The Social Engineering Argument… The Crutch of Hack Conservatives


The social engineering argument – the argument that certain policies are meant to control our actions and thus negatively affect our freedoms and are inherently socialistic – is brought out by conservatives on a regular basis to counter progressive ideas and policies.  Wanting to rid the world of plastic shopping bags, switching to more efficient CFL light-bulbs, or promoting alternative modes of transportation are examples of policies that have this argument flung their way all the time.  And given how many Teapublicants seem to view such policies, it would seem they would like to turn the clock back with a big win for freedom and allow us to purchase leaded gas once again.

I was reminded of this on Friday when Michelle Malkin responded via Twitter to Ray Lahood’s announcement that high-speed rail will create thousands of American jobs.  Malkin linked to a post on her blog where she claimed that supporters of high-speed rail were “eco-radical social planners;” obviously in this case giving people more choice when it comes to travel is undesirable and radical.  According to many conservative pundits, social engineering is something that only those evil leftists attempt to undertake.  When Malkin uses the term to attack high-speed rail she conjures up images of government bureaucrats taking away hard-working, middle-class Americans’ cars, forcing them into 200 sq ft apartments in Soviet style housing complexes, and forcing abortions upon all women.

So what is social engineering?  Social Engineering is the…

“effort to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large-scale, whether by governments or private groups in the political arena.”

Pretty broad idea right?  One that conservatives embrace in many of their policies.  Attempts to bust unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey, efforts Malkin has been heartily cheering for, are social engineering because the aim is t ultimately reshape the attitude that Americans hold regarding the relationship between workers and corporate interests… Wisconsin is just the first step.  30 years of constantly chipping away at government social programs, the deification of The Great Gipper, and convincing half of this country that Reaganomics actually works all fit under the premise of social engineering.

Some examples of real world social engineering, both good and bad,  as opposed to the kind Malkin imagines:

  • Henry Ford paying his workers $5/day so that they could actually make a living
  • Andrew Carnegie building libraries throughout America in order to spread literature, culture, and his good name
  • Walmart convincing people to buy cheap products from China that accelerates the exportation of American jobs
  • Things like Jesus Camp
  • Eisenhower’s National Highway System which had a major influence in turning America into a motoring society
  • The Abolition movement
  • Prohibition
  • Abolition of child labor via the Fair Labor Standards Act

Even America’s Founding Fathers were social engineers when they conjured up a contract which would form the basis for not just our system of government, but would establish our sense of identity as Americans and as a symbol for every social and civil rights movement throughout our history.  Social engineering is all around us in our everyday lives, mainly in the form of marketing telling us that this or that product is safe and will improve our lives.  But it also comes in the forms of legislating morality and the push by some to turn America into Ayn Rand’s wet dream.

To insinuate that only those fucking dirty-hippie-socialist-fascist-pigs that want a cleaner world are responsible for social engineering is deceitful.  I guess its only social engineering if the policy comes from the other side of the political spectrum.  And apparently some conservatives would like to rid America of the stench of social engineering that are child labor laws and have little Timmy STFU and get back to the lathe.


  1. Craig Moore

    CFS, project much? Stay away from mirrors.

    As to peace, love, dope, and a cleaner world, just add exploding school children to your “victim speak” messaging:

    • JC

      Craig, you’re way off topic and out of bounds here. I’m sure even Big Ingy is scratching his head over this one.

      But I expect no less from you than to try and deflect the argument away from the one CFS is trying to make. Why is that Craig? Because maybe you realize his point is accurate: the the right is a bunch of hypocrites when it comes to believing that social engineering only comes form the left?

      Direct question Craig: do you see what the right is doing (abortion, nullification, union busting…) as social engineering?

  2. Craig Moore

    JC, I’m surprised you didn’t read CFS’ post to the end. Reflect on his first sentence of his last paragraph. He opens a can of worms that trolls his own post with his statement “insinuate that only those fucking dirty-hippie-socialist-fascist-pigs that want a cleaner world are responsible for social engineering …” I have no problem with CFS wanting a cleaner environment, I just wish he had a better image and opinion of himself that he ascribes to others.

    Social engineering has been around since humankind formed into tribes. No surprise there.

    • carfreestupidity

      Sorry Craig, but that’s not how I imagine myself, nor other environmentalists and progressives. What you quote is how some people on the right, including Michelle Malkin, view environmentalists and progressives.

      And you are correct that social engineering has always been around, that is one of the points I was trying to make. Both conservatives and liberals are guilty of policies that fall into the category of social engineering.

      My other point is that conservatives who use social engineering as an attack against policies they don’t agree with are being intellectually disingenuous. It is used as a code phrase that conjures up certain images and ideas.

      • I think that’s a great point, CFS. I wouldn’t say liberals and conservatives are ‘guilty’ of policies that contribute to social engineering – some of the most admired as well as reviled leaders in history have been social engineers. For every Stalin and Mao there is a Madison or an Ataturk.

        The United States was founded on an enlightenment ideal that held that the rational and self-conscious re-designing of society was possible and desirable in order to lead to a better world. The French and Russian Revolutions may have shown the limits of government intervention into civil society with such debacles as agricultural collectivization, but I think the examples you gave are excellent counter points to where the government can make a drastic impact on society, often positively.

        Craig – I think you generally add interesting diversity to the discussion, but I don’t get your point here. You’re pulling an Ingy – throwing in random irrelevant links rather than contributing in a meaningful way to the discussion at hand.

