John Gast, American Progress, circa 1872. (from here)

There is apparently among Democrat Liberals grave concern over the difference between a Liberal and a Progressive.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (see What does it mean to be a progressive in the US? (bbc.com)) even debated the meaning of the word: progressivism. Apparently, each wanted to be seen as the most progressive. Why? What is a progressive? Well, the word “progressive” is actually another one of those relatively meaningless words politicians have made up.


Let’s be clear – most progressives are also liberals, and liberal goals in better funding America’s social safety net are noble and critical. It’s the other direction that’s the problem. Many of today’s liberals are not fully comfortable with progressivism as defined in these terms. Many of today’s Democratic politicians, for instance, are simply not comfortable taking a more confrontational posture towards large economic institutions (many of whom fund their campaigns) – institutions that regularly take a confrontational posture towards America’s middle-class. (from here)

The notion that the author of the above has a clear definition of the word “progressive” is kind of funny, but I think he is trying to define “progressive” as a thoroughly aggressive Democrat Liberal. What is scary is the author doesn’t think Barack Obama was progressive enough.

So why would a politician want to be labelled as a progressive?

Progressivism has historically been associated with science, rationality and an approach to government and society reliant on knowledge and empirical methods. It has often been counterposed with populism, which is a movement among the common folk. Progressives tended to be people with education and some standing in the world. (from here)

Well, obviously Democrat Liberals don’t want to be associated with the common folk, those irredeemable deplorables. However, what is truly nice about the labels “liberal” and “progressive”?

Although I’ll cite sources in these essays, I do not presume to declare The One True Definition for either “liberal” or “progressive.” No such definitions exist, as both “liberal” and “progressive” are what philosopher and political scientist W.B. Gallie called contested concepts:

… concepts the proper use of which inevitably involves endless disputes about their proper uses on the part of their users [that] cannot be settled by appeal to empirical evidence, linguistic usage, or the canons of logic alone.

Simply, people disagree about what “liberal” and “progressive” mean, and none of us can prove that his or hers is The One True Definition. (from here)

“Liberal” and “Progressive” are a labels that mean whatever it is you want them to mean. In truth, that is also somewhat true of the Conservative label, but politicians have not ruined that label yet. Of course, the author then proceeds to provide his own definitions of Liberal and Progressive. Some Democrat Liberals have even written a manifesto, What It Means To Be A Progressive: A Manifesto (thinkprogress.org).

Dictionary.com provides a vanilla definition for progressive, and the urbandictionary.com provides a more partisan definition for progressive.  If the Democrat Liberal spinning makes you dizzy, you may want to check out the urbandictionary.com definition. If you insist upon a more Liberal academic definition, check out Wikipedia’s article, Progressivism.

So what is a Progressive? Well, here is my definition. A Progressive is someone who thinks it is their “right” to run other people’s lives and spend other people’s money for the sake of “progress”. When someone speaks of progress, what exactly is that? Is what one person calls progress always going to be what another person calls progress? Consider some of the different notions about progress.

  • Progress (history), the idea that the world can become increasingly better in terms of science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, quality of life, etc.
    • Social progress, the idea that societies can or do improve in terms of their social, political, and economic structures.
    • Scientific progress, the idea that science increases its problem solving ability through the application of some scientific method.
    • Philosophical progress, the idea that philosophy has solved or at least can solve some of the questions it studies.
  • Idea of Progress, the theory that scientific progress drives social progress; that advances in technology, science, and social organization inevitably produce an improvement in the human condition.
  • Progress trap, the condition societies find themselves in when human ingenuity, in pursuing progress, inadvertently introduces problems that it does not have the resources to solve, preventing further progress or inciting social collapse.

(from here)

Again Dictionary.com provides the vanilla definition of progress, and the urbandictionary.com provides a more humorous definition of progress.  The urbandictionary.com definition makes the point that “progress” is in the eye of the beholder.

Not even all the people who label themselves Progressives can agree as to what constitutes progress. Therefore, as a purely practical matter, running other people’s lives and spending other people’s money is what Progressives define as “progress”.

Put yourselves in the shoes of a politician, and just consider the money aspect of the issue. Imagine what it means to spend millions, billions, even trillions of dollars of other people’s money. If you are in politics for the thrill of exercising power, the more money you can spend the more power you have to exercise.

Now consider what it means to control other people’s lives. If you are a power hungry politician, that means you want control over people’s choices. The more you can control other people’s choices, the more power you have.

How much of your money does our government spend? What can our government tell you to do? How Progressive is our government? Does it further or hinder what we consider “progress”? As voters we must consider the pitfalls of Progressivism carefully. Do we want someone else’s idea of “progress”, or do we want some control over our own lives and our own money?

