The Spiritual and Moral Heart of Progressive Politics

The Spiritual and Moral Heart of Progressive Politics 


The world’s great religions and moral philosophies, including Christianity, converge on three core virtues.  Together, these three virtues make up the moral core of progressive politics.   They are:  humility, charity, and veracity.


Humility (Equality):  At a religious or spiritual level, humility means that each individual cultivates a sense of being one among many, no less, no more.  In their earliest forms ancient religions often applied virtue only within a small group with shared identity (a single tribe and gender, for example).  Across history, the world’s religions have tended to grow toward more inclusive ideas of who is human and worthy to be treated with respect and humility.   In political terms, humility is usually known as equality.  One expression of humility in the political sphere is policies that safeguard self-determination, the belief that we must be cautious about imposing the will of one individual or group on another.  Another policy that embodies this virtue is progressive taxation, which redistributes wealth.  Progressive taxation, like the ancient year of “jubilee” recognizes that inequities accumulate unless society has mechanisms to level the playing field.   


Charity (Compassion):  Religions often call this virtue love.  It is expressed in kindness, nurturing, tenderness, patience and mercy.  It recognizes that although all may be equal in value, we are not made equal in resources or circumstances.  In many religions, including Christianity, this is the highest virtue. Civic agreements that embody compassion often take the form of social programs. Through such programs, stronger members of society fulfill a moral obligation to care for the wellbeing of those who are weaker by providing a safety net and paths toward a better way of life. 


Veracity (Objectivity):  Veracity is truth seeking and truth telling, but goes beyond these.  It religious terms, it includes honest self appraisal, discernment, and sublime objectivity. In public life, veracity is the opposite of ideology. It is open, outcome driven, and self-correcting.   

Conservative Political Philosophy vs. Progressive Political Philosophy:  Progressive politics differs from conservative politics because conservative politics largely ignore these virtues; conservative politics are built around suppressing vices rather than cultivating virtues.  Conservative politics also have a strong basis in religious tradition.  The world’s religions generally agree that certain vices are to be avoided including murder, theft, lying, and promiscuity. Conservative policies focus on punishing these vices, but otherwise allow citizens to pursue their individual self interest, trusting that if each individual member of a society pursues his or her self-interest, the good of all will result.  This trust is based on ideology, not outcomes. 


By contrast, progressives believe that the shared resources of our society will bring about the highest common good only if our social contracts reflect our core virtues:  equality, compassion, and veracity.  In Biblical terms, conservative policies embody the “do not’s” of the Ten Commandments, while progressive policies embody the “do ye’s” of the Gospels and Talmud.  Conservative policies conserve an ancient and limited social contract.  Progressive policies reflect the moral and spiritual progress evident in Judeo-Christian teachings and value progress in society. 


Ironically, although conservative politics recently have been endorsed by the religious right, they embrace a form of social Darwinism – of elevating natural selection itself to the status of a social virtue.  Progressive politics by contrast parallel the mutuality or communal mindset of the Early Christians, monastic orders in various religions, and secular kibbutzim. 


A progressive political philosophy can be summarized like this:   A society built on the shared virtues of humankind (equality, compassion, and veracity) invests in the commonwealth for the common good, so that individual citizens, both ourselves and our posterity, can experience the richness of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


How the Progressive Social Contract Reflect the Moral and Spiritual Foundation of Progressive Philosophy: 


1.  Economic Justice:  (Virtues – equality, veracity).  Economic justice is an equitable distribution of the goods, services and other benefits gained from economic activity. (equality)  Progressives acknowledge that due to social and economic conditions, the benefits of work don’t always accrue to the ones who created the value. (veracity)  They implement policies that seek to return the benefits of hard work to workers and that counterbalance the unfair advantage of those with power and wealth when they negotiate economic agreements with individuals who are less wealthy or powerful. (equality)

We seek leaders who will work to ensure a world in which prosperity is shared among the many and not merely the few. Shared prosperity requires a commitment to full employment as a priority for economic policy, tied to a commitment to decent work standards for all people. In the pursuit of economic justice, our priorities include:

