.
When abortion opponents warned 25 years ago that Roe vs. Wade would result in a steady erosion of societal value for human life, they were scoffed at. Today we have Jack Kevorkian killing off people whose primary illness is depression and driving around L.A. with their organs in an ice chest, hawking them to the first taker.
This is progressive?
It is fascism, born of the same American shallowness that gave us child labor and chattel slavery. Twenty-five years after we legalized killing our own unborn offspring, we now have the government imposing the death penalty on children and the retarded, doctors proposing that we withhold food from handicapped infants, and parents suing hospitals for not aborting their children.
Where's Josef Mengele when you need him?
Out here in California, the two most "liberal" candidates for higher office (Barbara Boxer and Gray Davis) in 1998 both ran on a consistent death ethic: they support the death penalty, abortion and welfare reform.
This is progressive?
To be sure, there are remnants of the old-style Left still out there fighting for the little person. Maya Angelou and Nat Hentoff, for instance. Phillip and Daniel Berrigan. Martin Sheen. Eunice and Sargent Shriver.
But the vast majority of those claiming to be leftist are far too busy marketing their politics of materialism to the white middle class to be bothered with defending the voiceless.
This article can be found on the Jim Trageser webpage. Reprinted with permission of the author.