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Progressivism and the Myth of Human Progress

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

When the word “liberal” took on connotations of elitist, out-of-touch, and extremist, the left began to rebrand themselves as “progressives” and their left-wing agenda as “progressivism.”  After all, progressives – as their preferred label implies – are all about progress, and who could be opposed to progress?  


Obviously, we are supposed to believe that anyone who opposes the agenda formerly known as liberalism is opposed to progress.  Or, as a left-wing bumper sticker summed it up in a slap at the tea party, “No tea for me; I’ll have progress instead.”

But before we let progressives rebrand themselves as all about progress and anyone who opposes them as on the wrong side of human advancement, maybe we should ask them a simple question: “When the left talks about progress, are they talking about technological progress or human progress?”  Those are very different ideas, and they have very different consequences for our thinking about the role of government.  

No doubt, advances in transportation, communication, medical care, and other technical fields have made modern life safer and more convenient.   In the arena of pure science, Isaac Newton would be awed at what scientists have discovered in the large-scale, mechanical universe and mystified at what they have discovered at the subatomic level.

But then there is the other side of technological progress.   Modern science has put into human hands weapons that can kill millions.  Scientists have developed new medicines and also new chemical warfare agents to disable and kill.  And the advancements in technology that let us keep up with the whereabouts of our children and to monitor what is going on in our houses while we are away also enable those in positions of power to monitor where we go, who we talk to, and what we say.   The technology that allows Google and Facebook to put information and ideas at our fingertips also gives them the power to control which information and ideas we see.


With all this technology, why is it that the same government that can track your every keystroke cannot seem to secure our borders even though Americans clearly want our borders secured?  It is because Democrats want millions of new voters to turn the country socialist and big donors would sell the country into socialism tomorrow in return for cheap labor today.  Why is it that the same government that can track down business and tax records from years ago for Trump aides cannot seem to recover the 33,000 subpoenaed emails deleted by Hillary Clinton?  It is because the powerful Deep State supported Hillary Clinton, and they put their political agenda above the rule of law.

When we look at the evidence, can we truly say that human nature has advanced along with our technology?  Are people today more trustworthy and less likely to abuse power than the people that our Founders worried about when they wrote all those limits on governmental power into the Constitution? 

If human nature is really advancing, then you should feel safe walking alone late at night in a big city.  You should be able to park your car anywhere at any time without locking it, and you should not need a sophisticated security system for your house.   In fact, you should not even need locks.   

Progressives would argue, of course, that people still do bad things, but it is not our flawed human nature but our flawed human institutions that are the cause of that bad behavior.  People are basically good, they would have us believe, but our political, social, and economic systems are bad.  Reform those institutions, the thinking goes, and then we will see real progress.  


And just how do we do we improve our human institutions so that they bring out the best in humanity?  It is in the answer to that question that we see the real motivation underneath the progressive agenda, and that motivation is anything but modern.  For progressives, it is not really humanity that has progressed, but only progressives; the rest of us are still living in a state of darkness and ignorance.  We are a “basket of deplorables” who need to surrender control of our lives to them, the people who are smarter, more enlightened, and morally superior to the rest of us so that they can redesign and run our human institutions.

There is nothing advanced or progressive about the temptation for people to seek political power to impose their will upon others.  The pages of human history are stained with innocent blood as a result, with over 100 million people dying at the hands of their own government in the last century.   And there is no way to measure the misery suffered by those who survived but whose rights were trampled by government in other ways.

Our Constitution limits governmental power and distributes it broadly to protect the rights of our citizens against power-hungry people who would impose their will on the rest of us.  Those who march under the progressive banner tell us that our Constitution is outdated, and they cheer when a young politician with no record of real accomplishment demands that we surrender our way of life so that she can control the weather. 


That’s a very old song; only the singers are new.

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