  • Protecting the right to organize and to strike;
  • Developing and enforcing work safety standards and expanding workplace right-to-know laws;
  • Penalizing corporations that are repeat offenders of workers’ rights, consumer and/or environmental laws;
  • Raising the minimum wage to a living wage that can sustain the family of a full-time worker;
  • Enforcing pay equity for men and women doing equivalent work;
  • Requiring workers’ rights, human rights and environmental protections – and the mechanisms to enforce them – in all trade accords;
  • Protecting Social Security and expanding pensions;
  • Passing new initiatives to hold corporations accountable, shut down sweatshops and turn export-processing zones into fair workplaces, not back alleys of exploitation; and
  • Developing an America that leads in the struggle against poverty, while creating the example of a just democracy for all.

2. Civil Rights:  (Virtues – equality, veracity).  Civil rights insure that each citizen is accorded the same privileges, responsibilities, and protections as any other citizen under the law. (equality)   Progressives acknowledge individual differences, the tendency of human beings to form tribal groupings based on these differences, and the tendency to diminish the value and rights of outsiders. (veracity)  Progressive policies establish safeguards to insure that groups of citizens do not use these differences to infringe the inalienable rights of other groups or individuals. (equality)

We seek an America that offers equal opportunity to all. This requires protection against discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, physical or developmental ability, and sexual orientation. In the pursuit of protecting civil rights and liberties, our priorities include:

  • Ending racial profiling and discriminatory sentencing;
  • Prohibiting bias and discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing practices;
  • Promoting policies that protect immigrant workers;
  • Appointing judges who will protect the rights and safety of all people; and
  • Punishing hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law.

3.  Health Care:  (Virtues –compassion, veracity).  Universal health care protects the minimal well-being of the weakest members of society:  children, the elderly, the ill and injured. (compassion) It asks those who are able to be economically productive to assume responsibility for minimizing the suffering of those who are not. (compassion)  As a policy agenda, it acknowledges the reality that economic injustice exists and that some who contribute to the functioning of society do not receive an adequate return to insure access to the most basic of human needs:  health. (veracity) It also acknowledges the long-term economic efficiencies created by a healthy workforce and healthy families. (veracity)

Americans should be guaranteed affordable, high quality, comprehensive health care. It is simply unacceptable that this nation spends more of its resources on health costs than any other, yet nearly 44 million Americans still go without health insurance. In the pursuit of affordable and accessible health care for all, our priorities include:

  • Investing in public health and preventive health programs;
  • Securing a right to long-term care;
  • Passing a strong, comprehensive Patient’s Bill of Rights that holds HMOs and insurance carriers accountable;
  • Providing pre-natal care and infant health and nutrition to all families;
  • Providing comprehensive health care for the uninsured and the underinsured;
  • Increasing equality in biomedical research, health education, and access to quality health care;
  • Ensuring a secure and expanded Medicare program that includes a prescription drug benefit; and
  • Ensuring health care that is protected against the soaring cost of medicine and drugs.

4. Sustainable Commons:  (Virtues – equality, veracity).  Progressives acknowledge the clear if inconvenient scientific evidence that suggests current practices are destroying the rich heritage that belongs to posterity, thus diminishing their potential for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (veracity) Embracing the equality of future generations, progressive bound current consumption to insure a future that is rich in natural resources and natural beauty.  (equality)  Progressive policies are reality driven. (veracity)  They invest in efficiencies and innovation to maximize current quality of life while placing equal priority on the quality of life of our children’s children. (equality)   

Environmental pollution has gone from nuisance to threat. From global warming to toxic waste, pollution threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the very climate in which we live. Our priorities for investment in a sustainable economy include:

  • Increasing public health inspection and enforcement of clean water, clean air, and food quality regulations;
  • Investing in renewable energy, while helping to create the markets that will make renewables cost-competitive;
  • Promoting policies that demonstrate a commitment to environmental justice and the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields;
  • Enforcing laws against toxic waste dumping that require polluters to pay to clean the waste they create;
  • Promoting clean energy, rebuilding the infrastructure of our cities, and using skilled labor and ingenuity to replace waste and pollution;
  • Increasing public investment in the transition to green growth;
  • Making the transition to a sustainable economy; and
  • Planning and creating incentives to preserve our wilderness, protect ecosystems, and curb suburban sprawl.

