Progressivism is a political philosophy and movement that seeks to advance the human condition through social reform – primarily based on purported advancements in social organization, science, and technology.[1] Adherents hold that progressivism has universal application and endeavor to spread this idea to human societies everywhere. Progressivism arose during the Age of Enlightenment out of the belief that civility in Europe was improving due to the application of new empirical knowledge.[2]

In modern political discourse, progressivism often gets associated with social liberalism,[3][4][5] a left-leaning type of liberalism. However, within economic progressivism, there are economic progressives that show center-right views on cultural issues; examples of this include communitarian conservative movements such as Christian democracy and one-nation conservatism.[6][7]


From the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant identified progress as being a movement away from barbarism toward civilization.[8] 18th-century philosopher and political scientist Marquis de Condorcet predicted that political progress would involve the disappearance of slavery, the rise of literacy, the lessening of sex inequality, prison reforms which at the time were harsh, and the decline of poverty.[9]

Modernity or modernisation was a key form of the idea of progress as promoted by classical liberals in the 19th and 20th centuries, who called for the rapid modernisation of the economy and society to remove the traditional hindrances to free markets and the free movements of people.[10]

John Stuart Mill

In the late 19th century, a political view rose in popularity in the Western world that progress was being stifled by vast economic inequality between the rich and the poor, minimally regulated laissez-faire capitalism with out-of-control monopolistic corporations, intense and often violent conflict between capitalists and workers, with a need for measures to address these problems.[11] Progressivism has influenced various political movements. Social liberalism was influenced by British liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill's conception of people being "progressive beings."[12] British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli developed progressive conservatism under one-nation Toryism.[13][14]

In France, the space between social revolution and the socially conservative laissez-faire centre-right was filled with the emergence of radicalism which thought that social progress required anti-clericalism, humanism, and republicanism. Especially anti-clericalism was the dominant influence on the centre-left in many French- and Romance-speaking countries until the mid-20th century. In Imperial Germany, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck enacted various progressive social welfare measures out of paternalistic conservative motivations to distance workers from the socialist movement of the time and as humane ways to assist in maintaining the Industrial Revolution.[15]

In 1891, the Roman Catholic Church encyclical Rerum novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII condemned the exploitation of labor and urged support for labor unions and government regulation of businesses in the interests of social justice while upholding the property right and criticising socialism.[16] A progressive Protestant outlook called the Social Gospel emerged in North America that focused on challenging economic exploitation and poverty and, by the mid-1890s, was common in many Protestant theological seminaries in the United States.[17]

Early 20th-century progressivism included support for American engagement in World War I and the creation of and participation in the League of Nations,[18][19] compulsory sterilisation in Scandinavia,[20] and eugenics in Great Britain,[21] and the temperance movement.[22][23] Progressives believed that progress was stifled by economic inequality, inadequately regulated monopolistic corporations, and conflict between workers and elites, arguing that corrective measures were needed.[24]

Contemporary mainstream political conception of the philosophy

Theodore Roosevelt

In the United States, progressivism began as an intellectual rebellion against the political philosophy of Constitutionalism[25] as expressed by John Locke and the founders of the American Republic, whereby the authority of government depends on observing limitations on its just powers.[26] What began as a social movement in the 1890s grew into a popular political movement referred to as the Progressive era; in the 1912 United States presidential election, all three U.S. presidential candidates claimed to be progressives. While the term progressivism represents a range of diverse political pressure groups, not always united, progressives rejected social Darwinism, believing that the problems society faced, such as class warfare, greed, poverty, racism and violence, could best be addressed by providing good education, a safe environment, and an efficient workplace. Progressives lived mainly in the cities, were college educated, and believed in a strong central government.[27] President Theodore Roosevelt of the Republican Party and later the Progressive Party declared that he "always believed that wise progressivism and wise conservatism go hand in hand."[28]

Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson was also a member of the American progressive movement within the Democratic Party. Progressive stances have evolved. Imperialism was a controversial issue within progressivism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the United States, where some progressives supported American imperialism while others opposed it.[29] In response to World War I, President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points established the concept of national self-determination and criticised imperialist competition and colonial injustices. Anti-imperialists supported these views in areas resisting imperial rule.[30]

During the period of acceptance of economic Keynesianism (the 1930s–1970s), there was widespread acceptance in many nations of a large role for state intervention in the economy. With the rise of neoliberalism and challenges to state interventionist policies in the 1970s and 1980s, centre-left progressive movements responded by adopting the Third Way, which emphasised a major role for the market economy.[31] There have been social democrats who have called for the social-democratic movement to move past Third Way.[32] Prominent progressive conservative elements in the British Conservative Party have criticised neoliberalism.[33]

In the 21st century, progressives continue to favour public policy that they theorise will reduce or lessen the harmful effects of economic inequality as well as systemic discrimination such as institutional racism; to advocate for social safety nets and workers' rights; and to oppose corporate influence on the democratic process. The unifying theme is to call attention to the negative impacts of current institutions or ways of doing things and to advocate for social progress, i.e., for positive change as defined by any of several standards such as the expansion of democracy, increased egalitarianism in the form of economic and social equality as well as improved well being of a population. Proponents of social democracy have identified themselves as promoting the progressive cause.[34]


Cultural progressivism

Progressivism, in the general sense, mainly means social and cultural progressivism. The term cultural liberalism is similar, and is used substantially similarly.[35] However, cultural liberals and progressives may differ in positions on cultural issues such as minority rights, social justice,[citation needed] and political correctness.[36][original research?]

