Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on May 28, 2024.

Progressivism rarely builds and often destroys 

When the Boy Scouts of America announced they were changing their name to Scouting America, it was less of a re-brand and more like a surrender or a funeral. The move represented the end of an era and the final nail in the coffin. In fairness, there is no sense in being Boy Scouts if you don’t know what a boy is and there is no sense in training young men to be “morally straight” if you believe the idea of morality is a social construct created by a heteronormative patriarchy. So the Boy Scouts surrendered and while the sexual revolutionaries cheered, membership dropped 43 percent, a downward trend that continues to this day.

The demise of the Boy Scouts is sad, but also illustrative of the impact leftism has on institutions generally. Ivy League colleges like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded to train Christian preachers but were eventually unmoored and now produce preachers of a very different kind. Christian denominations that once flourished saw their mission, impact, and membership decimated when the sexual revolutionaries took over. Disney was created to produce children’s entertainment, but half of America now feels the need to protect their children from Disney products.

The left gains control of institutions built by others by identifying real problems, but their solutions are often worse than the problem. They critique the convictions of religious organizations until they believe in nothing. They critique the moral training of young men until they are no longer receiving moral instruction. They critique law enforcement until they are no longer enforcing the law. They identify real abuses of power but propose lawlessness as the solution. The baby is almost always thrown out with the bathwater, and nothing is ever built to replace what has been hollowed out because progressivism doesn’t build things. That’s part of the reason you don’t ever see conservatives taking over historically progressive institutions the same way you see progressives taking over historically conservative institutions. Progressives didn’t build anything because they were too busy criticizing what other people had built.

After all, building something culturally significant requires compromise, cooperation, and sacrifice but leftism sees calls for compromise, cooperation, and sacrifice as forms of oppression intended to protect the heteronormative, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy of Western civilization.

The cultural downside is that nothing gets built when everyone is committed to “living authentically.”

The progressive promise is the promise of immediate happiness through the immediate satisfaction of all your desires. This is called “living authentically.” The cultural downside is that nothing gets built when everyone is committed to “living authentically.” In that environment, anyone who encourages you to delay or sacrifice immediate desires hates you and anyone who encourages you to play nice in the sandbox is trying to oppress you and preserve their power. Just ask the president of any Ivy League university these days how young progressives feel about cooperation.

There is also no need to listen to anyone from generations past. After all, they were racist, sexist, or some other version of “ist” and therefore unworthy of the respect of the modern world. Progressivism does not seek to understand why a fence was put up before tearing it down, it just understands that all fences are restrictive, and all restrictions prevent someone from “living authentically” so they must go.

You may be indifferent when an institution dies because you’ve heard about the bad stuff, but it’s worth spending a moment thinking about why an institution was built in the first place. What was the cause that compelled people to give and sacrifice over the span of generations to build something with a specific purpose?

If the cause is no longer just, then let it go. But if the cause was and is just, and we find ourselves dismantling institutions built to do something that still needs to be done, we need to consider what is replacing it. And if the answer is “nothing,” as it almost always is these days, we should be very concerned.