The Persistent Problem with Progress-Pushers

Of all the baffling aspects of progressivism, perhaps the most bewildering is its adherents’ inability to discern the inherent danger in the notion of “progress” as a dominant political position.  History is rife with glaring examples, after all.

Of course, it should be noted that progress, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, and it is quite often a good thing -- when it occurs as a natural outgrowth of knowledge and innovation.  The aforementioned danger exists simply because progress, as a political platform, is an entirely subjective, malleable concept that is shaped by singular ideologies, the pursuit of which requires that knowledge be narrowed, information be censored, and the education efforts of the state be focused to pursue a desired path and a desired end.    

It should be no mystery, therefore, that “progress” has been a concept exploited throughout history by ruthless dictators and fascists.  Adolf Hitler, for example, held an apparent contempt for every teacher he encountered during his formal education, all of whom he believed to be bourgeoisie madmen “distinguished by unparalleled ignorance and most admirably fitted to become the pillars of an effete system of government, which, thank God, is now a thing of the past,” as he wrote in April of 1942.  He regarded all of his teachers in this way -- save one.  Dr. Leopold Poetsch, his history teacher, earned a positive tribute in Mein Kampf.  Why, you ask?  Because only he among them “understood, as few others did, this principle… -- of retaining the essential and forgetting the nonessential.” *

The one unspoken requirement of this idea is that someone must decide which information is “essential,” which information is “nonessential,” and subsequently enforce those standards.  This is a task Hitler fulfilled with gusto.  Hence, books were ceremonially incinerated in the Reich’s pyres, independent thought was violently policed, and those deemed a threat or unnecessary were sterilized or murdered, all acts deemed necessary by social engineers to “forget the nonessential” and promote only “the essential” -- all in the name of a uniquely malignant dream of “progress.”         

Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution,” too, stands as a stark example of a dangerous ideology disguised as progress.  Mao, believing capitalism had poisoned his utopian vision, waged war against the “‘Four Olds’: old habits, ideas, customs, and culture.  Books were burned and museums pillaged.  Schools and hospitals closed.”  And though the actual number is disputed, it is certain that millions upon millions died as a result of this social engineering.

Ultimately, it’s a simple formula that progressives follow. Out with the old and verboten, in with the new and state-approved, for the good of mankind and the world.  The formula is universal, and in America, it’s no different.  For example:

In passing, we should here recognize the difficulties presented by the idea of 'fit' and 'unfit.' Who is to decide this question? The grosser, the more obvious, the undeniably feeble-minded should, indeed, not only be discouraged but prevented from propagating their kind. But among the writings of the representative Eugenists one cannot ignore the distinct middle-class bias that prevails.

So sayeth Margaret Sanger, now an almost deified figure by the modern progressive, considered to be most directly responsible for the American embrace of contraception and abortion.  But I ask, if you replace “middle-class” in the above quote with “bourgeoisie,” is it really so difficult to imagine that these words could have been uttered by the infamous Fuhrer?  And if it is not (as it shouldn’t be) difficult to imagine that, why is it that eugenics as practiced by Nazis is now deemed to have derived from the darkest chasms of the human heart, whereas eugenics, as Sanger described it, is deemed somehow progressive, and even noble, today?

Like Hitler, Sanger felt that somebody should decide who can acceptably reproduce and who cannot, and those belonging to the latter category of “unfit” parents were as well-defined for her as they were for Hitler.  In her essay “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” she argues that the “unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and ‘fit’” is “admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization,” and that the unbalance cannot be corrected by “cradle competition between the two classes.  In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation.” 

Now, if some Republican were to announce today that all welfare recipients should be sterilized because they are useless burdens in our society, we can be sure that the outcry would be sharp and swift, with ample cries of inhumanity and racism.  But the fact that Margaret Sanger said as much, even suggesting that the poor are “inferior” human beings, doesn’t tarnish her legacy a bit -- and in fact, just a few years ago Nancy Pelosi reworded Sanger’s above suggestion, her “final solution” to the poverty problem which I discuss here.  She suggested that federally subsidized abortion and contraception are the best way to lessen the economic burden posed by the poorer classes.  This certainly sounds a lot nicer than directly suggesting that the poor are genetic “inferiors,” to be sure.  But when the underlying goal is to either destroy their conceived children or prevent their children’s conception altogether so as to prevent their progeny from entering the world, does that distinction really even matter? 

So it should be obvious that new progressive leaders are, in some ways, still out pitching some of the same early twentieth century ideas of “progress” that yielded humanity’s darkest hours, but modern progressives are seemingly too dim to recognize the danger in that -- and worse, they either hearken back to such eras of progressive expansion as a suitable template for the future (the liberty-strangling New Deal, for example) or they directly continue such progressive expansion which began in the early twentieth century (as with Sanger’s eugenics outline for social betterment).   

This is not strictly for the sake of hyperbole, though it would clearly be regarded as such by progressives clinging for dear life to their deepest beliefs.  It’s a simple fact.  Progress-pushers have always been interested only in passing ideology for pragmatic progress, passing increased power and social engineering as philanthropic and necessary for the good of the world.  And now, it’s even literally about the good of the world, isn’t it?   

Citing evidence of the British government’s promotion of a “universal belief in enviro-statism,” Mark Steyn offers that climate change fear-mongering is nothing more than an attempt to control thought, and consequently control people and capital.  He obviously recognizes that there’s nothing new in any of that -- the only difference is that modern enviro-fascists have wrapped the issue in a more appealing and marketable package.  “At their Monday night poker game in hell,” Steyn writes, “I’ll bet Stalin, Hitler, and Mao are kicking themselves. “It’s about leaving a better planet for our children.  Why didn’t I think of that?”

The point is that progressive political tendencies always bend toward manipulation and control, and there is certainly danger in that.  Clearly, in many ways, such analogies between murderous dictators and modern American progressives end there.

Yet in other ways, such analogies yield troubling questions.  Is it really unfair of me to suggest that modern progressives’ hero Margaret Sanger is anything like monsters Hitler and Mao, for example? Or that those who orchestrate the continuation of the work she began are likewise as nefarious?  Probably so.  I’ll admit that.

But consider this.  If unborn babies are living human beings (which Sanger undeniably believed to be the case, often arguing that contraception was the preferable path, describing abortion as “the wrong way-- no matter how early it was performed it was taking a life”), the indirect death toll of the abortion industry she helped foster -- now over 57 million in America and currently contributed to and upheld by countless progressive politicians including Catholics John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden -- surpasses the magnitude of Holocaust by decades in length and tens of millions of souls in scope.

And when you frame it that way, one might be inclined to ask not whether the analogy is hyperbolic, but why hyperbole or a cogent analogy would even be necessary to conclude that progressives routinely celebrate a dark, dark legacy.

In short, when a politician shouts “Progress!” (…or “Forward.”) as an abstract and guiding political principle, people who understand history will rightfully become wary and keenly observant.  They may even boldly resist the seemingly unstoppable waves of change that they find threatening.  People who are ignorant of history, however, will do as they always have -- they will clap their hands and bleat like sheep.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.

* Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Ballantine, 1960. pp 29-30.