Does how we define “progress” require spending someone else’s money? When? Why? What is the benefit and the cost to our Rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

26 thoughts on “WHAT IS A PROGRESSIVE?

  1. Essentially, it bases itself on the Classical Liberal idea that the vox populi is a mandate that not only needs to be followed as a matter of law, but as a matter of moral imperative c.f. Kant, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, etc. If the will or voice of the people determines what is good–this is not a debatable point in Classical Liberalism since to question it would undermine the supremacy of the individual in all matters–then it necessarily follows that the people, building on their previous breakthroughs, will only improve their society through more progress.

    As I said (in response to this comment =>https://citizentom.com/2017/05/23/incompatible-views-on-government-part-2b/#comment-74225), Stephen, because you are some sort of socialist and hate classical liberalism, you have a distinctly ridiculous credibility problem. The statement that your point was not debatable is especially absurd.

    Classical liberals, the framers of our Constitution, designed the Constitution to protect individual rights from tyranny of any sort, including the tyranny of the majority. Those men had the same notion of democrats as Aristotle. Because of several ill-considered amendments, the fact more of the people can vote, and the corrupt way our judges now interpret the Constitution, effectively we don’t have the same Constitution anymore. Perhaps that is part of what confuses you.

    Anyway, the framers of the Constitution also had a far more humble notion of their accomplish than you suggest. Check out => https://citizentom.com/2012/03/23/what-benjamin-franklin-thought-of-the-constitution/. They knew that eventually latter generations would sink into despotism.

    It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so. ― Ronald Reagan

    Apparently, you are the type of liberal Reagan had in mind.


  2. Philosophically speaking, Progressivism is based in a sort of social Darwinism not unlike the mythos surrounding the American Revolution i.e. all was darkness and tyranny until the Founders rebelled against Britain.

    Essentially, it bases itself on the Classical Liberal idea that the vox populi is a mandate that not only needs to be followed as a matter of law, but as a matter of moral imperative c.f. Kant, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, etc. If the will or voice of the people determines what is good–this is not a debatable point in Classical Liberalism since to question it would undermine the supremacy of the individual in all matters–then it necessarily follows that the people, building on their previous breakthroughs, will only improve their society through more progress.

    The central myth that drives this insanity is the lie that the Enlightenment and the Classical Liberals illuminated anything that had not already been illuminated. Puffed up by their scientific advances, they believed they had the answers to all of life’s questions, that the wisdom of the ancients was a shackle upon them.

    Little did they know that their scions would perpetuate an eternal struggle between realizing the Enlightenment project and destroying previous notions of life and the universe, and wanting to only burn select institutions of Western Civilization.


  3. Progressivism is really a historical term from late 19th/early 20th Century politics that the Left has co-opted to make it appear that their philosophy is rooted in tradition. In reality, their politics are closer to Socialist/Communist Radicals like Norman Thomas, Eugene V. Debs, and W.E.B. DuBois. In fact, Sanders has admitted to admiring all three of those guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. The folks who call themselves progressives these days are really just Democrat Liberals. They co-opted the liberal label from the people we now have to call Classical Liberals.

      Unfortunately, what “liberal” means today is a 180 degrees out of sync with what it use to mean.

      When a politician mislabels him or herself, we can rightfully expect they are up to no good. Democrat Liberals should call themselves Socialists. Sanders, to his credit, at least puts the right label on himself. However, whenever anyone calls himself a Socialist, it is akin to calling yourself a vile, dumb, crooked fiend.

      Every Socialist regime starts down the road to bankruptcy and some, just to make certain people pay their fair share, go further. These practice genocide .


    1. What is a spiritual progressive? I have heard people speak of liberals in the Church, but you are the first I have heard use the term progressive. Do you equate a progressive with a liberal? In politics the difference seems more for show than anything else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Progressive means they have put a new suit on an old idea, actually, as old as creation. Remember Satan’s lie to Adam and Eve was “You can be gods.” The Spiritual Progressives (which are the old liberals) profess to have a new insight in the Gospel Message, that what was once considered a sin, is now OK because we have progressed so far in our knowledge. Primarily in our Tribe it revolves around the question of human sexuality. Progressives say the law of love overrides the rules around sexuality. In fact, they promote an unproven theory (just a nice way of saying “They lie!”) that God created gays and they should be fully included in the leadership of the church, particularly the clergy side of leadership.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. When someone defines progress differently than God has already defined progress, odds are they don’t know how to progress.

          Makes me think of this proverb.

          Proverbs 14:14 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

          14 The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways:
          and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.

