by Mario Rizzo
I love-hate the word “progressive.” Its political uses derive from the so-called Progressive Era and the less-than-socialist reforms that were enacted during that early twentieth-century period.
Today, of course, few people who use the term think about its historical origins. They think it is simply a word that means “advanced,” “better,” – well, “progressive.”
For a long time in the nineteenth-century, “progress” meant the gradual liberation of human beings from the control of the state. For some thinkers, like Herbert Spencer, it was tied to a particular view of evolution. For others, like Benjamin Constant, it was based on certain historical changes that involved increasing complexity of life spurred on the process of “globalization.” Increasing division of labor, specialization and trade were critical in this view. Others, like Sir Henry Maine, emphasized the legal changes: from status (serf/nobility) to contract – each of us now decides how to relate to others in commerce.
Constant reminded us that the “liberty of the ancients” was a collective liberty. The citizens of Athens could do whatever they liked. The “liberty of the moderns” is an individual liberty. The individual is sovereign. It is a liberty against the state.
Now this progress has become reversed. Continue reading