Unlike progressives in a broader sense, some cultural progressives may be economically centrist, conservative, or politically libertarian. The Czech Pirate Party is classified as a (cultural or social) progressive party,[37] but it calls itself "economically centrist and socially liberal".[38]

Economic progressivism

Main article: Economic progressivism

Economic progressivism is a term used to distinguish it from progressivism in cultural fields. Economic progressives' views are often rooted in the concept of social justice and aim to improve the human condition through government regulation, social protections and the maintenance of public goods.[39]

Some economic progressives may show center-right views on cultural issues. These movements are related to communitarian conservative movements such as Christian democracy and one-nation conservatism.[40][41]

Techno progressivism

Main article: Techno-progressivism

Progressive parties or parties with progressive factions

Current parties

Former parties

See also



  1. ^ "Progressivism in English". Oxford English Dictionary. Archived from the original on 21 March 2019. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  2. ^ Harold Mah. Enlightenment Phantasies: Cultural Identity in France and Germany, 1750–1914. Cornell University. (2003). p. 157.
  3. ^ Klaus P. Fischer, ed. (2007). America in White, Black, and Gray: A History of the Stormy 1960s. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 39.
  4. ^ Great Courses, ed. (2014). The Modern Political Tradition: Episode 17: Progressivism and New Liberalism. Great Courses.[ISBN missing]
  5. ^ Helen Hardacre; Timothy S. George; Keigo Komamura; Franziska Seraphim, eds. (2021). Japanese Constitutional Revisionism and Civic Activism. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 136, 162.[ISBN missing]
  6. ^ "Did you know there's a third party based on Catholic teaching?". Catholic News Agency. 12 October 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2021. Politically, we would be considered center-right on social issues
  7. ^ "New political party says its roots are in Catholic Social Teaching". 26 November 2018. Retrieved 17 November 2021. I was working on my doctoral dissertation largely concerning difficulties and opportunities for socially conservative, economically progressive movements, and desired to get involved in such movements ... and was glad to see that ASP was interested in applying such ways of thinking to contemporary issues.
  8. ^ Kant, Immanuel; Reiss, Hans Siegbert (1991). "Kant: political writings". Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  9. ^ Nisbet, Robert (1980). History of the Idea of Progress. New York: Basic Books. ch 5
  10. ^ Joyce Appleby; Lynn Hunt & Margaret Jacob (1995). Telling the Truth about History. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 78. ISBN 9780393078916.
  11. ^ Nugent, Walter (2010). Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 2. ISBN 9780195311068.
  12. ^ Alan Ryan. The Making of Modern Liberalism. p. 25.
  13. ^ Patrick Dunleavy, Paul Joseph Kelly, Michael Moran. British Political Science: Fifty Years of Political Studies. Oxford, England; Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. pp. 107–108. [ISBN missing]
  14. ^ Robert Blake. Disraeli. Second Edition. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode (Publishers) Ltd, 1967. p. 524.[ISBN missing]
  15. ^ Union Contributions to Labor Welfare Policy and Practice: Past, Present, and Future. Routledge, 16, 2013. p. 172. [ISBN missing]
  16. ^ Faith Jaycox. The Progressive Era. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2005. p. 85.
  17. ^ Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865–1915 (1940). [page needed][ISBN missing]
  18. ^ Freeden, Michael (2005). Liberal Languages: Ideological Imaginations and Twentieth-Century Progressive Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 144–165. ISBN 9780691116778.
  19. ^ Ambrosius, Lloyd E. (April 2006). "Woodrow Wilson, Alliances, and the League of Nations". The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. 5 (2): 139–165. doi:10.1017/S153778140000298X. S2CID 162853992.
  20. ^ Roll-Hansen, Nils (1989). "Geneticists and the Eugenics Movement in Scandinavia". The British Journal for the History of Science. 22 (3): 335–346. doi:10.1017/S0007087400026194. JSTOR 4026900. PMID 11621984. S2CID 44566095.
  21. ^ Leonard, Thomas (2005). "Retrospectives: Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era" (PDF). Journal of Economic Perspectives. 19 (4): 207–224. doi:10.1257/089533005775196642. Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  22. ^ James H. Timberlake, Prohibition and the Progressive Movement, 1900–1920 (1970)[page needed][ISBN missing]
  23. ^ "Prohibition: A Case Study of Progressive Reform". Library of Congress. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  24. ^ Nugent, Walter (2010). Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 2. ISBN 9780195311068.
  25. ^ Waluchow, Wil (17 August 2018). "Constitutionalism". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University – via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  26. ^ Watson, Bradley (2020). Progressivism : the strange history of a radical idea. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. p. 11. ISBN 9780268106973.
  27. ^ "The Progressive Era (1890–1920)". The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. Archived 20 January 2020 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 31 September 2014.
