The term ‘progressivism’ is used here to describe a belief in the power of politicians to improve the quality of life for the population, a tolerance of change, a welcoming of different points of view and a readiness to challenge existing institutions. It is the opposite of conservatism in two key ways:
- Progressives believe that new rational thought should be applied to the world as it is now. They might not accept past experience as a justification for the status quo, in contrast to Burkean pragmatism (220.127.116.11). Condorcet, for example, wrote:
“everything that bears the imprint of time must inspire distrust more than respect”.
- They believe in ‘progress’ or ‘meliorism’: making people’s lives better with human effort and politically-initiated change. This is a viewpoint which is diametrically opposed to the conservative preference for small government and ‘laissez-faire’ (18.104.22.168).
The following sub-sections identify different degrees of progressivism:
- It can just mean a desire to improve people’s lives, and to respond pragmatically to externally-imposed changes (22.214.171.124).
- Some progressives, though, are radicals and want to impose major ideologically-based changes on society (126.96.36.199).
- The most extreme form of progressivism is revolution: totally changing a country’s governance, inevitably using some violence (188.8.131.52).
This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/625b.htm
 Condorcet was quoted by Thomas Sowell, in A Conflict of Visions, p. 39, when describing the “unconstrained vision”.