6.2.5 Progressivism

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/625.htm)

The term ‘progressivism’ is used here to describe 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’ – making people’s lives better – by 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 (



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