Monday, April 16, 2007

Political Progressivism

I’ve finished reading Karl Popper’s The Open Society and It’s Enemies: The Spell of Plato, and it’s given me ideas on how to explain specific political philosophies.

Progressivism, at least in the sense I use the word, means supporting gradual and cumulative change, as opposed to radicals who support immediately restructuring all of society, conservatives who support minimal if any change, and reactionaries who advocate going back to the allegedly “good old days”.

Closely related to progressivism are what Popper calls “Piecemeal Social Engineering” or “democratic social reconstruction”, which he claims is the only rational method of social engineering. Piecemeal social engineering involves changing specific social institutions one at a time, without restructuring the whole of society or trying to get an “ultimate solution” to all social problems. In my mind, progressivism and piecemeal social engineering are one and the same.

Popper contrasts this piecemeal method with “Utopian Social Engineering”, where a blueprint for a perfect society is used to restructure every social institution in society, to uproot all of society. This approach is the same as radicalism.

Popper notes that Utopian Engineers, when “starting fresh”, lose sight of their goal. That’s because their goal developed from a social environment which has been eliminated. Furthermore, Utopian Engineers are even forced to adopt piecemeal engineering and restore many of the former social institutions, like Lenin’s reinstatement of private property under the “New Economic Policy”, if they intend to fix the mess they’ve made.

I’d consider my political philosophy in the piecemeal spirit. Most of my recommended policies have already been implemented in places like Western Europe, and wouldn’t require the radical restructuring of society.

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