In the hapless decade of the 1990s, a public affairs professor from the University of Maryland penned a simple two-page manifesto explaining what progressive ideology is and, more importantly, what it is not.
This effort on the part of Mr. Peter Brown was meant to clear away some of the increasing confusion surrounding progressivism, and to quell the radical nihilism which had already begun to appear at that time. “I think,” Brown wrote, “that we are losing sight of what it means to be a progressive.”
Brown lamented the fact that progressive ideology seemed to have become “compatible with virtually everything” and that was a problem because if progress became all things to all people, it would “lead to a lack of focus.” So in 1998, Brown was trying to herd his chaotic and unruly progressives back onto point. Progress, as rationally defined by Brown, meant consistent improvement in six clearly defined areas. He advocated for a reduction of disease, violence, famine, and malnutrition, as well as the elimination of unjustified taxes and political corruption.
Many people who do not even consider themselves progressive would, in Brown’s estimation of it, rethink their position, and that is especially true when he explains what progressives are not. Brown argued that progressives do not believe that the free-market system is evil; they do not believe in central planning or socialism; they do not believe in the nationalization of industry; and most importantly, real progressives “do not believe in a final victory.”
Brown underlines this last point. He explains that the overall progressive goal “is not a state to be achieved but a continual process of reconstruction and vigilance.” Brown tries to disillusion the more utopian progressives when he explains that “we expect neither a plateau nor a panacea.”
In other words, Brown was suggesting that, contrary to what most progressives believed at that time—and still believe with even more fervor today—there will be no final victory; no desirable state of affairs at “the end” of history. Progressivism, he was compelled to remind them, is not concerned with the final perfection of Mankind, and he wrote that mostly because his fellow progressives did believe that.