5.  Reproductive Freedom (Virtues – equality, compassion, veracity).  Progressives support the right of women and men to control their own fertility. (equality)  They recognize that the unique position of women in childbearing carries with it an equally unique responsibility for decision making. (compassion)  They acknowledge the suffering induced by unwanted pregnancies, a burden which falls disproportionately on women and unwanted children, and they seek to establish policies based on compassion. (compassion)  They rely on objective evidence rather than ideology when it comes to determining which policies minimize suffering, both of sentient fetuses and of women and children. (veracity)  They further acknowledge the widespread human tendency of societies to give men control over women including over their physical wellbeing and fertility and the threat this poses to human equality. (veracity)

All people have the inherent right to self determination. Families, not politicians, deserve the right to make deeply personal decisions about abortion in private and in consultation with their own personal advisors. Women and men deserve all the necessary tools to plan their childbearing according to their unique individual circumstances – and in accordance with their own personal and moral beliefs. Our priorities include:

  • Leaving the full range of reproductive choices to women and men, without stigma or government sanctions, regardless of economic status;
  • Supporting policies that promote everyone’s right to bear children, make personal decisions about sexuality and sexual activity, and adopt or place a child for adoption;
  • Increasing access to effective contraception, safe abortion services, fair adoption programs and accessible child care;
  • Protecting laws that leave complex, personal decisions about abortion to women;
  • Providing youth with comprehensive information about sexuality, pregnancy prevention; and STD/HIV/AIDS prevention;
  • Ensuring increased participation of women of color in the development of policies, legislation and research affecting women’s reproductive health; and
  • Increasing community-based reproductive health services and programs available to women in need. 

Corollary Differences between Conservative and Progressive Political Philosophies that Derive from their Respective Focus on Avoiding Vice and Pursuing Virtue.


Conservative political philosophy values heritage or tradition–the wisdom of the past over the promise of the future.

  • It values hierarchy and patriarchy, which are given the authority to suppress societal evils. (A familiar model for the role of government this framework is the authoritarian father. Deference to governmental authority is assumed.)
  • It prioritizes the safety and clarity of cultural traditions over the uncertain promise of cultural evolution. 
  • It serves the interests of established successful businesses over innovative newcomers, of older generations over younger generations, and powers that be over the less powerful.
  • It sees outsiders as a potential threat to established relationships among people who play familiar and functional roles.
  • Apart from suppressing vice (and maintaining the established hierarchies necessary to this end), conservative philosophies see little role for government.  They advocate small government and minimal taxes.
  • Conservative tendencies (both the tendency to defer to authority and the tendency to pursue self interest) grow in strength when people are threatened or overwhelmed. 
  • In a conservative framework, education is a process by which the best answers available are provided to future generations.


Progressive political philosophy is future oriented and assumes that collectively we can learn and develop better agreements than those reached by our ancestors.

·         It values mutuality and social contract, through which virtues are cultivated. (A familiar model for the role of government in this framework is the nurturing parent.  Deference to governmental authority is earned.) 

·         It prioritizes faith in societal progress and the hope of a better future over the security of traditional codes and structures.

·         It nurtures innovation, generations to come, and the powerless.  

·         It sees outsiders as a potential source of new ideas and mutual assistance.

·         Progressives believe that legitimate government is a key component to building a society based on shared virtues, which enables personal freedom.  They advocate effective government and fair taxes.

·         Progressive tendencies (the tendencies toward mutuality and quest) grow in strength when people feel secure and hopeful.

·         In a progressive framework, education is a process by which the tools of inquiry and innovation are provided to posterity.    


Note:  Unfettered plagiarism throughout.  Gray matter taken directly from Progressive Majority website.:)   Credit to:  Progressive Majority (policies), Houston Smith (convergences), George Lakoff (common good), Paul Abrams (Preamble), Dave Kaplan (Decalogue).


About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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