the question is whether today’s (don’t call them “liberals,” call them) “progressives” operate within [the Progressive] tradition, or whether, as Yglesias has it, it describes a coalition, not a coherent worldview. One obvious fact that contradicts Douthat and Levy is that among most prominent segments of the left (intellectual, bureaucratic, activist) you don’t find much truck with the idea of progress. The traditional engines of Enlightenment progress – western reason, science, trade – have some real enemies among the multicultural, environmentalist, and anti-globalization left. Yes there is some conspicuous impatience to remove issues from public debate in the name of (real or spurious) scientific consensus, and this smacks of the old progressivism, but in general it’s the neo-Reaganite right that fetishizes optimism, believes in things like destiny and in America as the advance guard of western democratic values, etc.
I think both American political coalitions include people who fetishize optimism and progress, actually: the neo-Reaganites are more likely to locate the vanguard of progress in the United States, and the Clintonians in a somewhat more nebulous global community, but both tend toward a "bridge to the twenty-first century" visions of steady upward ascent in human affairs that has roots in the Progressive Era. Meanwhile, both coalitions include skeptics of progress as well, your Robert Borks on the one hand and your Bill McKibbens on the other. This ought to make the current left-right alignment deeply unstable (how can McKibben vote for the same party as Larry Summers? etc.), but for reasons that belong to a longer blog post than this one it holds together better than you might expect.