The Meaning of Progress

What is the meaning of progress?

According to Henry F. May, the Victorian mainstream believed in the old credo of moralism, progress and culture. The Progressive movement, however, did not define progress as social liberalism. The mainstream of the Progressive movement was left-conservative, not left-libertarian.

The following excerpt comes from Henry F. May’s book The End of American Innocence, 1912-1917:

“The second article of the dominant American faith was a belief in progress, and the most crucial task for American thinkers was to reconcile a belief in eternal moral truth with the belief in the desirability of change. In the long run this was to prove, as many Victorians had suspected, the weak point in the nineteenth-century faith. In 1912, though, the link between moralism and progress seemed not only firm but inevitable. Good was eternal, but yet developing. The progress of the world was the chief proof of its underlying goodness; the eternal moral truths pointed out a direction for social change.

Progress could have two meanings. In the broadest sense, the belief that the world was getting better, it was accepted in 1912 by the overwhelming majority. Americans who considered themselves political conservatives often believed in the nineteenth-century version of progress. Herbert Spencer and his many American disciples, mixing together evolution and classical economics, had demonstrated that universal improvement was inevitable. Since this was so, interference would be absurd and wicked: labor unions and settlement work and social legislation would simply jam the works. William Graham Sumner, who had taught this tough and simple doctrine at Yale for a generation, had died only two years earlier, denouncing to the end the drift toward sentimental humanitarianism. In 1916 Spencer’s Men Against the State was republished with an introduction by four distinguished Americans conservatives: Senators Elihu Root and Henry Cabot Lodge, ex-President Taft, and Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University.

But this kind of belief in progress was losing its hold; most people who used the word in 1912 meant something other than the inevitable drift upward. They meant an evolution in which men took a hand, a conscious effort to reach a better world which could be glimpsed, or at least imagined, in the future. Progressives in this sense, the progressives who gave the era its name, agreed with their opponents that progress was natural – even almost inevitable – but they wanted to speed it up. Most of the political differences among Americans in this age of political conflict reflected no difference in ideology more basic than this. …”

Progress had nothing to do with antiracism.

Negro equality had been tried and dismissed as a failure. Progressives were more likely to voice their opinion that the Negro had failed to live up to the expectations of his liberators. I’m using the term Negro because this was the term that was used for blacks at the time.

Progressives were divided into two camps: those who followed Herbert Spencer and who believed that progress was inevitable and would occur naturally without interference and those who wanted the government to take action to speed it up. Progressives were concerned with subjects like the income tax, child labor and corporate power, not tearing down traditional culture.

“Still far more rigidly than the most recent immigrants, one of the oldest American stocks was largely excluded from active participation in progress, as it was from a major role in culture. Only a very few social workers, socialists, and New England mavericks were working to make the Negro a full citizen. Most believers in idealism and progress had concluded, with varying degrees of regret, that Negro equality was an impossible dream. It was to be a long time before the Negro himself was to be in a position for revolt, but his exclusion impaired the whole cheerful picture. Soon some young rebels were to notice this dangerous exception. …”

The country had moved on from Reconstruction.

President Woodrow Wilson resegregated the federal government. In his book Union, Colin Woodard describes the Wilson presidency as the capstone of the resurgence of ethnonationalism.

“He ultimately taught at Princeton, where he made his mark with a compact textbook, “Division and Reunion,” about the Civil War and postwar reconciliation. Contained within was an outline of the post-Confederate vision of a nation reunited based on shared Anglo-Saxon interests. He declared the “charges of moral guilt” leveled against Southern slave lords were unjust because slaves “were almost uniformly dealt with indulgently and even affectionately by their masters,” who themselves were the beneficiaries of “the sensibility and breeding of entitlement.” He condemned Reconstruction — the effort to enforce the civil and political emancipation of African-Americans in the occupied South — and said allowing Blacks to vote was a “carnival of public crime.” The mass slaughter of Black people by white terrorists in Hamburg, Vicksburg, Colfax, New Orleans and other cities went unmentioned, as did attacks occurring in dozens of South Carolina towns right under Wilson’s nose the whole time he was coming of age. …

It’s said that the South lost the war, but won the peace, but it was Wilson’s presidency that sealed the victory. Wilson presided over the segregation of the federal government, with Black civil servants directed to use only certain bathrooms and to eat their lunches there too so as to not sully the cafeterias. At the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, makeshift partitions were erected in offices so white clerks would not have to see their Black counterparts. Dozens of prominent African-American officials were replaced with whites, which came as a shock to many African American leaders who’d supported Wilson because he’d promised to treat Blacks “fairly.” When the (white) head of the NAACP, erstwhile Wilson ally Oswald Garrison Villard, begged the president to reverse course, Wilson told him it was all being done “in the interest of the negroes.” The president famously ejected Black civil rights leader William Monroe Trotter from the Oval Office for having temerity to tell him that his delegation came to him not as “wards” but as “full-fledged American citizens” demanding equality of citizenship.”

