Progressivism is a political philosophy and movement that seeks to advance the human condition through social reform – primarily based on purported advancements in social organization, science, and technology. 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.

In modern political discourse, progressivism gets often associated with social liberalism, a left-leaning type of liberalism.


From the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant identified progress as being a movement away from barbarism toward civilization. 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.

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.

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. Progressivism has influenced various political movements. Social liberalism was influenced by British liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill's conception of people being "progressive beings." British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli developed progressive conservatism under one-nation Toryism.

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.

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. 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.

Early 20th-century progressivism included support for American engagement in World War I and the creation of and participation in the League of Nations, compulsory sterilisation in Scandinavia, and eugenics in Great Britain, and the temperance movement. 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.

Contemporary mainstream political conception of the philosophy

Theodore Roosevelt

In the United States, progressivism began as an intellectual rebellion against the political philosophy of Constitutionalism 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. 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. 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."

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. 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.

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. There have been social democrats who have called for the social-democratic movement to move past Third Way. Prominent progressive conservative elements in the British Conservative Party have criticised neoliberalism.

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.


Cultural progressivism

Progressivism, in the general sense, mainly means social and cultural progressivism. The term cultural liberalism is similar, and is used substantially similarly. However, cultural liberals and progressives may differ in positions on cultural issues such as minority rights, social justice,[citation needed] and political correctness.[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, but it calls itself "economically centrist and socially liberal".

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.

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.

Techno progressivism

Progressive parties or parties with progressive factions

Current parties

Former parties

See also

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