“All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions.”
– George Bernard Shaw
“All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.”
– Adlai E. Stevenson
“The greatest enemy of progress is not stagnation, but false progress.”
– Sidney J. Harris
Do Progressives live up to their name?
It’s a legitimate question to ask.
The same could be asked of conservatives or libertarians.
But today, I’m asking the Progressives.
Is your ideology, the ideology of progressivism, a bastion of progress?
Is advancement, growth, and evolution the result of your policies, ideas, and beliefs?
Have you stolen the title of progressive simply as a marketing tactic, or do you truly see yourself as a supporter of progress?
This isn’t meant as an attack, more of a question. And in reality, this is more about “what is progress” than “are you really ‘progressive.’”
So first, let’s dive into what is progress…
The Definition of Progress
I’m tempted to supply you with a definition of progress from Google, but I thought better of it.
If you were to look at the quoted individuals above for insight into what progress is, you’d find a few things true about progress.
For instance, progress usurps the status quo, and goes against the grain of society.
But let’s look into 3 things that I think define progress the best (don’t miss the cool quotes throughout)…
I hope you can agree that innovation is a facet of progress. Without it how would we have gotten out of the Stone Age?
Innovation is the oil that keeps the markets moving. It continually props up civilization.
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
– Shirley Chisholm
There’s no way you can be “progressive” and not support innovation.
Progress is inherently human.
Animals don’t progress. Humans do.
It isn’t progress if it doesn’t further mankind. But what defines furthering mankind?
“Human development is a form of chronological unfairness, since late-comers are able to profit by the labors of their predecessors without paying the same price.”
– Alexander Herzen
This is where the next definition of progress come in…
Furthering Mobility & Freedom
This is the hard part, defining what progress looks like.
Logical consistency is important, which is why I would argue that if you believe innovation is a part of progress you have to accept that progress is ultimately about freedom.
“The simplest school boy is now familiar with truths for which Archimedes would have sacrificed his life.”
– Ernest Renan
Don’t think stereotypical freedom, think of it in a broad sense.
Humans are naturally individualistic. And as civilization progresses, that individualism becomes easier to see.
Financial, economic, physical, and social freedom. They’re all growing as the centuries progress.
I would argue that this is the objective of progress. To further mankind’s freedom.
Dependence VS. Independence
This progression of freedom, mankind’s freedom, is an interesting one.
If progress is ultimately about furthering mankind’s freedom, it would make sense that humanity is a story of dependence to independence.
Think about it.
The early periods of history were marked in abundant poverty with a few individuals owning the majority of the wealth (even owning most of the people).
Economies used to be based on mercantilism: a fight over who had the most resources. A “I have more sand in my sandbox than you do” kind of world.
These economies were controlled by wealthy kings. They subjugated their people into land-based slavery.
Feudalism is the best example of a dependence system. Everyone’s poor except for the king, and he owns everything (including you).
Labor, just like past economic systems was based on dependency. Some of the most powerful Empires and kingdoms used slave labor to build their monuments.
The pyramids were built with slave labor. No one volunteered for that. No one got paid for their blood, sweat, and tears.
Even early factory life was dependent.
But that’s no longer the case.
Economies are based on the exchange of goods and services that benefits everyone (not just rich kings). Labor is no longer land-based. You’re no longer a servant to the land. Feudalism has died out to an early individualistic model of life. Land is no longer owned by one man. Private property reigns supreme.
Factory life has moved into an entrepreneurial era where any man or woman can be their own boss.
But are some people trying to return mankind to a dependence based system?
A Return to Feudalism?
Not to be that conspiracy weirdo, but the push for the welfare state definitely reminds me of feudalism (not as bad, though).
Everyone earns their livelihood from the king (i.e. government). The government king owns everything and doles out what his subjects need, but keeps the rest. The king is the richest person.
This is why I have a problem when welfare (and other government security nets) are touted as agents of progress.
Progress doesn’t make you a serf. Progress doesn’t elevate one man (or group of men) above the rest. Progress doesn’t hamper your mobility.
In Feudalism, the king provided everything. In these socialist utopia dreams, the government provides everything.
What’s the difference again?
Individuality is the foundation of Progress
Like I mentioned earlier, progress is the friend of individuality.
Innovations make your life easier. The economy makes it easier to amass wealth through your own labor (and it allows you to own the product of your labor).
Private property frees you from being a serf to a king.
Civilization has moved away from barbaric dependency systems. It’s moved away from centralized control, to individuality.
Letting Go of the Need to Control
And we come to a side note of progress…
Letting go of control.
The more progressive society becomes, the less need you have to control others.
The wealthier civilization becomes (both economically and technologically), the less centralized control will be.
Centralized control is outdated, it’s harmful. It’s a memory of past dependence systems, systems that are now archaic.
You’re not a serf. You’re able to get your own job and provide for yourself.
You’re not tied down to the land. You can find your own place to live, or you can move around wherever you like.
You’re not fighting to stockpile your wealth, like some mercantile king that views wealth as finite.
Wealth is not finite. There is no pie.
Your wealth is now used to create more wealth, jobs, products, services, and improve society.
By letting go of centralized control, you let individuals live their own lives.
What does Progress Mean to You?
So, are Progressives really bastions of progress?
Maybe that doesn’t matter as much as what is progress?
What does progress look like?
I’ve already told you what I think progress looks like, now it’s your turn.
Do you think progress is about increasing freedom for all?
Do you think progress moves us away from dependence to independence?
Or, do you think progress is about giving people more security in life?
If you know what progress means to you, share it in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think about it. And, if you’re a Progressive, what does progress mean to you?