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Progressivism is a political philosophy that holds that it is possible to improve human societies through political reform or through government mandates. As a political movement, progressivism seeks to advance the human condition through social reform based on purported advancements in science, technology, and social organization. [1] Adherents hold that progressivism has universal application and endeavor to spread this idea to human societies everywhere. Progressivism arose during the Age of Enlightenment out of the belief that civility in Europe was improving due to the application of new empirical knowledge to the governance of society. [2]


In modern political discourse, progressivism gets often associated with social liberalism, [3] [4] [5] a left-leaning type of liberalism.


From the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution

Immanuel Kant Kant gemaelde 3.jpg
Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant identified progress as being a movement away from barbarism toward civilization. [6] 18th-century philosopher and political scientist Marquis de Condorcet predicted that political progress would involve the disappearance of slavery, the rise of literacy, the lessening of sex inequality, prison reforms which at the time were harsh, and the decline of poverty. [7]

Modernity or modernisation was a key form of the idea of progress as promoted by classical liberals in the 19th and 20th centuries, who called for the rapid modernisation of the economy and society to remove the traditional hindrances to free markets and the free movements of people. [8]

John Stuart Mill John Stuart Mill by London Stereoscopic Company, c1870.jpg
John Stuart Mill

In the late 19th century, a political view rose in popularity in the Western world that progress was being stifled by vast economic inequality between the rich and the poor, minimally regulated laissez-faire capitalism with out-of-control monopolistic corporations, intense and often violent conflict between capitalists and workers, with a need for measures to address these problems. [9] Progressivism has influenced various political movements. Social liberalism was influenced by British liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill's conception of people being "progressive beings." [10] British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli developed progressive conservatism under one-nation Toryism. [11] [12]

In France, the space between social revolution and the socially conservative laissez-faire centre-right was filled with the emergence of radicalism which thought that social progress required anti-clericalism, humanism, and republicanism. Especially anti-clericalism was the dominant influence on the centre-left in many French- and Romance-speaking countries until the mid-20th century. In Imperial Germany, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck enacted various progressive social welfare measures out of paternalistic conservative motivations to distance workers from the socialist movement of the time and as humane ways to assist in maintaining the Industrial Revolution. [13]

In 1891, the Roman Catholic Church encyclical Rerum novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII condemned the exploitation of labor and urged support for labor unions and government regulation of businesses in the interests of social justice while upholding the property right and criticising socialism. [14] A progressive Protestant outlook called the Social Gospel emerged in North America that focused on challenging economic exploitation and poverty and, by the mid-1890s, was common in many Protestant theological seminaries in the United States. [15]

Early 20th-century progressivism included support for American engagement in World War I and the creation of and participation in the League of Nations, [16] [17] compulsory sterilisation in Scandinavia, [18] and eugenics in Great Britain, [19] and the temperance movement. [20] [21] Progressives believed that progress was stifled by economic inequality, inadequately regulated monopolistic corporations, and conflict between workers and elites, arguing that corrective measures were needed. [22]

Contemporary mainstream political conception of the philosophy

Theodore Roosevelt Theodore Roosevelt by the Pach Bros.jpg
Theodore Roosevelt

In the United States, progressivism began as an intellectual rebellion against the political philosophy of Constitutionalism [23] as expressed by John Locke and the founders of the American Republic, whereby the authority of government depends on observing limitations on its just powers. [24] What began as a social movement in the 1890s grew into a popular political movement referred to as the Progressive era; in the 1912 United States presidential election, all three U.S. presidential candidates claimed to be progressives. While the term progressivism represents a range of diverse political pressure groups, not always united, progressives rejected social Darwinism, believing that the problems society faced, such as class warfare, greed, poverty, racism and violence, could best be addressed by providing good education, a safe environment, and an efficient workplace. Progressives lived mainly in the cities, were college educated, and believed in a strong central government. [25] President Theodore Roosevelt of the Republican Party and later the Progressive Party declared that he "always believed that wise progressivism and wise conservatism go hand in hand." [26]

