I confess. I've come to start using the term "progressive" as a dirty word. My distaste for the term began in college with professors who used "progressive" as a code word for Communism. Anything that advanced the cause of the party of was progressive.
Aside from my distaste for the leftwing professoriate, I've realized that it is contemptuous to think of one ideology as being for progress while others are opposed to progress.
Different thought systems have different notions of how to go forward. A pundit who labels his ideas as progressive and his opponents regressive is just pulling the wool over the public's eyes. In most cases, people who claim to be progressive support an ideology that is far more regressive than they one they hope to replace.
Progressive as an Adjective
In the article on Political Camps, I put forward the idea that I see some value in using the terms "progressive" and "conservative" as adjectives. Many debates take the form of one person wanting to change the status quo and another wanting to preserve it. In these debates, one could label the proponent of change "progressive" and the proponent of the status quo "conservative."
This use of adjectives really only applies to positions on issues. Most people, or political camps, of any depth have aspects of the status quo that they want preserved or changed.
Even the dearly loved progressive professoriat that seeks to socialize our nation would never want to see the tenure system that guarantees professors a life of luxury changed. Most progressive professors hold that the state should meddle in all areas of business except, of course, the state run university where the dictates of the progressive professor reigns supreme.
There are some politicians who promote change for the sake of change. So, perhaps there is some value to the term. However, the term fails in its ability to describe the politician's views in depth.
The Conservative View of Progress
Attempts to describe politics in terms of a progressive/conservative dichotomy generally do the disservice of creating an illusion that "conservatives."
In most cases it is not a question of one group wanting to maintain a static society and another seeking a better world. In most cases, the political divide is about the best way to proceed.
Progressives see the path to improvement through social upheaval. Conservatives want ot progress by laying a foundation and building upon that foundation.
There is merit in both the Conservative and Progressive approach to politics; However, the method that is in order often has more to do with current existing conditions than the intrinsic value of the Progressive or Conservative world view.
When the ruling class of a society is corrupt and is impeding progress, then social upheaval may be necessary for a society to advance. If the corruption of the ruling class is relatively tame and when the status quo has mechanisms for social advancement, then the conservative approach to building on the foundation is in order.
He Who Screams Loudest
The body politic is filled with people who want their name to rise above the crowd.
One of the best ways to make your name rise above the crowd is to get your name, or the name of your group, associated with an issue. Pretty much all political debates these days are accompanied by branding campaigns that try to get names associated with the issue.
Sadly, these branding campaigns are often a bit unbalanced. In many cases a politically ambitious person or group will push an argument to an extreme. Arguments pushed to extremes often become absurdities.
For example there may be a recognized need for prison reform. The loudest candidate for reform might be a fool willing to release dangerous criminals into the public for a poorly thought through ideal.
People who push ideas to extreme often self identify themselves as progressive.
I dislike the game where "he who screams loudest is most heard," because the views of the people who use issues in branding efforts are often poorly thought through.
This type of politics tends to bring forth extremist solutions to problems. It also has the unfortunate affect of undermining worthy causes.
Progressive Regressive Cycles
A final note on progressive politics is that many of the most regressive ideas in history were thought progressive at the time.
The people who brought slavery to the new world saw slavery as a shortcut to progress. Some believed that slavery was the key to success of the ancient world. Having slaves would allow the upper classes to focus on noble arts.
Many of the proponents of segregation and Jim Crow laws in the South saw segregation as a path to progress. Allowing blacks and whites separate but equal facilities would allow both blacks and whites to progress at their own pace.
For many decades the oppression of Native Americans (savages) was seen as progressive.
For a brief moment last century, nuclear power was seen as the most promising path to progress. The nuclear industry pushed out a large number of plants without having any notion of how to dispose of the waste.
For many years conservations was seen as a petty concern of fuddy-duddy conservatives. The progressive man of the people supported big public work projects including big roads, big dams and big industry.
The evolution of environmentalism is interesting. For decades, conservationists were systematically dismissed by the left. When finally environmental degradation was such an issue that it could no longer be ignored, the left succumbed to a screaming match with the people who screamed loudest leading a new radicalized environmental movement.
Today the fuddy duddy conservationist who was dismissed in the past for standing in the way of industrial progress is dismissed for standing in the way of environmental progress despite the fact that their views haven't changed.
Improvement v. Progress
I dislike the term "progressive" because, like the word "conservative," it lacks instinsic meaning. The meaning changes with time. In a dyanmic political system, you will find parties progressive on one issue and conservative on another.
I have also come to see the best path to progress as the creation of a stable but limited government that allows the people of the nation to define and seek their own forms of improvement.
What Links Here
The following list shows "internal" pages that link to this page.
The following lists shows links to external articles that link to this page.
- Regulating Conservatives (added 2009-01-04 by kd) An examination of how the regulation/deregulation dichotomy is fundamental to the progressive world view, and why it is not fundamental to the classical liberal view.
If you have a blog post or article that references this page, you can
request a link. If approved, the link will appear above. NOTE, we are highly selective.