6.2.5 Progressivism

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 (  Condorcet, for example, wrote:

“everything that bears the imprint of time must inspire distrust more than respect”.[1]

●  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’ (

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 (

●  Some progressives, though, are radicals and want to impose major ideologically-based changes on society (

●  The most extreme form of progressivism is revolution: totally changing a country’s governance, inevitably using some violence (

[1] Condorcet was quoted by Thomas Sowell, in A Conflict of Visions, p.  39, when describing the “unconstrained vision”.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/625b.htm