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The Definition of Progressivism

Patriot Unit 2011/01/24 01:04:26

















The Definition of Progressivism






1 Short
Definition


2 Origin
and Etymology


3 Concerning
the "Progress" in "Progressivism"


4 Fuller
Definition


5 Progressivism
vs. Liberalism


6 Progressivism
vs. Conservatism


7 Additional
Resources




Short
Definition


Progressivism
may be defined briefly as the core principles and beliefs of
Progressives.


However, this
begs the key question: what, exactly, are these principles and
beliefs? A fuller definition therefore requires an exposition
of Progressive convictions. As no two Progressives hold
precisely the same beliefs, and as Progressive views have developed
and changed over the course of time, precise definition will always
be somewhat elusive. Nevertheless, a more complete definition
can be offered; but this will require us to provide a bit of
background.


Origin
and Etymology


The first
citation of the term "progressivism" in the
Oxford
English Dictionary

is dated to 1892, in England. At that time the
St.
James Gazette

used it as a term of derision, equating it with "radicalism".
However, the St. James usage doesn't suggest that a neologism was
being coined for the occasion (nor does the
OED
say as much).


The term, therefore,
seems to be of indeterminate late 19th century British origin, and
originally meant something rather different from what the term has
come to mean today.


It also began to be used
in the United States toward the close of the 19th century. The
need for a new term for reform-minded Americans was driven by the
undesirably close association of the term "liberal" with
the policies of President Grover Cleveland, and the association of
the term "populism" with the political radicalism of the
1890s.

The concept of progress was very much in the air at the
close of the 19th century owing partly to changes in the way that
business was being conducted, partly to the immense changes brought
about by the industrial revolution, and partly by the ideas of
Darwin, as adapted to the context of politics by British and American
sociologists.


The need for political reforms and the broad appeal of the concept
of progress was, then, rather neatly conjoined in the term
"progressivism"; and initially the term had considerable
appeal to what would today be considered Liberals and Conservatives
alike.


Concerning
the "Progress" in Progressivism


All things both
Liberal (in the American sense of that term) and Progressive have
their ultimate origins in Rationalism.
This is, roughly, the belief that only reason and evidence can
properly serve as the foundation of our convictions. If we try
to subsititute something else for reason and evidence, the question
immediately arises how we are to justify
that
something else — and the moment we try to do that, we begin to
employ reason and evidence.


The three great
branches of rationalism are mathematics, science, and philosophy.
While rationalism had its origins in ancient Greece, it was largely
eclipsed during the Dark Ages, and didn't re-emerge as an influential
current of thought until the Renaissance, and later during the
historical period now known as The Enlightenment (which ran its
course throughout the 18th century in Europe).


While many Christians had viewed the presence of humanity on Earth
as deservedly miserable and fleeting (and as something soon to end in
a final Judgment), the philosophers of the Renaissance and the
Enlightenment opened the door to a novel and entirely different
perspective: that of a better quality of life here and now.


Once that possibility began to be further examined another idea
surfaced: there was no obvious reason why the quality of life
could not be improved indefinitely. Here, of course, was the
essence of the idea of progress.


As an abstract concept, progress might have seemed like so much
empty rhetoric had not developments in mathematics and science led to
numerous advances in technology and medicine that in fact, and pretty
inarguably, improved the quality of life; while developments in
philosophy led to the advances in governance that culminated in
modern democracies — democracies that in fact, and pretty
inarguably, improved the quality of life of their citizens. In
short, rationalism began to deliver handsomely on its promises of
progress.


The idea of progress received a further impetus with the
publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) .
In a celebrated passage there, Darwin had remarked:


As all the
living forms of life are the lineal descendants of those which lived
long before the Silurian epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary
succession by generation has never once been broken, and that no
cataclysm has desolated the whole world. Hence we may look with
some confidence to a secure future of equally inappreciable length.
And as natural selection works soley by and for the good of each
being, all corporeal and mental environments will tend to progress
towards perfection.


Here was a startling and unexpected argument from biology to
progress; but Darwin was a naturalist, and the implications of his
suggestion remained to be worked out for ethics and politics.
This task was initially undertaken by another Englishman, Herbert
Spencer (1820 - 1903), and later by Americans William Graham Sumner
and Lester Ward.


