Liberalism: Linear Progress

oz conservative

Liberals used to have a strong belief in linear progress: in the idea that the world was steadily advancing towards a higher level of civilisation. This idea was clearly expressed, for instance, by the English writer Matthew Arnold in the mid-nineteenth century, when he proclaimed his "faith in the progress of humanity toward perfection."

Liberals today are usually not so optimistic. Nonetheless, the idea of linear progress still exists more subtly in liberal beliefs about the "progressive" nature of social reforms and change, and fears of "stagnation" or "going back".

Conservatives have a different reading of history. For conservatives, history is more about the rise and fall of societies according to their inner strengths and weaknesses, rather than a constant progress. Nor would conservatives ever talk of human perfection, given the flaws embedded into human nature.