October 4, 2020
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
The Philosophy of Progress is Killing Us
Over the past few years I have written about what I term a “triumph of lunacy” in our society—most significantly on our college campuses and in our schools, in our entertainment, in the media, but also in our culture generally. The post-Marxist progressivist Left, after the apparent political set-back of the 2016 elections, has redoubled its efforts with a frenzied fanaticism unknown in our history, at least since a few years before the War Between the States.
What distinguishes our revolutionary period from previous upheavals is that today’s revolutionaries have, in effect, created a “counter-reality” in which they base their thought and actions. That reality they have manufactured out of a critical misapprehension of the nature of creation and the nature of mankind. That counter-reality is totally subjective, anchored in fractured internal thinking processes which have been infected and warped from their inception. That counter-reality is the inverse of the two-millennia of Western civilization; it possesses its own language, its own precepts, its own rules of conduct, its own goals and objectives, undeterred by the inexorable laws of nature or the historic teachings of the Christian faith. Indeed, it is the contrary of historic Christianity.
In a very substantial sense the raging post-Marxist Left and its nostrums are grounded in the a broad conceptual movement in history that dates back several centuries, at least to the Enlightenment of the 18th century, but which achieved a large degree of intellectual triumph in society in the 19th, most especially with the social theories of Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, and others. The late conservative philosopher, Robert Nisbet, wrote comprehensively about it in his volume, . It posits that history is a process materially leading to the improvement and refinement of our technological and scientific environment, and, philosophically, leading to more “individual freedom” and the abolition of what are considered hindrances to that expanding freedom and what are perceived to be any obstacles to the irreversible expansion of “rights” and “equality”—which become over time almost inexhaustible and unlimited. Nothing can stand against the ideas that proponents of progress propound. If you do, you are a hopeless reactionary, a bigot, old-fashioned, and probably a racist and a misogynist.
Of course, material progress is observable, constant, and measurable, and is to be welcomed generally. Going from oil lamps to electric lights, or from horse-and-buggies to automobiles is seen positively by most everyone. There are, certainly, a few negatives in such progress (e.g., damage to the environment, altered living patterns, etc.), but most of those negatives are outweighed by the positives and the material enhancement of civilization.
The real problem comes when the “idea of progress” is made the benchmark for intellectual thought and how political and social goals are presented and achieved under its banner. For it then becomes, depending on how it is defined, the vehicle for ideologies that use it to shape and push their agendas—whether the liberals of the 19th century, or the Marxists and Communists of the 20th. To be “on the side of progress,” to be part of the irresistible “forces of history,” is to grant to one’s beliefs a kind of inescapable inevitability: you can’t oppose what I am saying and doing, because it’s simply going to happen, and you can’t stop it!
In our society, and in Western society generally, the inevitability and positive nature of intellectual progress is more or less taken for granted. Most conservatives, including those opposed supposedly to the current revolution on our campuses and in our streets, accept it as a given. They may demur and disagree about what the goals should or ought to be, but the essential premise, the template idea, remains fixed and unassailable.
Thus, on Fox News most pundits applaud greater “rights” for minorities, both racial and sexual. They just don’t agree with some of the more vigorous applications coming from the Left. For “establishment conservatives” increasingly same sex marriage must be a full constitutional right—full transgender normalization and acceptance in society is desirable—women must have equal access to every position or role that men have (e.g., no more male-only academies, no more “Boy” Scouts, etc.)—absolute racial equity, even if that means special advantages, must be pursued—and “American democratic values” are in all parts of the globe demanded (even at the point of an M-16 rifle).
The progressivist Left goes much further. Indeed, the same demands for equality, and expanded and newly-discovered “rights,” in the slogans and proposals of Leftists often become props in an overpowering effort, not as much for desired “social justice,” but more for the acquisition of power: a means to an end, the control of society and its structures.
Right after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the first violent riots here in North Carolina, a couple of black college students videotaped a group of exclusively-white “millennials” demonstrating in a frenzy in Raleigh, North Carolina. The black videotapers noticed and commented that all the demonstrators were white, probably the sons and daughters of wealthy white (liberal) parents, and graduates of prestigious universities like Duke or UNC. The irony wasn’t lost on the two blacks, who wondered: “What do those privileged whites know about black issues?” Indeed, what they know is undergirded by and laden with the intellectual progressivism and post-Marxist ideology they’ve learned in classrooms at those very same prestigious universities.
In effect, these protesters demonstrate against “white supremacy” and “institutional racism” in a not-so-hidden effort to expiate their own sin of “whiteness,” inculcated into them by “woke” professors and an ideologized educational system.
But they are also out in the streets attempting to create a “new world order” in which the real objective is power, and that power recurs to global elites. “Systemic racism” may be a target but actually and more significantly, opposition to it is a means of advancing the overall goal of completely restructuring and recasting society—and the destruction of two millennia of civilization and its culture, annealed by the Christian faith—on behalf of those elites.
Until conservatives understand the fundamental dangers in embracing the “idea of progress” philosophically and in praxis—until they learn that beginning with the same premises on “equality” and “rights” as their purported opponents will inevitably conduct them to giving way to those opponents…and to denying implicitly, if not finally explicitly God-given creation and its natural and Divine Positive Laws--until they recognize this, they will remain prisoners of a dialectic that leads them always to eventual surrender to the Left.
The post-War Between the States Southern divine and essayist Robert Lewis Dabney summed up this type of conservatism succinctly and presciently 150 years ago. That quotation is apt and applies to far too many members of today’s “conservative loyal opposition”:
“This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn.
“American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it he salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious, for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always—when about to enter a protest—very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its ‘bark is worse than its bite,’ and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent rôle of resistance.
“The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it ‘in wind,’ and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy from having nothing to whip. No doubt, after a few years, when women's suffrage shall have become an accomplished fact, conservatism will tacitly admit it into its creed, and thenceforward plume itself upon its wise firmness in opposing with similar weapons the extreme of baby suffrage; and when that too shall have been won, it will be heard declaring that the integrity of the American Constitution requires at least the refusal of suffrage to asses. There it will assume, with great dignity, its final position." [From “Womens’ Rights Women,” Discussions, vol. IV, Secular Discussions.]
Will they learn before it is too late? Or will they—far more likely—give way like previous temporizers in the face of the lunacy?