Progress, schmogress


When I hear the word ‘progress’ I reach for my… oh never mind.

A lengthy and highly tedious exchange has erupted on one of my mailing lists about the incredibly puerile question of which American presidents were, on the whole, ‘progressive’.

Really, this notion of ‘progress’ has done more to stultify otherwise thoughtful people than almost any other I can think of.

On a scale of one to ten, estimate the progressivity average of the following. You may extend the estimate to three decimal places, but no farther. Ties are frowned upon, and require substantial justification.

1) Genghiz Khan
2) Vlad the Impaler
3) Maria Theresa
4) Benedict of Nursia
5) Prince Gautama
6) Pontius Pilate
7) Blackbeard the Pirate
8) Henry VIII (of England)
9) Leon Czolgosz
10) Mad King Ludwig (of Bavaria)

9 thoughts on “Progress, schmogress

  1. By “progressive,” do they mean the word that’s replaced “liberal” (meaning vaguely “social democratic”) or are they talking about progress as in Whig history?

    I… didn’t know Ludwig, Benedict, or Maria Teresa.

    I vote Czolgosz for #1.

    Czolgosz for president.

  2. I asked a native informant today what was the difference between a ‘progressive’ and a ‘liberal’. She thought for a while and then said, rather tentatively, that the term ‘progressive’ suggested somebody who was a) a bit to the left of a liberal and b) more of an activist than a liberal. I pressed a bit on the topic of what a progressive might be for that a liberal would not, but she smelt a rat and sheered off.

    • How old is your native informant? I think my generation and younger tends to use “progressive” more.

      I think the difference in connotation is, in broad strokes, maybe between the The Nation and The New Republic. Someone willing to criticize Obama vociferously from the left is much more likely to identify as “progressive” than as “liberal.”

      Case studies:
      I also think that plenty of people would call Truman or LBJ liberals, but few would tag them as “progressive,” especially Truman. They’d be more inclined to call FDR or Kennedy progressive, irrespective of LBJ’s more expansive social welfare agenda.

      I don’t think it’s entirely coherent.

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