Woodrow Wilson Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Harris & Ewing bw photo portrait, 1919.jpg
Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson was also a member of the American progressive movement within the Democratic Party. Progressive stances have evolved. Imperialism was a controversial issue within progressivism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the United States, where some progressives supported American imperialism while others opposed it. [27] In response to World War I, President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points established the concept of national self-determination and criticised imperialist competition and colonial injustices. Anti-imperialists supported these views in areas resisting imperial rule. [28]

During the period of acceptance of economic Keynesianism (the 1930s–1970s), there was widespread acceptance in many nations of a large role for state intervention in the economy. With the rise of neoliberalism and challenges to state interventionist policies in the 1970s and 1980s, centre-left progressive movements responded by adopting the Third Way, which emphasised a major role for the market economy. [29] There have been social democrats who have called for the social-democratic movement to move past Third Way. [30] Prominent progressive conservative elements in the British Conservative Party have criticised neoliberalism. [31]

In the 21st century, progressives continue to favour public policy that they theorise will reduce or lessen the harmful effects of economic inequality as well as systemic discrimination such as institutional racism; to advocate for social safety nets and workers' rights; and to oppose corporate influence on the democratic process. The unifying theme is to call attention to the negative impacts of current institutions or ways of doing things and to advocate for social progress, i.e., for positive change as defined by any of several standards such as the expansion of democracy, increased egalitarianism in the form of economic and social equality as well as improved well being of a population. Proponents of social democracy have identified themselves as promoting the progressive cause. [32]


Cultural progressivism

Progressivism, in the general sense, mainly means social and cultural progressivism. There term cultural liberalism is similar, and is used substantially similarly. [33] However, cultural liberals and progressives may differ in positions on cultural issues such as minority rights, social justice,[ citation needed ] and political correctness. [34] [ original research? ]

Unlike progressives in a broader sense, some cultural progressives may be economically centrist, conservative, or politically libertarian. The Czech Pirate Party is classified as a (cultural or social) progressive party, [35] but it calls itself "economically centrist and socially liberal". [36]

Economic progressivism

Economic progressivism is a term used to distinguish it from progressivism in cultural fields. Economic progressives' views are often rooted in the concept of social justice and aim to improve the human condition through government regulation, social protections and the maintenance of public goods. [37]

Some economic progressives may show center-right views on cultural issues. These movements are related to communitarian conservative movements such as Christian democracy and one-nation conservatism. [38] [39]

Techno progressivism

Progressive parties or parties with progressive factions

Current parties

Former parties

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pro-Europeanism</span> Favouring European integration

Pro-Europeanism, sometimes called European Unionism, is a political position that favours European integration and membership of the European Union (EU).

Social liberalism is a political philosophy and variety of liberalism that endorses social justice, social services, a mixed economy, and the expansion of civil and political rights, as opposed to classical liberalism which supports unregulated laissez faire capitalism with very few government services.

Liberal conservatism is a political ideology combining conservative policies with liberal stances, especially on economic issues but also on social and ethical matters, representing a brand of political conservatism strongly influenced by liberalism.

This article gives information on liberalism worldwide. It is an overview of parties that adhere to some form of liberalism and is therefore a list of liberal parties around the world.

Japanese liberalism(自由主義 or リベラリズム) formed in the nineteenth century as a reaction against traditional society. In the twentieth century 'liberal' (自由) gradually became a synonym for conservative, and today the main conservative party in the country is named Liberal Democratic Party. The defunct Democratic Party was considered in part a centrist-liberal party, as are most parties which derived from it. The liberal character of the Liberal League is disputed, as it is also considered to be conservative by some. This article is limited to liberal (リベラル) parties with substantial support, proved by having had representation in parliament.

This article gives an overview of liberalism and its related history in South Korea. It is limited to liberal parties with substantial support, mainly proven by having had a representation in parliament.

Centre-right politics lean to the right of the political spectrum, but are closer to the centre. Parties of the centre-right generally support liberal democracy, capitalism, the market economy, private property rights, and a modest welfare state. They support conservatism and economic liberalism and oppose socialism and communism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Classical radicalism</span> Historical political movement within liberalism

Radicalism was a political movement representing the leftward flank of liberalism during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and a precursor to social liberalism, social democracy, civil libertarianism, and modern progressivism. This ideology is commonly referred to as "radicalism" but is sometimes referred to as radical liberalism, or classical radicalism, to distinguish it from radical politics. Its earliest beginnings are to be found during the English Civil War with the Levellers and later the Radical Whigs.