  28. ^ Lurie, Jonathan (2012). William Howard Taft: The Travails of a Progressive Conservative. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 196.
  29. ^ Nugent, Walter (2010). Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 9780195311068.
  30. ^ Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson: Progressivism, Internationalism, War, and Peace. p. 309. [ISBN missing]
  31. ^ Jane Lewis, Rebecca Surender. Welfare State Change: Towards a Third Way?. Oxford University Press, 2004. pp. 3–4, 16. [ISBN missing]
  32. ^ After the Third Way: The Future of Social Democracy in Europe. I.B. Taurus, 2012. p. 47. [ISBN missing]
  33. ^ Hugh Bochel. The Conservative Party and Social Policy. The Policy Press, 2011. p. 108. [ISBN missing]
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  35. ^ Nancy L. Cohen, ed. (2012). Delirium: The Politics of Sex in America. Catapult. ISBN 9781619020962. When the going got tough, the economic progressives got going back to the Reagan days when the cultural progressives were to blame. Clinton's presidential campaign had "signaled cultural moderation and articulated the pocketbook frustrations of ordinary people," Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect ventured. "But in office, he seemed a cultural liberal who failed to produce on economics."
  36. ^ a b Ball, Molly. "The Battle Within the Democratic Party". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  37. ^ a b Slawek Blitch. Finally, a healthy dose of anti-establishment. 8 January 2018.
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  40. ^ "Did you know there's a third party based on Catholic teaching?". Catholic News Agency. 12 October 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2021. Politically, we would be considered center-right on social issues
  41. ^ "New political party says its roots are in Catholic Social Teaching". 26 November 2018. Retrieved 17 November 2021. I was working on my doctoral dissertation largely concerning difficulties and opportunities for socially conservative, economically progressive movements, and desired to get involved in such movements ... and was glad to see that ASP was interested in applying such ways of thinking to contemporary issues.
  42. ^ "La llamativa definición política de Alberto Fernández: "Soy de la rama del liberalismo progresista peronista"". Clarín. 19 July 2019. Archived from the original on 6 November 2019. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  43. ^ "Juan Grabois lanza el Frente Patria Grande que lideraría Cristina Kirchner". Perfil (in Spanish). 27 October 2018. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  44. ^ "Alberto Fernández: "Soy más hijo de la cultura hippie que de las veinte verdades peronistas"". 12 April 2020.
  45. ^ Lopez, Daniel; Bandt, Adam (3 September 2021). "Australian Greens Are Building a Movement to End Neoliberalism". Jacobin. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  46. ^ Liisa L. North, Timothy D. Clark, ed. (2017). Dominant Elites in Latin America: From Neo-Liberalism to the 'Pink Tide'. Springer. p. 212. ISBN 9783319532554. In Brazil, as Simone Bohn makes straightforward (Chap. 3), the progressive Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) governments did not threaten the power of the national elite or landlord class; ...
  47. ^ "A trajetória do PSB, o Partido que quer lançar Joaquim Barbosa à Presidência", BBC News Brasil
  48. ^ "O Que é ser progressist?", BBC News Brasil
  49. ^ O que pensam os partidos progressistas sobre o "Efeito Lula", 17 March 2021
  50. ^ Alvin Finkel (2012). Our Lives: Canada after 1945: Second Edition. James Lorimer & Company. p. 5. ... capitalism and a wise federal bureaucracy presided over by a progressive Liberal party with intelligent leaders.
  51. ^ Robert Harris (2018). Song of a Nation: The Untold Story of Canada's National Anthem. McClelland & Stewart.
  52. ^ "Trudeau made pushing his agenda more complicated with a failed bid for majority". CBC. 21 September 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  53. ^ Emmett Macfarlane (2021). Dilemmas of Free Expression. University of Toronto Press. p. 317.
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  55. ^ Katerina Safarikova. "Czechs Eye 'Symbolic' Pirate Breakthrough in Europe". / 21 May 2019.
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  58. ^ Christopher Chase-Dunn, Paul Almeida, ed. (2020). Global Struggles and Social Change: From Prehistory to World Revolution in the Twenty-First Century. JHU Press. p. 133. ISBN 9781421438634. The Arab Spring, the Latin American Pink Tide, the Indignados in Spain, the Occupy movement, the rise of progressive social movement– based parties in Spain (Podemos) and in Greece (Syriza), and the spike in mass protests in 2011 and ...
  59. ^ Prebble Q. Ramswell, ed. (2017). Euroscepticism and the Rising Threat from the Left and Right: The Concept of Millennial Fascism. Lexington Books. p. 86. ISBN 9781498546041. SYRIZA massively scooped up the votes of leftist, progressive, socially liberal young people, as well as the trade union voters, not specifically aligned with the Communist Party, to gain 52 seats.
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  61. ^ "'India's soul at stake': Bengalis vote in divisive election". The Guardian. 26 March 2021. The TMC has implemented a progressive development agenda, but it has also been mired in accusations of corruption and thuggery.
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