Monday, September 26, 2022

Progressivism: the god That Failed

Romanticism failed to restore the world’s link to heaven.

The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, by John Strickland

Progress.  If there was one goal most served by secular humanism it was progress.  Yet this was nothing really new.  Progress could trace its lineage back to Reformational Christianity, which could trace its lineage to traditional Christianity’s transformational imperative.  In other words, there was a line extending to the origins of Christendom itself. 

Unfortunately, much of what was beneficial to progress was stripped away during the intervening centuries.  As has been noted by Tom Holland (the author, not Spiderman) and others, we are living through a Christian civil war.  And this summary by Strickland seems to support just such a notion.

For example, you have all seen the sign:

In this house, we believe:

Black Lives Matter

Women’s rights are human rights

No human is illegal

Science is real

Love is love

Kindness is everything

A Christian can agree with all of these (except the last one).  But, as you all understand, there is a giant size divide as to how different Christians (and non-Christians who are, whether they want to admit it or not, swimming in the remnants of a Christian culture) come to understand these.  And, therefore, one side can see the other side as betraying Christ’s teaching.  In other words, a Christian civil war.

Of course, the only way to sort this out is to accept that there are objective truths and values…or to not accept this.  This acceptance or rejection will identify on which side one is fighting in this Christian civil war.

And it is a Christian civil war.  These issues were not issues in ancient Rome or Greece.  These are not issues in many parts of the world that have not been greatly influenced by Christian teaching and culture.

Returning to Strickland, the issue is that this progressive salvation of man must be attained not via some outside agency, but by man himself – by successive improvements over the generations of man.

Hegel saw history unfolding in a linear direction, producing ever higher and more advanced states of civilization.  August Comte, enthralled by science, saw “positive science” and rationalism as triumphant; reason was absolute.  From Aquinas to Kant, metaphysics was used to try and explain the world.  No more.  Now it was to be science – and there would be nothing greater after this.  Positivism.  Progress was inevitable. 

And on this stage walked John Stuart Mill.  A child prodigy, “as close to pure intellect as any human being has ever seen”: at three, he began to learn Greek; at eight, it was Latin.  As a youth he would master philosophy, algebra, political economy, logic, and biology.  As a pre-teen, he would study scholasticism.  In his free time, while other children played cricket, he would read of scientific experiments.

As a child, he was influenced by family friend Jeremy Bentham.  Bentham’s moral philosophy of utilitarianism would prove of lasting influence.  Man has no higher purpose than the acquisition of pleasure and happiness.  This, a way forward in a post-Christian culture.  Mill would write:

…that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.  By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.

Hedonism, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The word ‘hedonism’ comes from the ancient Greek for ‘pleasure’. Psychological or motivational hedonism claims that only pleasure or pain motivates us. Ethical or evaluative hedonism claims that only pleasure has worth or value and only pain or displeasure has disvalue or the opposite of worth.

Man is in a closed ethical system, determined in and by this world.  It was a revolution in morality.  In his book, On Liberty, Mill would define human liberty politically rather than spiritually.  Political liberty is the vital question of the future.  It is a statement of the freedom of the individual against authority.  He would write:

The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.

It is an excellent thin libertarian statement, and for many – including Mill, it seems – it contains the entirety of an ethical framework.  Anything peaceful, as many libertarians offer.

But it offers man no purpose – nothing at which to aim.  It places on man no obligation – other than to ignore his fellow man as long as his fellow man is ignoring him.

It also makes clear the often confusing but necessary distinction between natural law and natural rights.  I have a natural right to do exactly as Mill describes, and I have the natural right to defend myself if someone chooses to forcibly prohibit me from same.  But this is not the entirety of natural law.

Natural law gives man a purpose: love as man’s highest purpose.  Natural law compels me to act charitably, but no one has the natural right to force me to act charitably toward them or another.

I would re-write Mill as follows: the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing the purpose for which we are made, to act in accord with how we were made.  We are made in God’s image.  Unlike the subjective freedom offered by Mill, being made in God’s image objectifies our freedom.  It offers a target at which to aim.

Hedonism – pursuit without purpose – was given further fuel by Darwin.  Homo sapiens (wise man) would replace imago Dei (image of God).  It was the wise man that survived – and would survive – in the competitive race.  Man had evolved and would continue to evolve.

Someday, perhaps, humanism itself would disappear as humanity was superseded by a superhumanity.


Aided, perhaps, by human intervention.  From C.S. Lewis

Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men.

Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. …The Battle will indeed be won.  But who, precisely, will have won it?

It is not that [the Conditioners] are bad men.  They are not men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao [natural law] they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artefacts.  Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of man.

This is where progress has led – with the eugenics movement of a century ago a direct descendent of Darwin.  And we see this abolition of man paraded in its glory every day in front of us, in everything from transgenderism to the World Health Organization, to jabs forever, to the World Economic Forum.


Returning to Strickland, he notes something previously unknown to me – certainly in detail.  It is well-understood by many who look back on the American Civil War with horror that slavery was disbanded elsewhere in the West without bloodshed – certainly nothing like the bloodshed on the fields of Virginia and Pennsylvania and Georgia.

But what of Russia – backwards Russia?

In the New World, the deadliest war in American history was necessary to free fewer than five million blacks from slavery.

Now, set aside the “necessary” part; this isn’t the point.

In “backward” Russia, ten times that number were liberated from serfdom peacefully with nothing more than the tsar’s signature,

Once again, proving Hans Hoppe right…and correct!


  1. C. S. Lewis also suggested that it is not only human beings that are involved in the Abolition of Man, but also the super intelligent denizens of the Pit. This is clear from That Hideous Strength, a good read for these times.
    About those signs, "In this house we believe....." Some bumper stickers of that ilk I have seen suggest that a dissent from the belief, say, in the efficacy of the "vaccines" bespeaks a belief in the flat earth thesis. The post WW 2 dismissal of a proposition by way of a reductio ad Hitlerum, ( i.e., because Hitler believed in umbrellas as a protection against rain, such an affirmation must be false), now becomes a reductio ad terram planem. I always am curious about the motivation(s) of the posters of such affirmations. Are they looking for like minded co-religionists to whom to signal their singular virtue and superior intelligence and, perhaps, found a parish? Or are they merely trying to ridicule the rest of us, cause us some annoyance, and, thus, make us as unhappy as they are? Fortunately, I never encounter these folks and am, therefore, spared yet another sin against charity.

    1. I heard a guy say that That Hideous Strength is a narrative that describes the principles of The Abolition Of Man.

  2. Yet godless Russia descended into bolshevik terror because they had forgotten God according to Solzhenitsyn. But I guess that was the Enlightenment finally crashing into Russia, from a bullet train out of Germany.

  3. Bentham was a bad dude. And he ran a bunch of bad boys. And they developed a bad idea called the Panopticon. And that idea grew and grew, culminating in the electronic surveillance / police state so commonplace in the modern era.