Pat Buchanan characterizes the progressive philosophy of government in this way: “…the fundamental progressive idea, the philosophy of the Democratic Party that government can really do great and good things and can do them well, given enough time and effort.” The part about the Democratic Party is irrelevant because the Republican Party acts the same way.
This summary of the progressive philosophy of government views government as an instrument or tool that can be used to do good. I’d add one thing, which Pat left out, which is “in the hands of progressives.” That is, they believe that government can do great and good things, with time and effort, only if government is in their hands or adopts their policies.
The libertarian philosophy of government directly opposes the progressive philosophy by pointing out that government-as-we-know-it, in the forms historically observed to predominate for thousands of years, is a “bandit gang writ large”, that taxation is theft on a grand scale, that government is a set of coercive monopolies, and that nothing done by governments cannot be done more efficiently by free individuals who organize their own activities voluntarily.
One can point out the sorry record of governments to progressives all day and all night for 365 days a year without their accepting the libertarian philosophy because they will argue that government is not in their beneficent hands and that their coercions will be beneficial ones. They will argue either that they haven’t been in control, or that their policies were improperly put into practice, or that others sabotaged their programs, or that new problems demand new government actions, or that more time and effort are needed before the good and great results become evident.
The progressive philosophy inherently divides mankind into a class of wise and knowing rulers (the progressives) who will organize the unwise and ignorant masses for their own good. In this sense of unequal rights being built into their view of government, progressives are inherently anti-democratic, no matter how much they may espouse goals of equality. However, progressives downplay, disguise and obscure their use of government force by the effective technique of publicizing “problems” and recommending simple mechanistic solutions for the “common good”. This technique gains public support and wins elections. It appeals to people who want to see problems solved and want to see visible action to solve them. The invisible hand doesn’t satisfy many people.