True, the means by which this new progressivism seeks to achieve its ends of “bold structural change” are somewhat hazy and repel most people. But the new progressivism nonetheless commands the devoted allegiance of millions, has a disproportionate influence on the media that shape American culture and thought, and exerts considerable pressure on the Democratic Party. If the ’60s were in Kristol’s view nihilistic, the past decade has been nothing if not moralistic. But it has been a jumble of fractured and competing moralities, each seeking to impose itself on unwilling and hostile competitors.
After all, the very phrase “virtue signaling” presupposes the existence of a virtue to signal. In the case of the new progressivism, such virtue is identified with antiracism, diversity, affinity, authenticity, and environmental consciousness. What has been missing from the public square—on both left and right—are the practices associated with republican virtue: temperance, prudence, moderation, self-control. For the most part, of course, the new progressives are upstanding citizens whose personal lives are as prosaic as that of any bourgeois. But this part of their lives is just that—personal—and when they go into public the new progressives are more content to preach the gospel of diversity, equality, and #resistance.
Where did the new progressives come from? One clue is that the most vocal and radical members of the new progressivism are under the age of 35. Colin Kaepernick, for example, is 32; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is 30. If you are someone who has come of age during the last two decades, you have witnessed a fantastic disparity between the operations of the public sphere and the conventions of the private sphere. There has been little accountability for government officials who presided over terrorist attacks, unsuccessful wars, financial crises, bailouts of financial institutions, bureaucratic dictates, a flawed response to a global pandemic, Depression-era levels of unemployment, and egregious failures in policing.