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From an essay by Peter Kreeft on Progressivism:

Thus chronological snobbery is the identification, or confusion, of “change” with “progress.” “Progress” is a value-laden term: it means not just change but change in a certain direction, change for the better. It is like a graph in geometry that charts the movement of some entity (a business, a body’s growth, a football player’s “forward progress”) not only horizontally, from past to future, but also vertically, from worse to better.

But the very notion of a “better” assumes a “best,” a standard, a goal. And that standard has to be unchanging, for if the goal line itself changes, it is impossible to make progress toward it. Imagine a runner on first base trying to make progress toward second base while the second baseman is carrying second base with him into the outfield.

A conservative is someone who thinks happiness consists first of all in enjoying the good things we already have. A progressive is one who sees happiness first of all in hoping to enjoy the things we do not yet have. Adam and Eve were conservatives until the Devil made them into progressives.

The typically modern mind is 1) skeptical of absolute, unchanging standards and 2) in love with the idea of progress. But this is a logical impossibility, a self-contradiction. Without an unchanging standard, there can be no progress, only change. To such people, “progress” means no more than “change,” and therefore “change” means the same as “progress.”

Only a people both jaded and bored by the past and the present, and also skeptical of any “vertical dimension,” any absolute and unchanging standard, could possibly be so moved by the single word “change” that a presidential candidate could win an election by using that single word as his campaign slogan. Why not instead “Rutabagas”?

The opposite of Progressivism is conservatism or traditionalism. A conservative, by definition, is a happy person, one who is happy with what is. It is only for that reason that he wants to conserve it. A progressivist, on the other hand, is by definition an unhappy person, one who is unhappy with what is. It is only for that reason that he wants to change it. A conservative is someone who thinks happiness consists first of all in enjoying the good things we already have. A progressive is one who sees happiness first of all in hoping to enjoy the things we do not yet have. Adam and Eve were conservatives until the Devil made them into progressives. For the Devil himself was the first progressivist. The other angels were happy with God and His will, but the Devil wanted to progress to something better.

In other words, progressivists try to tell truth with a clock instead of an argument. It is as silly as trying to tell time with a syllogism instead of a clock. Or a calendar, which is only a larger, longer clock. For to say that an idea is no longer believable simply because this is the 21st century, not the 13th, is no different from saying that an idea is no longer believable because it is now 11:00 p.m, not 10:00 a.m.

But even silly superstitions have reasons behind them, and these must be discovered, exposed, defined, stated fairly, and then refuted. And there are at least some seemingly cogent reasons that people adopt Progressivism. False conclusions usually are deduced from at least partially true premises; otherwise they would not have the power to deceive us.

And the more direct relevance to my previous comments on symbolism:

Progressivism 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. (wintercow emphasis added)

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. (wintercow emphasis added)

I will admit that I tend not to like “labeling” of things, even that which seems to raise my ire. So, for those who think I am being a bit wishy washy I’ll offer up the idea that my mental model of what a true Progressive is all about is probably not very different from how a modern Progressive conceptualizes themselves, particularly those Progressives who at least respect Public Choice Theory and respect that we all have different values and it is simply not possible to achieve heaven here on earth. That I have to tell everyone that I, too, care about “social justice” is offensive to me – as if the default human condition isn’t to see your fellow man as wanting to see other men prosper (maybe it isn’t).

3 Responses to “Why Not Rutabagas? Or Symbolism Revisited”

  1. Instant Karma says:

    I don’t disagree with any of your comments, but the excerpted blog was a logical mess.

    Kreeft assumes just because they call themselves progressives that they must be for progress, then he gives a jumbled rant which proves that the very concept of progress eludes him.

    Let’s all wallow in the nostalgia of the good old days before Smith and Darwin and Einstein when rape, murder, warfare, slavery, illiteracy and poverty were ubiquitous.

  2. Rod says:

    I can’t say I am for “social justice,” inasmuch as the left construes that term to refer to the outcome of the redistribution of wealth.

    The political pendulum changes direction from time to time. I want progress, too, but I mean I want smaller government and as much liberty as possible. Most of all, I want our country to prosper again. Too many broken windows, wintercow!

  3. Rod says:

    I really hate rutabagas. They can be mashed and look like sweet potatoes, but they are someone else’s favorite food.

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