        • Ingemar Johansson

          If it gets Scary in a tirade and booted-it overflows with meaning.

        • Craig Moore

          PW, my point was to show the hackery embedded in the overheated hyperbole as if it were meaningful context to the finger pointing on social engineering. It’s not that it exists, but that it transcends political and ideological boundaries. From South Africa, there is this:

          Trade union Solidarity’s deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann claimed on Sunday that the amendments could amount to “a massive and unfeasible social engineering programme”.

          He said nearly a million of all economically active coloured South Africans in the Western Cape would have to earn a living in another province if the proposed amendments were signed into law.

          Hermann said in terms of the amendment, the act would no longer recognise the economically active population (EAP) of a region, but only the national demographics of the economically active population.

          So we have a union official speaking out against social engineering. How is that possible?

          • I think CFS made a good point with the list of government actions that have had the effect of social engineering – they come from both sides and have both positive and negative effects. But it is far more often the right wing (in this country) that tries to use ‘social engineering’ as an argument against a government action.

            Finding a union official in South Africa speaking against social engineering does nothing to speak against that point. The original post is an equally good argument against liberals or progressives who would invoke the ‘social engineering is just like 1984’ argument, but few of them do.

            • Craig Moore

              Pee Dubya, look at the title of this post. There is nothing evenhanded about it.

              • Get your own friggin’ blog if you don’t like our headlines.

                This is a progressive blog. We don’t write to please you, Craig.

                We don’t write to please anyone.

              • Craig Moore

                So JH, being progressive is being stilted and seeking applause from the choir?

                It’s not about whether I or anyone else likes a headline or the content that follows. If you and your writers are above challenge for demonstrations of hackery, so be it. My offer to you still stands. Just say the word and I will go quietly.

              • Don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya.

              • Craig Moore

                JH, I will take that as your request for me to leave, and I will honor it.

              • carfreestupidity

                Craig… jhwygirl doesn’t speak for me. your always welcome to comment on my posts. That’s the whole point of blogs, to get a little back and forth going and as long as your not solely being a troll, then I welcome your criticism.

              • Craig Moore

                CFS, my offer was to JH and she apparently accepted with her comment about door meeting butt. We have a history that goes back a few years. Won’t bore with the details. I stand by my word and commitment to her. Good luck with your postings.

              • I’m choosing to believe Craig and her were once star-crossed lovers, their love doomed by insurmountable political differences. In the absence of evidence, it’s always most interesting to assume life is actually like a telenovela.

                But seriously, sans Craig this place would be lacking substantive political commentary from anything resembling the political right. And I don’t know about y’all, but I like being on the left side of a good discussion with a competent conservative occasionally. I rather wish we had Craig commenting at ID.

              • lizard19

                i dunno, craig isn’t willing to give the same consideration he demands by refraining from ad hominem, which makes his wounded cries for blog-justice rather disingenuous.

              • But Craig’s ad hominem attacks are generally directed towards a blogger or commentator as such (like always bringing up your conspiracy theories to avoid answering relevant questions), which though annoying, I don’t find offensive. And I can tolerate a lot of disingenuity if it makes for a stimulating conversation.

              • Rather, if the disingenuity accompanies stimulating conversation – it rarely makes for it.

          • carfreestupidity

            I’m allowed to be a hack… This is a blog that no one gets paid to write for, I don’t have a million dollar contract to spout professional opinion on a news network wi a staff of editors and fact checkers.

  3. mr benson

    Baloney. If you’d prefer, we could call it greed, envy and spite. You want what you haven’t earned or worked for, and want to use political force to deny to others, or take from others, what they HAVE earned and worked for.

    So if you don’t like the term social engineering, let’s really call it what it is.

    The founders stood up for the freedom of the individual. Social engineering is the exact opposite.

    • “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” ?

      • mr benson

        “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…and that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men”.

        Missing in that statement is that whole top down thingy that the socialists and social engineers espouse. In particular, the right of property (including, at its most basic, the right of property in one’s physical self) is a basic Lockean right that somehow the social engineers on the left and right love to ignore.

    • carfreestupidity

      I know… I’ve had my eye on your big screen tv for sometime, now with comrade Obama on the verge of his socialist paradise, I might just get it.

      I think you need to go back and take a look at the definition, the founding fathers were perhaps the greatest social engineers in recent history. They made the spread of ideals such as democracy and individual freedom possible that nearly half the world now enjoy to some degree.

      And how is 60 years of government sponsored taking of land, much of it from economically lower class citizens, to build the worlds most extensive highway system individual freedom? Because it promotes private consumption?

      And I don’t want to take anything from anybody. What I would like to see are a set of policies put in place that promote a different set of choices via economic self interest. Apparently it is acceptable to manipulate economic principals if your motive is profit and you have the financial recsources of Wall Street, but if your want to do it to promote the public good… Well then your just a socialist.

      • mr benson

        If you gotta have it, come yourself. Don’t send government to confiscate it for you.

        That includes anything else from my kids to my light bulbs you think you deserve to control.

        • Mr. Benson – we don’t want your light bulbs. We want you to stop plugging them into the power grid that is driven by OUR water and OUR coal. Some things are private, Mr. B. The environment is not one of them.

        • carfreestupidity

          @mr Bensen… I bet you want your
          Leaded gas back.

          And as I said above but you chose to ignore… I don’t want to force you to do anything, but I do want to force you to make the right choice.

  4. lizard19

    check out this film:Human Resources

    it looks at fun things like behaviorism and eugenics.

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