Meanwhile, Rod Dreher is warning about the return of the demons of racism. He says that America made immense progress under the liberal principles of the MLK era:

“I don’t know how this lands with Millennials and Gen Z readers. For me, as a Gen Xer raised in the Deep South, it is very, very depressing (though I completely understand it). My generation was the first one raised on Martin Luther King-style race liberalism. Prior to my generation, white kids and black kids in my parish went to different schools. You don’t erase the effects of centuries of white supremacy overnight, yet the idea that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, was the only reasonable way out of that morass. My children, all 21st century kids, cannot fathom in their imaginations the world into which their father was born, and how much progress has been made in improving racial understanding. The world is far from perfect, but under the liberal principles of the King era, America made immense progress. …

What a triumph for our democracy! It did not lead to utopia — there is no such place — but progress away from a world in which racial identity was codified in law and immovable in culture is something to be grateful for, and celebrated.

It is literally breathtaking to me that all of this is coming back now, not via what remains of the white supremacist right, but through the mainstream progressive left and the institutions it now runs. It took so much blood and pain to exorcise those demons (“exorcise” meant figuratively; unfortunately, no society can ever be completely free of racial prejudice), and now the most progressive among us are begging them to come back.”

I’m juxtaposing the two because I was reading both this evening and found it funny how radically the meaning of the term “progress” has changed since 1912.

Rod Dreher was progressing like the rest of White America. He was becoming ever more detached and neglectful of the welfare of his own ethnic group. It had become forbidden in the mainstream to even talk about White identity or White interests in a positive way because that is “racist” and “white supremacy.” Whites had no moral legitimacy as a group. In contrast, every other racial group in the United States was simultaneously being encouraged to develop a sharper sense of racial identity and racial grievance and to organize politically to advance their group interests under multiculturalism.

White America was delegitimized, deconstructed and repressed for the sake of uplifting blacks after the Civil Rights Movement. Conservatives spent fifty years upholding consensus antiracism while the other side had moved on from colorblindness by the late 1960s. In spite of effectively overthrowing the Constitution to achieve MLK’s dream, blacks made no real progress in this era. Trillions of dollars were spent on racial uplift. Entire cities were rebuilt due to White flight. The public schools were handed over to blacks. Language itself was changed and became a minefield of political correctness.

Everything was rebuilt around the singular goal of uplifting and integrating blacks in the American mainstream. Every business and public place in the United States was integrated. Whites meekly accepted their reduction in status and being discriminated against as a group on the basis of race. They learned to put up with things which previous generations would have considered outrageous like the onesidedness of interracial crime. And yet, the racial gaps persisted in spite of all that had been done. The greatest and most expensive monumental project ever undertaken by any civilization in world history proved to be a total failure. It was easier to transmute lead into gold than to achieve racial equality.

Racial progress was always a delusion. White Americans weren’t accomplishing anything but dismantling their own ethnic group and nation and making life harder for their own people who absorbed all the costs of antiracism. Blacks were the beneficiaries of this immense transfer of wealth, moral status and educational resources, but remained stationary as immigrants blew past them. The Civil Rights Movement accomplished its goal of integrating public places and empowering blacks like John Lewis. Progressives are correct to conclude that equality of outcome can only be achieved through tyrannical means. The opponents of the Civil Rights Movement were correct that equality could only be achieved by repressing Whites and weighing American civilization down to its lowest common denominator. White success is now a moral indictment of Whites because it is inequitable and proof of “systemic racism.”

