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 (6.2.4.1).  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’ (6.2.4.3).

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 (6.2.5.1).
  • Some progressives, though, are radicals and want to impose major ideologically-based changes on society (6.2.5.2).
  • The most extreme form of progressivism is revolution: totally changing a country’s governance, inevitably using some violence (6.2.5.3).

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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

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