Progressivism a Liberal Substitute Faith
by Michael P. Federici
The philosophical fathers of Progressivism include Francis Bacon, Hegel, Marx, Comte, Rousseau, Condoret, Bentham, Mill and Edward Bellamy... One of the main characteristics of these thinkers' Progressivism was its pseudo spirituality, or relation of humanity. In this substitute religion, faith in a transcendent moral order is replaced by faith in nature, science, technology, and reason.
This faith also involves a sort of humanitarian sentimentalism that attempts to satisfy an inner desire to serve mankind and the world by engaging in reforms meant to uplift the less fortunate. Yet these reforms are not intended to effect inner spiritual reform, but rather to change institutions and thus improve society through outer reform. Conservatives argue that progressive humanitarianism is both a diversion and escape from individual moral responsibility.
Progressivism also includes the idea that human perfectibility is possible in history. This doctrine holds that it is unnecessary to wait for the afterlife for human perfection; the fulfillment of human nature can take place in earthly life. Scientific progressives, like Bacon, believe that progress is a predicate of scientific knowledge and technological developments. Social progressives, like Croly, believe that human nature can be transformed through political reform...
Progressivism is intimately tied to modern liberalism and the politics of the welfare state, which holds that the transformation of society can only be achieved by a centralized government that has sufficient power to remake society...
Finally, Progressivism has in it a gnostic element. That is, progressives believe that they possess the knowledge needed to transform society and human nature. They are greatly dissatisfied with the world as it is and are impatient with life and the very structure of reality because these fall short of perfection or the progressive ideal. These gnostic attributes are part of an existential disposition that fails to accept the permanence of evil in earthly life - in theological terms, original sin.
By contrast, most conservatives believe that the structure of reality, including human nature, is permanent. Attempts to transform the human condition end up in disaster, as Huxley and Orwell suggest in their dystopias Brave New World (1932) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)...
Here again lies the underlying assumption of Progressivism: evil is the result of a poorly organized world. Reorganization of the world in accordance with progressive ideas will usher in a new age of freedom, equality, and peace.
From: American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia
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