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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Progress & the left

I find it annoying that the political left has appropriated the word "progressive". Wikipedia defines progressivism as
a political and social term that refers to ideologies and movements favoring or advocating changes or reform, usually in a statist or egalitarian direction for economic policies (government management) and liberal direction for social policies (personal choice). Progressivism is often viewed in opposition to conservative ideologies.
When leftists label their ideology as progressive, they imply that people who don't share that space on the spectrum (specifically conservatives) are somehow "regressive" or opposed to progress. This of course is nonsense - most modern political ideologies believe in progress, but they have different visions of what progress means.

Case in point - Toronto City Hall. "Progressive" Mayor David Miller announced on Friday that he would not seek a third term in 2010.
"Toronto is a progressive city, with progressive values," Mr. Miller said, appealing for citizens to stay on the same course once he leaves office. "The next election will be hard fought, but if those with progressive values come together behind a new champion, work hard and fight hard, you can elect that champion."

to which potential conservative rival John Tory responded:
"I don't know what a progressive candidate means in his lexicon, I just know that the city is looking for a different kind of government and better results from their government, and I hope they get that after the next election, whoever the mayor is."

Commenting in the National Post, Kelly McParland had this to say about the mayor's progressivism:
One of the most frustrating things about dealing with left-wingers is their imperviousness to reality.

They see what they want to see, believe what they want to believe. They declare themselves "progressives," consigning everyone else to the reactionary bin, "progress" meaning adherence to whatever their personal agenda dictates. Their faith in their own moral superiority is bulletproof. Logic need not apply. Because they're progressives, see?

Thus Toronto Mayor David Miller could announce yesterday he plans to step down at the next election, having achieved everything he set out to achieve.


What likely won't penetrate this shield of self-congratulation is the Toronto many Torontonians see. The Mayor's achievements have come at the price of ever-more precarious financial machinations. The budget has grown from $6.7-billion to $8.7-billion, accompanied by annual crises, shortfalls and pleas to Queen's Park to save the city yet again. Contingency reserves have been pilfered, fees and surcharges ratcheted up, a convoluted new trash collection system instituted, accompanied by monster bins and garbage control technicians skilled at discovering arcane reasons why this week's trash doesn't qualify for their attention.

McParland concludes: "I love the left. They're bulletproof."


Yappa said...

Hi there,

I don't think the problem is with the term "progressive". I think the problem is with the simplistic overuse of the terms "left" and "right", and the assumption that being branded with a party affiliation means you agree with everything the party stands for. Also, "progressive" refers to social issues, not economic: it isn't a synonym for "left".

So sure, Conservatives are frequently regressive. When they opposed same-sex marriage, that was regressive. That doesn't mean that Conservatives are never progressive: for example, the Green party has a large contingent of conservatives who support environmental improvements. The PC party was much more progressive than the current Reform-Alliance-Conservative party; for example, Joe Clark was defeated on a budget that increased the gas tax at the pump, a progressive plan. Mulroney was progressive in lots of areas, such as opposing capital punishment.

Anonymous said...


Conservatives often mistake motion for growth and think any change is necessarily progression. Applying policies that were abandoned long ago because it was demonstrated that they do not work is not anyone's idea of progression. American-style tough-on-crime legislation and beggaring government to the point of not being able to provide any public goods (which the market can't/won't provide) are examples of just the opposite: regression.

Eric said...


Of course Liberals never have "regressive" ideas like punitive job-killing taxes or fighting against free trade or divisive identity politics.

Like I said in the post - "most modern political ideologies believe in progress, but they have different visions of what progress means". Conservatives tend to view progress as advancing the rights of individuals and the free market; Liberals generally support increasing the power of the state to regulate these areas. Both are valid ideological viewpoints; the difference being that Liberals think anyone who disagrees with their statist agenda is "regressive".

Liberals don't have a monopoly on progress.

M@ said...

The national debt certainly has progressed nicely under the last two conservative regimes.