Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pragmatic and progressive liberalism ... This is apropos of no one instance in particular, but after viewing yet another "progressive" website yesterday I finally lost it. It's time for a little review.

"Progressive" is a political modifier which regards societal development as a linear matter and, clearly, advocates progressive rather regressive movement. Its focus on forward-thinking is very much a vestige of the Enlightment, which saw society as proceeding towards reason and away from ignorance.

"Liberal," by contrast, does not necessarily view development as linear, and owes not to the Enlightenment but to Roman antiquity. The world itself derives from the Latin adjective liberalis,-e, which describes someone or something which has the qualities of a free man.

In the 18th and 19th century, liberals were inherently progressive. They defined classical liberalism primarily as the public exercise of reason and sought to incorporate a similar rationality within their own political bodies. The belief then -- and particularly in the 19th century -- was that if only society could be organized rationally, human suffering would be kept to a minimum and human injustice would largely disappear.

Then came the trenches of WWI, the gas chambers of WWII, and the nuclear armament of the Cold War. Suddenly a huge rift appeared: there were those who viewed those events as further evidence of human ignorance and saw reason as an even more necessary solution; and there were those who lost faith in reason as a social panacea and grounded liberal beliefs in pragmatism rather than political philosophy.

Which brings us to today. About five years ago there was a lexical shift in the American left. More and more people began to use the word progressive rather than liberal. The idea behind this was that "progressive" was fresher and more inclusive than "liberal", which in the 1990s had become something of a bad word, a cultural stand in for personal decadence and moral decay.

Yet the trouble is this: as we've just seen, progressive is not synonymous with liberal. At most the two relate synecdochally, since progressivism is a kind liberalism often taken for the class as a whole. But it ought not be mistaken for liberalism itself. There are many liberals, myself included, who cannot be identified as progressives -- I do not believe there is a more "progressive" state to which we should aspire, and in fact think that if anything history has taught us the danger of such aspirations. The world's problems need to be managed rather than solved, and adopting the liberal model of freedom has been shown, thus far, to offer the best example for peaceful management.

So please people. Stop saying progressive when what you really mean is liberal. And if you do use it, please take care to qualify that you are using it as against more pragmatic folk like myself. Thank you!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

your son died admirably and a true hero and dammit be proudDon't you ever say that us "Americans" have blood on our hands......... I support those who are fighting for our country, your son believed the same, fight for freedom, if he died in the process that is horrible and I hate that... I also hate those "terrorists" who made me cry on 9/11, he had courage, he had drive and he died for me and every American living free today. Don't ever disgrace your own son by disagreeing with why he died. He died trying to protect someone like me and I love him for it, don't you dare take that away from all the other mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, fiances and everyone else because you are angry. I am angry too, you don't know the full story about what is going on out there and you never will, just trust he die.

3:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just trusted he died admirably, and proud, don't you ever take that away from him just cause you are hurting.

3:45 AM  

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