As it turned out, the identification of biological evolution with
social advancement was based on confused and ultimately false ideas;
but Spencer's elaboration of an essentially inevitable and indefinite
social progress proved extraordinarily popular — even among those
who would today be described as conservatives. (Spencer and
Sumner were both arch conservatives.) Among those most taken by
Spencer's ideas was the young Englishman Winwood Reade, who
popularized them in The Martyrdom of Man. Reade's
book, originally published in 1872, was read so widely that it
reached an eighth edition just twelve years later — shortly before
the St. James Gazette would use the term "progressivism" in
its pages.


But if biological evolution and social progress were entirely
different things, it remained to be understood what was properly
meant by social progress. There also arose in tandem
issues concerning the best means of achieving progress.


The reform-minded Americans of the late 19th and early 20th
centuries began, at least, from a very clear picture of what they
didn't want. Perhaps first and foremost, many
Americans had first hand experience of working long hours at grinding
labor for minimal pay, frequently in dangerous conditions; and this
included both women and children. Moreover, such labor often
occurred far from public scrutiny, in meat packing plants,
sweatshops, and coal mines. This was a startling development in
a country where the majority of Americans had been proudly
independent farmers just a few short years before.


Moreover, those who didn't have such experience first hand, soon
learned of it at second hand in the magazines of the day.
Pretty clearly, young children losing fingers and toes in factories
didn't amount to progress.


Further shocking revelations concerned political corruption, and
living conditions of poor families in cities like New York and
Chicago. The business activities of men like John Rockefeller
included dynamiting competitors — and having striking employees
shot dead. Much of what was so clearly wrong had, in one way or
another, a great deal to do with the large corporations that the
industrial revolution was giving birth to.


And then there were so many other troubling matters.
American women had no right to vote. African Americans were
being lynched in the South. Foods and "medicines"
were often contaminated or poisonous. (For additional details,
see the Progressive Living Progressive
Era Timeline
, and Brief
History of Progressivism
.)


If nothing else, it was apparent that regulation of businesses and
business practices was badly needed. The hands-off approach,
known as "laissez faire", and extolled by businessmen, was
recognized by most to be a thoroughgoing catastrophe. So while
populism and Progressivism began from a strong sense of shrinking
economic opportunities, they soon broadened into a more general
recognition of the need for social justice; and the key obstacle to
both was the large corporation or "trust".


It was precisely this tension between the desire for a better life
for all, and its obstruction by the very wealthy owing to the
instrument of the corporation that gave Progressivism its most
distinctive characteristics. (Europe, broken up into many
smaller countries, and rife with cultural and linguistic barriers,
gave rise to liberalism; but European liberals never had to contend
with anything quite like the titanic, monopoly-seeking American
corporation.)


Fuller Definition


We are now in a better position to offer a fuller definition of
Progressivism: it is the specifically American
development of Liberalism and populism that seeks social justice
above all else, and specifically with reference to the obstacles
posed to social justice by large corporations. Though
Progressives strongly support civil liberties, the "progress"
in Progressivism is thought to lie, most fundamentally, with
ensuring, as the American pledge to the flag puts it, "justice
for all".


Progressivism vs. Liberalism


It should now be clear where, broadly, the differences between
Liberalism and Progressivism lie. In the United States today,
elections are broadly controlled by the mass media (which are
themselves among the largest of big businesses) and by a system of
legalized bribery (sometimes referred to euphemistically as "making
campaign contributions"). In this system, the very wealthy
owners and officers of large corporations are vastly better placed
than most Americans to influence political outcomes.
Progressives would say that many of the politicians who have called
themselves Liberals — and who must daily face the reality of a need
for a great deal of cash in order to be elected — have largely
resigned themselves to the political corruption this entails, and
have been weak critics of corporate abuses. This has led to a
dissatisfaction with the term among many of those who consider
themselves to be Progressives. Progressives also tend to be
somewhat more populist
in outlook than Liberals.


