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TITLE (EDIT)
Over A Hundred Years Later Nothing New About Progressives
DESCRIPTION
An essay revealing the fact that progressives haven't progressed much in over a hundred years.
[1,317 words]
AUTHOR
Richard Koss
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Koss, other titles
[November 2001]
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
taxtime@ameritech.net
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Over A Hundred Years Later Nothing New About Progressives
Richard Koss

OVER A HUNDRED YEARS LATER -
 NOTHING NEW ABOUT PROGRESSIVES


     Today’s modern liberals prefer to be called “progressives” as if they were the new architects of a re-birth in thinking and change taking place within our society and culture.

     Over one hundred years ago, the progressives of that era championed the same ideology, castigating moral doctrine and religion, while advocating a transformation to a total secular society. Their focus, as it is today, was on individual rights and total uninhibited behavioral freedom, exempt from judgement of moralists, especially the clergy and its moral doctrines. Their reverence was limited to science and scientific theory as they ridiculed and satirized the concept of morality and those whom they categorized as moralists.

     While researching the philosophical views of the writers of more than a century ago, I became interested in the writings of G.K. Chesterton, the legendary English journalist, novelist, and philosopher during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. ” His contemporaries, to name a few, were George Bernard Shaw, H. G, Wells, Rudyard Kipling, G.W. Foote, and Henrik Ibsen.

     In Chesterton’s numerous essays, especially one entitled “Heretics,” he thoroughly dissects the writings and thinking of the modern progressives of his era.
Ironically, the primary deficiency or “Achilles’ heel” in the thought process of the progressives of his era still exists today in the world of modern era progressives. My purpose in writing this essay is to describe the fallacies of those who call themselves progressives and doubt, as did Chesterton, whether they even understand the meaning of the word progress.

     Progressivism or the progressive movement rose to prominence between 1880 and 1920. In England and the rest of Europe, progressivism focused primarily on social and socioeconomic issues. In America, it became more expanded into the world of politics. The word progress taken literally, is easy to define in terms of scientific, medical, and technological advances. Significant progress has taken place in the last hundred years in science and technology and despite the risks, the rewards have been greater, most of us would agree. However, with regard to socioeconomic, cultural, and political progress, men cannot agree on the definition of progress any more than they could over 100 years ago. To paraphrase Chesterton, progressives are the least progressive of all of us because their ideas of progress and change are measured and defined in opposition to any precise moral standards. Progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree, doubtful about progress.

    As Chesterton took on these progressives in his writings, debates, and in his role as a journalist, he earned his endearing title as the “apostle of common sense.” Much of modern day idealism espoused by modern day progressives is derived from late nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophers. Henrik Ibsen was one of these men whose works were embraced by those who were part of the progressive movement over a century ago. I will borrow from Chesterson’s analysis of Ibsen’s philosophy and the writings of those who admired him. My own personal analysis could never approach the common sense, logic and clarity with which Chesterton makes his case.

     Ibsen’s writings throughout contained a certain vagueness as well as a doubting attitude towards what is really wisdom and virtue in this life. This vagueness contrasts remarkably with the decisiveness with which he pounces on something he perceives to be a root of evil like some convention, some deception, or some ignorance. George Bernard Shaw summarized his admiration for Ibsen’s teachings in the phrase “ The golden rule is that there is no golden rule.” In Shaw’s eyes, this absence of an enduring and positive ideal, this absence of a permanent key to virtue, is the one great Ibsen merit. Chesterton argues that this omission good or bad, leaves our human consciousness with very definite images of evil and with no definite image of good. Just as the image of darkness is quite visible to all of us, light has become a vast, mysterious, indefinite, ever changing state of which we cannot speak. Among the modern era progressives of today like their predecessors of the past century, there is no attempt to answer the question of what is the right life and what is really the good man. Progressives of both eras have come beyond question to the conclusion that there is no answer to these questions. Chesterton wrote about Ibsen: “Ibsen himself, is among the first to return from the baffled hunt to bring us these tidings of great failure.”

    So having concluded that the problem of what is good cannot be solved, progressives resorted to the use of popular phrases and ideals, expressing a fondness for words such as liberty, progress, and education, all of which are mere dodges to avoid discussing what is good. Today, these phrases and words are still very much in use by progressives.

    Chesterton relentlessly exposed these camouflaged phrases and words as dodges in order to shirk the problem of what is good. The modern man says: “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is logically rendered, “ let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” Now he says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This logically stated means, “Let us not settle what is good, but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” Yet another modern man exclaims, “ Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This clearly expressed means, “We cannot decide what is good but let us give it to our children.”

     Progressives then and now believe that society’s cure for its misfits and evil doers lies in science and social engineering, not in morality. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and sexually transmitted diseases, should be treated by science and medicine. A century ago, the progressives were arguing that showing a man pictures of a diseased liver or organs affected by syphilis would do more to stop him from drinking and sexual promiscuity than any moral argument. After a century, evidence shows that fear of disease, death, and depression has little effect in curing most addictions.

     Progress, properly understood, has a most dignified and legitimate meaning. But as used in opposition to precise moral ideals, it is ludicrous. Chesterton truly believed that no one has any business to use the word progress unless he has a definite creed and a cast-iron code of morals. Nobody can be “progressive” without being doctrinal.

     The final point to be made as evidence that there has been no change in the thinking of progressives in well over one hundred years comes directly from the words of Chesterton: “I do not say the word progress is unmeaning; I say it is unmeaning without the previous definition of a moral doctrine. “ ….. Without such a precise moral doctrine, we move in an uncertain direction which gives us only the sensation of progress. “ But it is precisely about the direction that we disagree. Whether the future excellence lies in more law or less law, in more liberty or less liberty; whether property will be concentrated or re-distributed; whether sexual passion will reach is sanest in an almost virgin intellectualism or in full animal freedom; whether we should love everybody with Tolstoy, or spare nobody with Nietzsche; these are the things about which we are actually fighting most. As for this “progressive” age, it is, moreover, true that the people who have settled least what is progress are the most “progressive” people in it.”
    
     Words spoken well over a hundred years ago. And today the things about which we are fighting most have not changed at all.

     
 

 

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE
© 2014 Richard Koss
STORYMANIA PUBLICATION DATE
December 2014
NUMBER OF TIMES TITLE VIEWED
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