The philosophically inclined blogger Pascal Fervor has recently been trying to recover the word progressive from today’s radical political activists who have taken it to provide an appealing label for a highly oppressive program of action.

Pascal writes:

The people who have been granted (by the PC crowd) the leave to wear the label Progressive are anything but. In addition to having long ago become the home for those whose lust for power may well set a new standard for perversion, they are well on their way to making a pejorative of the word progress just as they have made an unbearable burden for anyone who is truly liberal. Those who would wish we will not progress could not be happier.

More and more I run across both writers on the Internet and casual conversants who see that "Progressive" must be put in scorn quotes whenever we refer to those who claim that label.

This is unacceptable. This is Orwellian Newspeak being thrust upon us because we people who must speak with each other in order to counter this road to serfdom and a new dark age do not control the mainstream news media’s effluent.

Pascal says that this larceny of the language helps the statists accomplish their goals, as it undoubtedly does. As a remedy he suggests the following:

I think I stumbled on the best way verbally to deal with our tormentors: call them Postmodern Progressives.

Unfortunately, the term he suggests is rather awkward and will never gain traction in any case, because, as he notes, the media like the progressives’ goals and want to further them.

However, I strongly disagree that we should want to claim the term progressive for reform-minded persons on the right anyway. Pascal argues that he and other good people on the right want society to progress, and that the comandeering of the word progress by a group of people with a very limited (and in Pascal’s view, wrong) idea of progress is a bad thing.

But as blogger Tom Van Dyke notes in a comment on Pascal’s site:

The central point, in my view, is one’s philosophy about human nature. If it is perfectable, then "progress" in a real sense is possible.

If it’s fairly constant, then the best we can do is manage the chaos of conflicting interests. (Which was Madison’s theory of the constitution—to set all the interests against each other to achieve equilibrium.)

As devil’s advocate on this, I can’t make the case—even as a conservative—that conservatism is, should, or can be progressive. If we may tap Burke here again, "A nation without the means of reform is without the means of survival," I can say that I’m able to believe in reform far more than progress, and myself would prefer such an appellation.

I agree with Tom here, and would push the matter farther. What Tom is pointing out is that the very idea of social progress is in itself wrong, corrupt, and corrupting.

Hence I argue that the takeover of the word progressive by today’s blatant statists is a good thing. The American Progressives of the early twentieth century were a highly deleterious political, social, and cultural force, in my view, not a good one at all. They pushed for statism and paved the way for the American ills of the benighted century just past. They were villains, not heroes, and if the use of the term progressive by today’s statists taints the progressives of the past and their goals, that is a very good thing indeed.

I think that today’s self-proclaimed Progressives have a legitimate right to the term, and I say that we should be delighted to let them have it, for it exposes the true foundations of progressivism.

Allowing the word progressive to become an epithet for crazies is thus greatly to be desired.

Reform, by contrast, is a good word because it suggests a desire to recast something to a beneficial condition that has existed in the past and always can be. As such it recognizes a sense of limits imposed by human nature while acknowledging that current conditions may be far from ideal.

The word liberal is also a good one that should be retrieved, as you all know I’ve argued over the years, for it recognizes the impulse to let people regulate their own lives as long as they don’t hurt others (and to take care of those not competent to regulate their lives, such as children), which is a mindset that is all too rare and desperately needed today.

So let’s indeed describe today’s statists as progressives, I say. Let them and their repugnant ideas stew in their own rhetorical juices.