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On old-fashioned progress

By Gennady Stolyarov II
web posted September 5, 2005

A fashionable -- and wrong -- cliché holds that "liberals," i.e., the social and political Left, are inherent advocates of change, rejuvenation, and progress, whereas "conservatives," i.e., the broad spectrum of the Right, including principled republicans, Christians, minarchists, libertarians, and Objectivists, are characteristically old-fashioned, reactionary, and seek above all a maintenance of a prior status quo instead of innovation, creativity, and improvement. In fact, however, neither is the Left progressive, nor does the Right advocate stagnation. If anything, the prevalent adherence to "old-fashioned" notions among the Right is the surest source of substantive future progress.

This view seems paradoxical at first glance, but an examination of terms and of the facts of reality will suffice to verify it. Dictionary.com's definition of "progress," most applicable to the discussion at hand, is, "steady improvement, as of a society or civilization." A steady improvement suggests that a society should strive, in the future, to be more perfect than it presently is; it does not suggest that a society should scrap all existing cultural, political, and scientific knowledge in favor of a total "paradigm shift."

Indeed, the latter course of action is what the Left, in general, advocates. The Left views Western Culture-- the same culture that brought us capitalism, individualism, objective science, representational art, masterfully harmonious music, technological advancement, and across-the-board improvement in standards of living -- as oppressive, "Eurocentric," patriarchal, speciesist, and fundamentally politically incorrect. As a remedy, the Left suggests that Western Culture be altogether abandoned in favor of a hydra with many "diverse" heads, including "post-modernism," "internationalism," "multiculturalism," "environmentalism," "affirmative action," and, of course, the ubiquitous welfare state.

The Left's approach is akin to looking at a skyscraper, suggesting that the skyscraper, by its very presence, is "oppressive" to the landscape of barren rock which preceded it, tearing the skyscraper down, and building a shapeless structure of thatch and mud in its place. Indeed, the hovel the Left has thus built is new. But does it constitute progress? One might add that once the hovel becomes too extensively developed, it will itself be labeled "old-fashioned," leveled, and replaced by a new "paradigm," perhaps a teepee or a yurt, but certainly nothing remotely comparable to the grandeur of the skyscraper that the Left demolished.

True progress is not a series of aimless "paradigm shifts." Sir Isaac Newton, a man who knew true science and progress far better than most twentieth-century theorists, stated, "if I have seen further [than others] it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Indeed, the giants of the past, the Aristotles, Newtons, Lockes, Voltaires, Rockefellers, and Gateses, made possible the extraordinary level of material comfort, technological abundance, and relative political freedom -- especially when compared to atrocious third-world dictatorships which have rejected the culture of the West -- that we enjoy today. Is it truly progressive to forget all of these accomplishments and "move on," as the Left advocates? Is it truly progressive, for example, to abandon our admiration of the music Beethoven and Mozart, simply because it is old, and embrace as "progress" the new, profanity-suffused pandemonium created by Eminem?

The Western Culture is a colossal edifice, and, if we stand tall upon it, it is solely due to the efforts of the intellectual giants who came before us. If we wish to rise even higher, we should strive to add our own bricks to the edifice, and perhaps to scan it for a defective frame or two, a rotten brick or a broken window, somewhere in its lower stories. But we can by no means demolish it all, nor can we reject its fundamentals. This is indeed "old-fashioned," embracing a legacy of millennia, but, without it, we would be no better than savages, living upon a ground barren and devoid of all human attempts at permanent improvement.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to The Autonomist, Le Quebecois Libre, and The Liberal Institute. He is also Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator , a magazine championing the Western principles of reason, rights, and progress. Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's newest science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, here  and his newest non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, here . Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

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