Many of us are too quick to label ourselves as a conservative, liberal, progressive or whatever without thinking what those labels really mean and where they come from. There is no keeper of labels, thus historians, philosophers, and every other academician can make up their own terminologies which may or may not take hold, or be accurate for that matter. This is the abbreviated but sordid story of one of those labels – perhaps the most misunderstood and misused one: Progressivism. However, we must first understand the meaning and evolution of the concept of liberty in order to truly appreciate the existential threat progressivism poses to it.
A brief history of the evolution of liberty:
Liberty is the state of individual freedom to self-determine. It is freedom from arbitrary and sometimes despotic control by other entities. Individual liberties that we enjoy in free societies are the result of a chain of events spanning two and a half millennium.
Ancient Greek farmer soldiers known as Hoplites were the first known private property owners in the western world. The prosperity that property ownership afforded the Hoplites also allowed them the luxury of reflecting on and philosophizing about life in general. They were the fore-runners of the great ancient Greek philosophers of the Socratic era who would pioneer the reason based political philosophy that would evolve in to classical liberalism among other variants of individualism.
Natural byproduct of reasoning about nature of things is virtue. A virtue is a positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Observations of the nature of things and the resulting logical conclusions yielded certain universal moral absolutes, like the Golden Rule. Natural law and the unalienable rights concepts were the byproducts of virtue. So was republicanism as it was necessitated as a form of governance that elevated the individual to a position of primacy over the state and the collective. This evolution would eventually culminate in the Enlightenment, which allowed the western civilization to finally leave the dark ages behind and advance like never before.
A movement is born:
Virtue dictates that people take responsibility for themselves, as the alternative would be to impose on the unalienable rights of those taking responsibility in a civilized society where human feelings like empathy and compassion make it impossible to turn a blind eye to misery. Adhering to such moral imperatives has always had its opponents since socialism was introduced around mid-19 century under the guise of fairness to the proletariat or the working class. Thus, a hundred and thirty years ago, a parallel movement under the guise of transforming the society in to a utopian vision held by a group of elite socialist intellectuals, drug abusers, and sexual deviants started in the United Kingdom. They would be known as the Fabian Society and later become the pre-eminent academic society in the U.K., whose influence far exceeded the bounds of the empire.
The driving force behind the Fabian Society was the desire to establish global socialism and use of British imperialism as a progressive, modernizing force. Thus the modern, debouched version of the word 'progressive' entered the lexicon. This progressivism, however, was nothing like the original meaning of the word. The desired end result was socialism - a collectivist ideology - rather than individualism as characterized by the reason based Socratic approach to advancement of mankind through individual freedom of thought and action.
Fabian elitists had no stomach for socialism through revolutionary change, therefore adopted their name after the Roman general Fabius Maximus - Fabius translating to 'the delayer'. Theirs would be a gradualist movement that subscribed to incrementalism as agent of change.
Gradualism and deception:
Gradualism is policy of change by gradual, often slow stages. In contrast to impatient and hot headed revolutionary Marxists of the 20th century, Fabians understood just enough about human nature to realize that socialism via revolution would only alienate society and never last, but over time, people would voluntarily buy in to a socialist utopia given the right stimuli. The funny thing about human nature, especially in the West that had been enlightened in the virtues of liberty and equality, is that it yearns for freedom as much as it craves security. It was obvious, therefore that the appeal to the security needs of the masses was the key to everlasting utopia. The problem was that socialism seemingly provided what was essentially a false sense of security, but it was also antithetical to individual liberty as the Fabian socialist vision had no room for unfettered capitalism or private property rights. Right to one's fruits of their labor is the most basic requirement of freedom, and most every person knows this instinctively. This dilemma could seriously jeopardize the chances of success for socialism dissembled as progressivism. Hence, it was a given that along with gradualism, deception would also have to be a central feature of the progressive agenda.
War against traditionalism:
Fabians realized early on that traditionalism had to give way to what some termed modernism if global socialism was ever going to be realized. This implied that the traditional institutions of the society had to be dismantled. Hence, traditionalism along with traditional values had to be vilified as ‘intolerance’ and society made to feel guilty for holding these views. This was a battle for the hearts and souls of the masses – one that the traditionalists did not realize the importance of. Over the next century plus, progressivism assaulted society in a multi-prong attack that would mercilessly decay the traditional institutions of society.
On the education front, or as I refer to as the indoctrination side, classical education was slowly but surely replaced by progressive education that allowed social activism to be introduced in to classes instead of a strong curriculum in the liberal arts that would promote critical thinking. Concepts like service learning, cooperative learning, and social responsibility became everyday classroom activities; all while subjects like history and civics were being revised to fit the progressive mantra.
Progressive education also claimed and continues to claim to promote critical thinking. This is just another deceptive marketing ploy progressivism uses in gaining acceptance. Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness. Critical thinking requires going through all three stages of education: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. A vigorous curriculum in liberal arts is vitally important in learning how to think critically because the inter-disciplinary connections must be made effectively if critical reflection is to take place. Progressive education makes this impossibility as the demands placed on students by imposing progressive concepts leaves insufficient time for adequate exposure to liberal arts, not to mention the fact that revisionist gobbledygook taught poisons the foundation of knowledge necessary to draw proper conclusions.
On the cultural front, which I call the propaganda front, progressives undermined traditions by infiltrating the entertainment and media institutions to the point of nearly exterminating traditional voices and points of view. The progressive agenda not merely survived but thrived throughout the free world. Cultural Marxists gave birth to different schools of thought (perhaps most famously the Frankfurt School) that all converged on the same themes of gradualism and deception, which would gradually change accepted definitions and values from their traditional senses to progressive ones. Eventually, what was right or moral would be wrong and immoral, and vice versa.
For example, when John Dewey, the father of American progressive education, advanced the idea of replacing classical education with his brand that would inevitably abandon the quadrivium, he never said that his goal was to dumb down future generations so that they could not think critically. Likewise, John Maynard Keynes who was closely associated with the original Fabian society members, never announced that his brand of neo-classical capitalism had not much to do with free flow of capital, but rather inhibit the free economies by injecting the heavy hand of the government under the guise of normalizing business cycles. Finally, Frances Fox Pivens is yet to admit openly that the strategy that bears her name - Cloward Piven Strategy - relies on collapsing the society from within in order to facilitate Marxism.
A Trojan horse:
Progressivism is a Trojan Horse. As socialists at heart, its most ardent adherents will never admit to their true desires as they instinctively know that the devious ideology they advance must be concealed and public led down the path to socialist utopia under false pretenses. Most others who consider themselves progressives have simply been conned in to thinking that progressivism is liberalism. In reality, progressivism is the opposite of liberalism. The central tenets of liberalism lie in individual liberty, equality under the law, and small unintrusive government to make it all possible. Individualism and liberalism are one in the same, and the opposite ideology should properly called collectivism, not liberalism in typical progressive double-speak. Having to use the term collectivist would amount to a public relations disaster for socialists. It is high time that we took the language back and force the proponents of what amounts to be indentured servitude and equality in misery to display their true colors.