Discipline, both individual and organizational, is an essential component of all successful endeavors. Monks and swamis seeking enlightenment, teams and armies seeking victories, entrepreneurs and corporations seeking profits, scholars and universities seeking empirical and theoretical knowledge, courts and litigants seeking justice, effective activists and successful social movements seeking social change, all adhere to disciplines in service to their goals.
The most robust disciplines channel and activate the genius of those involved, rather than suppress it, but they do so in a disciplined, purposeful manner. The notion that everyone pursuing their own individual whims is the best way for an organized effort to pursue its goal is as detached from reality as the notion that health is best served by being a junk-food gorging couch potato, or that love is best served by selfish disregard of others, or that a broth is best served by having as many chefs as possible each seasoning it to their own taste.
Certainly, everyone is free to say and do as they please, within the limits of the law and their own conscience. Discussing public issues in ineffective ways is as legitimate a pastime, as legitimate a diversion, as bowling or doing crossword puzzles. But for those who claim to be acting with a purpose, who claim to be trying to contribute to positive social change through their actions, the question of whether their actions are actually serving that purpose should always be foremost in their minds. And for those who share the same purpose, the mutual insistence that that question remain foremost in all participants’ minds is the essence of the organizational discipline required for success.
People organized into social movements can change the world, for better or for worse. I believe that Progressives today are unusually well positioned to launch the United States down a sustainable path of accelerating political-economic and cultural progressive development (see, e.g., A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?). The more those who want this to happen work in disciplined and coordinated ways to make it happen, the more likely it is to happen. I have offered on this blog an outline of one possible framework through which to exercise such disciplined coordination, one which is comprehensive and focused (see A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill and The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified). It is right and good that those ideas should be subjected to the crucible of debate, and challenged by competing views, hopefully working toward a synthesis of the best ideas.
But the primary focus should be: What actions, by each speaker (not by remote others), working individually and together, best promote a sustainable progressive path for this nation and this world? The best answers are likely to be, in my opinion, the ones that are least reductionist, most systemic, least dogmatic and intransigent, least bombastic, most analytical, and, in general, most committed to a procedural discipline which ensures both the long-term success of the political agenda, and the wisdom of the ideas it is promoting.