What Is a "Progressive"?

New York City mayor Bill deBlasio has been called the progressive "It Boy" of the moment.

The snide attention the word "progressive's" gotten in the media lately made me want to look it up.

The political philosophy known as progressivism isn't as vague as the corporate media or its political rhetoriticians make it out to be.

Progressivism, which came out of the same 18th century European Age of Enlightenment that gave us the U.S. Constitution, is a school of thought holding that human society can, essentially through embracing education, emerge from barbarism into civilization.

Stripped down to its basics, progressivism is based on the belief that, through scientific, economic and social advances, the human race can, over time, achieve ever-higher levels of civilization.

In other words, progressives believe that, because we're capable of learning and changing in response to what we learn, there's hope for the future of our species.

The core values  that 18th century progressives like Thomas Jefferson held dear -- respect for Western history and civilization; belief in economic and technological progress; belief in science, scholarship and rational thought; and respect for life on earth -- were supposed, they thought, to spread from Europe around the world.

At least one 18th century progressive, typical of the hopeful breed, foresaw the end of slavery, universal literacy, equality between the sexes,  more humane prisons, and the decline of poverty.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw progressivism muddled with terms like "modernity" and "liberalism", which called for the removal of barriers to the free global movement of markets and people.
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx shaped progressivism into a linear concept of history in which the human race is continually moving forward, never backward.

In contemporary Western politics, progressivism arose as a popular response to the social oppression of mass industrialization in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor, unleashed the ravages of laissez-faire capitalism and out-of-control corporate monopolies, and tried to silence every grassroots attempt at social and economic reform.

Sound familiar?  

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