Conservative liberalism, also referred to as right-liberalism, is a variant of liberalism, combining liberal values and policies with conservative stances, or simply representing the right-wing of the liberal movement. In the case of modern conservative liberalism, scholars sometimes see it as a more positive and less radical variant of classical liberalism; it is also referred to as an individual tradition that distinguishes it from classical liberalism and social liberalism. Conservative liberal parties tend to combine economically liberal policies with more traditional stances and personal beliefs on social and ethical issues. Ordoliberalism is a influential component of conservative-liberal thought, particularly in its German, British, French, Italian, and American manifestations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cultural liberalism</span> Cultural perspective emphasising permissiveness of traditionally shunned behaviour

Cultural liberalism is a social philosophy which expresses the social dimension of liberalism and advocates the freedom of individuals to choose whether to conform to cultural norms. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, it is often expressed as the right to "march to the beat of a different drummer". Also known as social liberalism in the United States, cultural progressivism is used in a substantially similar context, although it does not mean exactly the same as cultural liberalism.

Liberalism in the United States is based on concepts of unalienable rights of the individual. The fundamental liberal ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the separation of church and state, the right to due process, and equality before the law are widely accepted as a common foundation of liberalism. It differs from liberalism worldwide because the United States has never had a resident hereditary aristocracy, and avoided much of the class warfare that characterized Europe. According to American philosopher Ian Adams, "all U.S. parties are liberal and always have been. Essentially they espouse classical liberalism, that is a form of democratised Whig constitutionalism plus the free market. The point of difference comes with the influence of social liberalism and the proper role of government."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Political ideologies in the United States</span> Ideologies and ideological demographics in the United States

American political ideologies conventionally align with the left–right political spectrum, with most Americans identifying as conservative, liberal, or moderate. Contemporary American conservatism includes social conservatism, classical liberalism and economic liberalism. The former ideology developed as a response to communism and the civil rights movement, while the latter two ideologies developed as a response to the New Deal. Contemporary American liberalism includes progressivism, welfare capitalism and social liberalism, developing during the Progressive Era and the Great Depression. Besides modern conservatism and liberalism, the United States has a notable libertarian movement, developing during the mid-20th century as a revival of classical liberalism. Historical political movements in the United States have been shaped by ideologies as varied as republicanism, populism, separatism, fascism, socialism, monarchism, and nationalism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Left-wing populism</span> Political ideology that combines left-wing politics and populist rhetoric and themes

Left-wing populism, also called social populism, is a political ideology that combines left-wing politics with populist rhetoric and themes. Its rhetoric often includes elements of anti-elitism, opposition to the Establishment, and speaking for the "common people". Recurring themes for left-wing populists include economic democracy, social justice, and scepticism of globalization. Socialist theory plays a lesser role than in traditional left-wing ideologies.

Centrism is a political outlook or position involving acceptance or support of a balance of social equality and a degree of social hierarchy while opposing political changes that would result in a significant shift of society strongly to the left or the right.

Centre-left politics is the range of left-wing political ideologies that lean closer to the political centre and broadly conform with progressivism. Ideologies of the centre-left include social democracy, social liberalism and green politics. Ideas commonly supported by the centre-left include welfare capitalism, social justice, liberal internationalism, and multiculturalism. Economically, the centre-left supports a mixed economy in a democratic capitalist system, often including economic interventionism, progressive taxation, and the right to unionize. Centre-left politics are contrasted with far-left politics that reject capitalism or advocate revolution.

Progressivism in South Korea is broadly associated with social democracy, cultural progressivism and left-wing nationalism. South Korea's "progressivism" is often used in a similar sense to 'South Korean Left' or 'leftist'.

Kakushin seitō(革新政党), meaning reformist political parties or progressive political parties, is an umbrella term used in Japan to refer to a variety of left-leaning political parties generally viewed as "anti-conservative." In the postwar period, it has generally been applied to democratic socialist, social democratic and socially progressive parties that seek to uphold Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Japan's "progressive parties" are basically opposed to constitutional amendments led by right-wing conservatives, so they are partly in solidarity with moderate liberal parties. "Kakushin" parties have been considered progressive or radical-liberal forces.



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