Following on from my New Philosophy essay, a small opinion piece on progress.
Prompted by a recent fracas surrounding Barack Obama, I'm discussing what's taken for granted by adversaries: that things will get better their way.
"Ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs," said Barack Obama recently, and "order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign." Obama's words were greeted with knowing contempt by many conservative and libertarian Americans - at last, the puppet of the "New World Order" had revealed the global conspiracy.
If only facts followed fantasy. In his Brussels address, Obama was actually lauding ideals of democracy, equality and liberty. Portraying Europe as the origin of modern liberalism, the president spoke of a continuing conflict between tolerant, free suffrage and bigoted tyranny. "We must never take for granted the progress that has been won here in Europe and advanced around the world," he told audiences, "because the contest of ideas continues for your generation."
Obviously, this did not silence Obama's critics, for whom universal healthcare, for example, is at odds with freedom. Commenters on Glenn Beck's conservative website theblaze.com responded to a fact-check story on Obama's speech with scorn. "He may not have said it, BUT HE BELIEVES IT," said one. "We were doing fine until he came into office with world vision," said another, "meaning either communism and/or Islam since we know he is a Muslim of the worst order!" And so on.
Interestingly, and for all their righteous fury, none of Obama's critics questioned the basic idea of progress. Conservatives often lambaste progressives, but this is usually shorthand for social democrats, liberals, left-wingers - "nothing more than patient communists," as Beck told the David Horowitz Freedom Centre. They take issue with movements towards tolerance and state welfare, but not with the US, and perhaps the world, moving towards some ideal state. "Behind all of life and all of history, there's a dedication and purpose," said George W. Bush, "set by the hand of a just and faithful God."(Photo: The White House)