Individualism: The Real 'Progressivism'

Column by Alex R. Knight III.

Exclusive to STR

I’m sure that I’m not simply speaking for myself when I say that I marvel – though with no great pleasure – at the ignorance of leftists who consider their view of the world to be “progressive.” As if 19thCentury socialist, Marxian doctrines and economics – after wreaking almost inconceivable havoc and bloodshed for just about the last 100 years – is or even can be anything considered “progress” for the human race.

This utterly blind and nonsensical allegiance to emotionalized dogma is a powerful enough indictment of leftist sensibilities that any conscious person should be persuaded to abandon it forthwith. But there is an even wider historical picture here.

Consider that the very first human “societies” were hunter-gatherers; nomadic bands who travelled together, foraging for sustenance in order to better facilitate both labor division and mutual protection. Next came agriculture and animal domestication, which saw the formation of more stationary communities, though the basic social arrangements didn’t vary much from the nomadic stage. It was somewhere around this time period that government – as both idea and practice – began to rear its ugly hydra-head.

This first stage, at least in the Western World, culminated in ancient Greece, which was in turn ultimately supplanted by Rome. Both were empires ruled variously by tyrants and oligarchies. When Rome fell, the Middle Ages saw its own fresh crop of monarchs rise from the dung like poison mushrooms all across Europe – in duality with the Roman Catholic Church. Gutenburg’s printing press and Luther’s Reformation conjunctively represented a fragmenting of this latter, though it was really the Renaissance which afforded the first real glimpse of a beginning respect – not for the regent or the collective – but for the individual. Art, architecture, and literature all began to center around common life instead of kings, queens, and religious figures.

The era that followed was one of New World colonization, alongside armed uprisings against established political powers in England, France, and America. Geographical relocation to virgin territories, coupled with changing pre-Enlightenment ideas about the nature of governmental power, led to experiments with democracy and limited capitalism. Productivity boomed and everyday people began to realize newfound physical and economic freedoms heretofore only experienced by royalty or the otherwise socially and politically privileged. The Industrial Revolution of the late 19thand early 20thCenturies accelerated this process on a scale never before imagined, much less lived. Mass material bounty became possible for more and more people in an atmosphere of increasing individual autonomy.

Thus, wither came the idea that things like socialism, communism, or other forms of enforced collectivism represented an advance in societal evolution?

To answer that question, it is necessary to examine the perceptional shift implementation of democracy produced with respect to the nature of political power. 

In the era of pure monarchy, any political evils could be laid squarely at the feet of a solitary figure – be they king, queen, regent, emperor. It was no giant intellectual leap to recognize mistake as the failing, ignorance, or avarice of a ruler. Enter democracy, and suddenly any criticism of governmental misadventure becomes synonymous with condemnation of the will of the people. For even if folly can be quite correctly identified as the actions of the political class, nevertheless, implicit in any critique of such bureaucrats is an attack upon the very system which placed them in a position to make such decisions in the first place. Thus, objections to government policy in a democracy become rebellions against the populace themselves.

In this atmosphere, thus, it takes very little imagination to divine the origins of further collectivist thinking. If “the will of the people” is indeed to be held as a sacrosanct element of freedom from the tyranny of dictators, then why cannot “the people” vote themselves a share of the “collective” wealth of a given region? Why cannot “the people” mandate a social safety net everyone must pay towards? And indeed, why not simply have a ruling class chosen by “the people” to ensure everyone’s compliance?

It is no small irony that as human culture has otherwise evolved ever further towards a celebration of individualism, in the political realm alone has this quest worked against itself with such tragic effectiveness. The “progress” so proudly touted by self-styled “progressives” has been the one area of human retrogression.

If we wish to complete the circuit humanity has traversed these many centuries, it is time to recognize true progress where it has actually occurred, and collectivism by its very nature is not among those places.

It is in the realization of full individual autonomy that self-actualization will occur, and it is on the road towards that destination where progress exists.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 145

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His Facebook page can be found here.  Receive Alex's occasional Tweets here.