Are Progressives Progressive? – Freedom Philosophy

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Do progressives cause progress? Do they propel society toward some ultimate goodness? They seem to think so. They cite examples of the past, such as LGBTQ+ rights, civil rights, child labour, and the like. But have the progressives caused progress?

GK Chesterton is a fascinating thinker to read. He argued profusely with progressives like Bertrand Russell. He ridiculed their common talking point of referring to the year as proof of their belief. He ridiculed the notion that a belief is to be discarded on the notion that it is old.

Justin Trudeau was once asked why he selected 50% of his executive cabinet to be women, to which he quipped, “Because it’s 2015”.

Trudeau produced nothing more than a non-argument that was rejected over a century ago. Chesterton argued that truth does not depend on a calendar or a clock. The wise person doesn’t say to themselves, “Oh, it’s 2:00, it’s time for equality”.

Oddly enough, many of the issues Chesterton argued about with his allegedly progressive peers, such as George Bernard Shaw, are issues that society has come to adopt Chesterton’s position on. Progressives have had to abandon many of their sacred cows.

Scientific procreation and eugenics are unheard of as issues progressives fight for in contemporary circles, and yet Chesterton had to fight progressives ferociously on the subject in favour of a more traditional view of humanity.

In the debates between George Bernard Shaw and Chesterton, it’s unlikely that contemporary progressives would read them and conclude that Shaw was the sensible one in terms of nearest to their own views. From an empirical and historical perspective, more often than not, progressives are advocating for dangerous nonsense.

LGBTQ+ rights are in line with liberty. However, in Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, in which are undermined traditional moral judgments against homosexuality, he used the same line of reasoning to undermine moral judgments against various forms of pedophilia as well. One of his thoughts progressed, the other is now seen as deeply regressive.

This is the element of progressive political philosophy they have traditionally ignored. Because it’s such and such a year is a justification we’ve heard since the time of Chesterton. In fact, even during the Renaissance we heard such language as modernity justifying a belief. Some beliefs have panned out, while others were left in history where they belong.

If the reader wishes to read about the majority of progressive views, the irony is that a history book is the best place to accomplish this.

At what point did Republicans switch from being anti-slavery to big business protectionists trying to appease the religious right? The answer is never. The Confederate Army Democrats were Marxists. Abraham Lincoln was an anti-free trade, corporate elitist, trying to appease abolitionist theocrats.

How much do progressives progress? Their lack of understanding of this issue has devastating consequences. Consider the issue of child labour. Throughout the majority of our existence, children have worked. They haven’t worked due to the lack of moral development on the part of their parents, they worked because they would have starved otherwise.

With capitalism workers became increasingly productive – largely due to technological innovation. Purchasing a meal for a family took nearly three hours of labour in 1900 for the average workers and only 24 minutes today. Workers are able to generate more capital with their work. As a result, parents can work while the child doesn’t have to. Child labour has dissipated with the increase in productivity.

When progressive political philosophy fails to grasp this trajectory, they implement their own ideas of what constitutes progress – not technological innovation from capitalism but rather governmental fiat. They implemented child labour laws on Bangladesh that resulted in child labour going into the treacherous black market of prostitution and mass starvation.

It wasn’t the laws that eliminated child labour. It wasn’t progressives that progressed. It was technology, innovation, and people looking out for themselves. The laws did have a mitigating factor in reducing child labour, but this came after the majority of the progress.

Progressives don’t progress. They wish to call themselves progressive without defining the end goal. The shoot without aim. Sometimes they hit a target, often they don’t. True progress is made in the drive for liberty. 

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Brandon Kirby

Brandon Kirby has a philosophy degree with the University of New Brunswick. He works for a Cayman Island hedge fund service firm, owns a real estate company, and has been in the financial industry since 2004. He is the director of Being Libertarian - Canada. He is a member of the People’s Party of Canada and the Libertarian Party of Canada.