In my last post, I argued that ideally we should progress past the point of constitutionalism and find even better ways to secure individual liberty and promote the common good. But I was careful not to use the word progress, because it is so charged and ill-defined—like many words, it has been commandeered and contorted.

When somebody describes their political ideology as “progressive,” what do you think? Do they support or oppose elective abortion? Do they support or oppose imposing new or higher taxes? Would this person object to, or advocate for, redistributive welfare programs? What, exactly, is a progressive?

Those who apply this label to themselves often believe that they are intellectual—smart in the sense that they have risen above the ignorance of past generations. Where tradition, culture, and political or religious views prevent others from being similarly enlightened, the progressive has evolved beyond such caveman-esque thinking. After all, who can object to progress? Its very name suggests a positive development that every sensible person should support.

But progress is only a positive thing when heading in the right direction; every step taken up a ladder leaning against the wrong building is a step upward, yes, but a step in the wrong direction all the same.

We can appreciate progress to the extent that it entails bringing systems or individual actions more in line with fundamental principles. For example, terminating the legal sanction of slavery was important progress that was consistent with the ideas evoked at the heart of secession from, and defense against, the British crown. (Obviously, how progress is achieved is equally important; ending war is good, but ending it by exterminating mass quantities of innocent individuals is not.)

Progress cannot be divorced from its context—what is being accomplished must be understood in terms of what is being abandoned, changed, or superseded. Because much of political progressivism involves a rejection of the Judeo-Christian ethic and the classical liberal ideology developed during the enlightenment era, it should be seen for what it is: an apostasy from the American tradition.

Apostasy is generally used in the religious realm, and its use in this context remains consistent: many individuals feel that they have progressed past the alleged superstition and subjugation of Christian religion. They might be “spiritual” as opposed to religious, or tolerant whether others are dismissed as bigoted. Theirs is the customized gospel—the comfortable, sanitized set of guidelines (not commandments) that are made to fit their lives (and, of course, not the other way around).

But as with politics, this is not progress within Christianity, but the abandonment thereof. And because progressives are merely abandoning previously held traditions and beliefs, they are joining forces with plenty of people throughout history who have done the same. Progress, to be defined as such, would require advancement beyond what was previously known or done. But in this case, those who reject political or religious principles are repeating what has occurred many, many times in the past. Some progress…

It cannot be emphasized enough: there is such a thing as progress, and to the extent that it is founded on correct principles and done in the correct manner, then we should support and seek it. Moving away from these principles, however, is not at all progressive—as C.S. Lewis once said, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

Given how off course most people are, the world could use more (true) progressives.

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