Progressivism: The Snobbery of Chronology
What’s Wrong with Loving Progress, Man?
Progressivism is a form of snobbery, and has the same terrible moral effects as any other form of snobbery. In fact, it is snobbery masked, and therefore is even more harmful than open snobbery. It is a form of pride, the deadliest of the deadly sins.
If, as Chesterton said, “Tradition is the democracy of the dead,” then Progressivism is the elitism of the living -- and within that, of a certain educated, well-off subset that enjoys sneering at once at its ancestors and its neighbors. Progressivism stifles the voices of the past, and amplifies the sound of our own speech, the better to help us pretend we have heard all points of view, then do exactly as we wish.
Progressivism also cuts us off from what tradition gives us: a pile of precious intellectual and cultural gifts from our ancestors. And even when we receive the gifts and use them, we are not grateful for them, for Progressivism forbids us the virtue of humility, which is necessary for the acceptance of gifts; and from gratitude, without which there is simply no wisdom or happiness. There is no surer hallmark of holiness, happiness, and health, in individuals or societies, than gratitude, and no surer hallmark of their opposites than ingratitude.
Progressivism stems from logical fallacies and leads, by habit, to the disparagement of reason. The substitution of calendars for arguments not only proceeds from irrationality but also fosters it.
Worst of all, Progressivism clearly contradicts the very idea of a divine revelation. If there is such a revelation, Progressivism corrects it, corrects God Himself, and arrogates to itself the right to edit rather than deliver the divine mail, evaluating it by dating its postmark. Even religions that do not claim a direct divine revelation, like Confucianism, Taoism, or Buddhism, get their teachings from their past, from their founders. Progressivists make it up as they go along.
The Causes of Chronological Snobbery
It is one thing to point out the arguments people offer to defend Progressivism, and another to identify the reasons -- many of them irrational -- that they actually stumble into this superstition. The former are typically rationalizations for the latter. The first cause of widespread Progressivism is a society-wide attention-deficit disorder (ADD), boredom with the “same old thing,” and addiction to “change,” which comes from contempt for the past, not hope for the future -- as if progress was defined only by getting father from zero rather than closer to infinity.
Unthinking love of change for the sake of change is also easier. It is passive. It puts less mileage on the brain’s odometer than the active and critical demand to find out whether the change is for better or for worse. Simple “change” is one-dimensional and automatic. Embracing it means also conflating the easy and comforting idea of irresistible progress with the difficult virtue of hope, which requires a constant active effort of each one of us.
There is also a religious -- or rather, anti-religious -- reason why our culture promotes Progressivism. Let me lay it out in the form of a syllogism (a very old and traditional form of reasoning):
a) Since genuine progress necessarily implies a fixed, unchanging goal that does not change, and