          Which brings to mind the backsliding heifer mentioned in Hosea 4:16.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Progressive agendas are often heavily shame-based,
          Shame is used as a bludgeon by the mob, frequently enforced by law.
          For example (the private business example), a bakery that is forced to make a cake for a homosexual wedding would be an example.
          The mob weighs in and determines they believe the baker is discriminating unlawfully and should be forced to fill the order. This is because the agenda suits the agenda of the mob. By contrast, if Aryan Nation wanted to force the baker to make a cake the mob would rule the opposite way.

          The mob would shame the baker and use the law to force him to conduct his business as they see fit. I point again, to IB’s thread on the school. Shame used as a bludgeon to force the school to comply with the rules the mob believes it should be forced to comply with. Paradoxically, brandishing “anti-shame” as justification for this shaming tactic.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. FWIW, this (moral posturing, shaming tactics to force compliance for the values of the mob…which are heavily influenced by social conditioning, and the left knows this well)
          in my estimation, would be the type of thing CS Lewis was referring to in his “moral busybodies” statement:

          ““Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

          Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m not sure how much debate you want here, but from my perspective coercing a private school to accept single (and/or pregnant) parents would be an example of progressivism “lite”.
        The example of the school over at IB’s place.
        Little things like that chip away at the fabric of a society’s value system, over time.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We don’t eschew debate here.

          The big problem I have with the government funding anything is that officials start using public funding as an excuse to tell other people how to run their business or charity. Once they get started down the road, they just start giving orders.

          Look at all the anti-discrimination regulations businesses have to put up with, for example. What is the excuse for that? At best, government should be able to say it will not do business with a company that discriminates based upon race, sex, or creed; but we all buy foreign-made products. Truth is we usually don’t know anything about how foreign companies operate. So we heap piles of stupid regulations on our own companies, and for what? If company discriminates based upon race, sex, or creed, it costs money. It is stupid!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Conservatives, Liberals, and Progressives political views and parties all contributed to the USA being in debt for 20 trillion dollars.

    King Solomon used only two words to describe all descriptions of people’s actions whether they acted individually or groups.

    Wise of Foolish.

    In other words, conservatively speaking, liberal spending is leading the USA in a progressively downward spiral of debt.

    Incurring debt without a plan to pay it back, is stealing our children’s future.

    Stealing is a moral issue.

    In my opinion, all politicians and their parties should be identified as either moral or immoral parties.

    If they want to add an appropriate adjective, it should be conservative thieves, liberal thieves, or progressive thieves.

    I prefer all legislators be labeled as Wise parties or Foolish parties based on their balance sheets during their terms.

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Progressivism is a political philosophy begun in the late 1800’s by John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson among others.

    In essence it is a rebellion against the Founding of the United States.

    Dewey and Wilson were both influential educators who cemented Progressivism into the public education system from university level on down.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Afraid so. Dewey and Wilson had lots of help, of course.

      There are as this post suggests built-in incentives for our leaders to preach and implement nonsense such as Progressivism. Giving away what belongs to others empowers the taker/giver.

      The ability of government to take what belongs to us and use our belongings to buy the loyalty of others is one of the reasons why we should fear government-run systems. Such systems grow “progressively”, giving more and more power to the people who run them, successors to people like Dewey and Wilson.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Citizen,

        The Progressives wanted to use the power of government to cure society’s ills and impose social justice on us all.

        It was thought that “experts” would head federal bureaucracies that were immune to political interests and elections.

        And today, whenever we have discussions with Progressives, they always demand a reference to a “credentialed” expert.

        For it is only the “experts” that have any credibility.

        One of the pernicious effects of Progressivism is that people outsource their minds, their duty to help others and their liberty to the a government run by the so call “experts.”

        It turns out that the “experts” are common tyrants whose political interests include extracting as much wealth as possible from the people they rule.

        All in the name of social justice, of course.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Well said, Tom.

    Where’s the line for the total Luddites? I’m trying to get us to de-evolve backwards until we’re once again in paradise, walking hand in hand with the Father in the cool of the evenings. All this “progress” doesn’t seem to be working out so well…… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am a scientist/engineering type and you want me to lead a Luddite movement? Well, I suppose I would know to break the machines, with the proper machinery, of course. Tanks, fighter jets, ICBMs with H-bombs. You think the Luddites would okay with that or does it sound too much like progress?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Indeed, now we’ve hit the progress trap, “the condition societies find themselves in when human ingenuity, in pursuing progress, inadvertently introduces problems that it does not have the resources to solve, preventing further progress or inciting social collapse.”

        Obviously we’re just going to have to raise taxes so we can buy some bigger weapons. And the Left will need to create some more problems to justify their own funding and existence. I’m just trying to figure out how we get out of this mess. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

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