Sunday, November 13, 2016

Progress and its critics

There used to be a thriving academic industry tracing the origin and fortunes of the idea of progress, as espoused by J. B. Bury and others. Though some have detected Christian roots, it is generally agreed that its most significant sources lie in the Enlightenment and (the perhaps misnamed) Whig Theory of History. 

Common to the various theories is the assurance that progress is inevitable, only delayed from time to time by the atavistic forces of Reaction. This view is contestable. Moreover, progress as envisaged by the left may have a very unfortunate denouement, as seen currently in Venezuela. 

How fares progress nowadays? In recent years, at least in advanced Western industrial countries, there has been a good deal of beneficial advance in the realm of social issues - especially women's and LGBT rights. Despite current fears, these achievements are unlikely to be rolled back. In terms of larger political development it may be, however, that the pendulum still rules, moving in one direction in 2008 and the opposite one now. At all events the picture is mixed.

The competing theory is that of decadence, which holds that once a society has advanced to a certain point a reverse course, decline is inevitable. Homophobes commonly allege that the advance of LBGT rights is a sure sign of decadence.


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