Progressivism vs.
Conservatism


Like other forms of Liberalism, Progressivism represents a
commitment to the rule of law, with governance of the people, by the
people, and for the people. Progressives seek such governance
as the means to the greatest good of the greatest number.
Progressives would say that political and economic conservatism (but
not cultural conservatism) is committed to political and
economic elitism, with governance of a wealthy elite, by a wealthy
elite, on behalf of the economic interests of a wealthy elite — by
force, if necessary, but preferably by means of bribery, rigged
elections, packed courts, and mass media propaganda. Recently,
conservatives have sought an all-powerful "unitary executive"
role for the Presidency, in keeping with authoritarian ambitions.











More Concerning Progressivism

Further resources
concerning Progressivism at Progressive Living:


The essay Progressivism
provides an essay describing the essentials of contemporary
American Progressivism, while a related
page
provides an overview of all the major topics relevant to
Progressivism. The Reconstruction
Timeline
provides background to the sort of corruption that
was to lead up to the Progressive Era, while the Progressive
Era Timeline
provides an overview of the developments of that
period. The
History of Progressivism
provides a brief account of
Progressivism from its earliest American origins, down through the
21st century. The definition
of Progressive education
provides both a definition and some
background to educational Progressivism, while the Progressive
Education Field Guide
provides a broader array of resources.
Progressive economics are described at the Field
Guide to Progressive Economics
.





http://www.progressiveliving.org/politics/definition_of_progr...





I would agree with both of these
comments from the above.


Progressivism vs. Liberalism


It should now be clear where, broadly, the differences between
Liberalism and Progressivism lie. In the United States today,
elections are broadly controlled by the mass media (which are
themselves among the largest of big businesses) and by a system of
legalized bribery (sometimes referred to euphemistically as "making
campaign contributions"). In this system, the very wealthy
owners and officers of large corporations are vastly better placed
than most Americans to influence political outcomes.
Progressives would say that many of the politicians who have called
themselves Liberals — and who must daily face the reality of a need
for a great deal of cash in order to be elected — have largely
resigned themselves to the political corruption this entails, and
have been weak critics of corporate abuses. This has led to a
dissatisfaction with the term among many of those who consider
themselves to be Progressives. Progressives also tend to be
somewhat more populist
in outlook than Liberals.


Progressivism vs.
Conservatism


Like other forms of Liberalism, Progressivism represents a
commitment to the rule of law, with governance of the people, by the
people, and for the people. Progressives seek such governance
as the means to the greatest good of the greatest number.
Progressives would say that political and economic conservatism (but
not cultural conservatism) is committed to political and
economic elitism, with governance of a wealthy elite, by a wealthy
elite, on behalf of the economic interests of a wealthy elite — by
force, if necessary, but preferably by means of bribery, rigged
elections, packed courts, and mass media propaganda. Recently,
conservatives have sought an all-powerful "unitary executive"
role for the Presidency, in keeping with authoritarian ambitions.


But I do not agree with the concept of
using rationalism as the bottom line of Progressiveness.
"Rationalism in Politics" first appeared in 1962. It was a
distillation of the thinking of Michael Oakeshott on the effects of
general philosophies applied to political problems in the particular.


I don' t think that it works in
politics. If given enough time and using enough thought, you can make
anything seem correct. Rationalization and Justification are to close
to being a natural process, that I don't see how either can be used
in politics. What do you think???/

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  • Patriot Unit 2011/02/11 02:25:00
    Patriot Unit
    Funny how none of them are commenting on here. Neither the Liberals or the Progressives had anything to say. Wonder why that is?
  • HOMBRE 2011/01/30 01:56:55
    HOMBRE
    +1
    fart comic another liberal progression
  • Patriot Unit 2011/01/30 01:53:54
    Patriot Unit
    To much information for most of you I see. Sorry. I was wrong for a long time as to what a progressive really was. That is why I took the time to look, and to post what I found. I am sure there are many more opinions out there.
  • micheleT BN-O 2011/01/24 14:00:34
    micheleT BN-O
    +2
    Great post, hope more read it!
  • DebraJMSmith 2011/01/24 01:20:08 (edited)
    DebraJMSmith
    +4
    A liberal's progression: liberal

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