‘Progressivism’: the greatest source of death and terror in the twentieth century
February 14, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The English author George Orwell wrote that “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In the history of manipulative political language, the term “progressive” surely occupies a high place.
The term is used incessantly to describe policies, political figures, and churchmen, among others, whom a liberal elite deem enlightened. Through repetitive use of “progressive,” modern liberals have hoped to gull the public into equating progressive with progress. But no such equation is justified. The gulf between the rhetoric of “progress” and the reality of progress is glaring.
The darkness of the twentieth century is sufficient to dissuade anyone from confusing “progressive” with progress. Its vilest ideologies were all presented as “progressive.” In the name of bettering humanity, self-described progressives felt emboldened to “progress” beyond the most basic precepts of reason and the natural law.
While some causes labeled “progressive” in the twentieth century qualify as either innocuous or at least debatable, many were unmistakably evil. The century’s eugenic schemes, for example, came not from so-called reactionaries but from proud self-described progressives. The West’s leading judges and university presidents championed eugenics openly before World War II.
In the 1920s, Oliver Wendell Holmes, considered a pillar of progressivism, thought nothing of calling for widespread sterilization of whomever the elite considered inferior. After all, he wrote, “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for the crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Long before Hitler’s Final Solution, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was writing about eliminating the “feeble-minded” and undesirable minorities. Long before the architects of Obamacare conceived of death panels for the elderly, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, a darling of progressives, blithely proposed extermination panels: “You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?”
“Progressive” California, the epicenter of eugenics in the 20thcentury, didn’t pick up its schemes from Hitler’s Germany. Rather, bloodless German social engineers picked up their eugenic ideas from California. Edwin Black, the author ofWar Against the Weak, has noted, “Only after eugenics became entrenched in the United States was the campaign transplanted into Germany, in no small measure through the efforts of California eugenicists, who published booklets idealizing sterilization and circulated them to German official and scientists.”
Supposedly progressive places like Pasadena and Palo Alto (Stanford’s president in the early twentieth century, David Starr Jordan, was a loud proponent of eugenics) were beacons of enlightenment in Hitler’s eyes, according to Black:
Hitler studied American eugenics laws. He tried to legitimize his anti-Semitism by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in the more palatable pseudoscientific facade of eugenics. Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable Germans by claiming that science was on his side. While Hitler’s race hatred sprung from his own mind, the intellectual outlines of the eugenics Hitler adopted in 1924 were made in America. During the ’20s, Carnegie Institution eugenic scientists cultivated deep personal and professional relationships with Germany’s fascist eugenicists. In Mein Kampf, published in 1924, Hitler quoted American eugenic ideology and openly displayed a thorough knowledge of American eugenics. “There is today one state,” wrote Hitler, “in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”
Self-described progressives also entangled themselves in the roots of Russian communism. “I have seen the future and it works,” remarked the journalist Lincoln Steffens after visiting Russia in 1921. Bolshevism and progress were viewed as one and the same.
“Most liberals saw the Bolsheviks as a popular and progressive movement,” wrote Jonah Goldberg inLiberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left. “Nearly the entire liberal elite, including much of FDR’s Brain Trust, made the pilgrimage to Moscow to take admiring notes on the Soviet experiment.”
In view of this dark history, contemporary uses of “progressive” should merit the greatest suspicion. Indeed, one might have expected the word to fade away. Instead, it has enjoyed a revival. To many politicians and journalists, “progressive” now sounds better than “liberal.”