Progress and History

The concept of progress was a crucial feature in the ideology of the war state to justify its centralization of power at the expense of intermediate institutions. Citizens voluntarily have sacrificed their privileges and liberties to the state if they believed that the future promises more than the past. The justification of “making the world safe for democracy” — whether it was against the Germans, Japanese, Soviets, or Islamic fundamentalists — only became persuasive if the concept of progress existed; otherwise, there was no compelling reason why citizens should submit themselves to the state. Given this fact, it should come to no surprise that intellectuals were not only the best equipped but also played an active role in presenting the case of progress on behalf of the national government to its democratic citizenry. As Nisbet had noted, the concept of progress in our times “had reached its zenith in the Western mind in popular as well as scholarly circles. From being one of the most important ideas in the West it became the dominant idea.” (HP, 171)

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