What changed between the time of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and Rod Dreher? The meaning of progress was redefined between 1912 and 1967 when Rod was born. Progress became identified with cosmopolitanism, modernism and antiracism in the new mainstream. A good White person like Rod is expected to be deracinated, a liberal opposed to “identity politics” who maintains the taboo on White identity, but is like a social worker who is devoted to the interests and welfare of blacks. The elevation of blacks and delegitimization of Whites has completely consumed American society. In addition, a good White person can only have a negative sense of racial, ethnic and cultural identity and is expected to pursue a lifestyle preference. The past is rejected as racist and backwards.

Is this Christianity? What did Jesus Christ have to say about racism? What did Christians have to say on the subject until after 1912? When did Christians start believing that Christianity is somehow incompatible with White identity, but is compatible with black identity? Why is being a White Christian so problematic, but not being a black Christian? It is not because of Christianity. It is because cosmopolitanism, modernism and antiracism became the mainstream in the 20th century and Christian elites went along with the shift. The elites lost confidence in their own civilization and became cosmopolitan, modernist and antiracist in the early 20th century and tried to drag the laity into the new consensus.

Eric P. Kaufmann has a good chapter on this shift in his book The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America:

“The 1905 conference was a great success, assembling delegates from 29 denominations at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Here again, Catholics were considered to be outside the ecumenical pale. This meeting launched the Plan of Federation that gave rise to the FCC in 1908. However, by 1908, Protestant intellectuals had already begun to distance themselves from the cultural heritage of Anglo-Saxon nationalism which had been present in the voluntary associations, the Evangelical Alliance, and other major ecumenical organizations up until 1905. The FCC’s 1908 mission statement spotlights the change: in contrast with the 1905 document, it made no mention of either immigration or Catholicism as sources of Protestant concern.

The year 1910 marked a fuller realization of the new ecumenical spirit, for in that year, Episcopalian leaders, seeking to leap over the Protestant boundary, proposed a World Conference on Faith and Order. According to Samuel Cavert, a participant and chronicler of the ecumenical movement in the United States, “within the first year [of Faith and Order planning], informal contacts were made with a few Eastern Orthodox leaders in the United States and with Cardinal Gibbons. the Roman Catholic archbishop of Baltimore. The most effusive among the post-World War I liberal Protestant clerics also spoke glowingly of the rising spirit of ecumenical cooperation. Among their visions were world brotherhood, world democracy, and a union of Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox into one united Christian body.

Early in the following decade, the shift in outlook was complete, and the statements of the day appear decidedly modern. Thus at the FCC’s Fifth Quadrennial Meeting in Atlanta (1924), it was resolved that “the assumption of inherent racial superiority by dominant groups around the world is neither supported by science or justified by ethics. The effort to adjust race relations on that basis and by the use of force is a denial of the Christian principles of the inherent superiority of ethical values and the supreme worth of personality. As it applies to the relations of white and Negro people in America it is a philosophy that only leads to suffering and despair.”

Among America’s Protestant establishment, their commitment to cosmopolitanism, modernism and antiracism grew out of their obsession with ecumenicism in the early 20th century. They were tracking elite liberal opinion and reinterpreting it as “Christianity.”

About Hunter Wallace 12366 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent


  1. In Covid, whites have not had to interact with blacks as much. Its been an Ethnogenesis for whites watching the blacks rip down cities an spread the plague.

  2. Great article. But what have I said for a decade or more? Oh, yes…

    “Theology—not philosophy, literature, geography, economics, politics, law, art, music, or science—was and is the mainspring of our culture and history.  It is that which set it in motion, and maintained its cohesion and harmonious movement.   When the theological unity of Europe was fractured in that original break of 1054, the movement became disjointed, with the Two Europes tied together like racers in a three-legged race, tied together in the leg of a common history, but now with two “minds” and two different sets of historical time operating.  “ – A. Flood on ‘G, H, & D’

    What did Cambria say, only a week ago?

    “That which must be said is not said by any political party nor is it permitted to be said in any public venue: Negro worship, which is the state religion of the United States is the worship of Satan.”

    How can Christian men consent to be ruled by Satan’s minions? Doesn’t that charity of honor demand that we rise and ride in defense of our people and our God? The ‘pro-lifers’ failed to procure protection for the innocents in the womb because they did not love enough to kill the baby killers. In fact, they denounced Paul Hill when he did what had to be done. So it is now with the white grazers. If we don’t love enough to kill the murderers of our people, we will perish as a people, and Satan will reign unchallenged. The Antifaers and the BLMers have made it abundantly clear that we cannot serve two masters. We can serve Satan or we can serve Christ, there is no in between despite what the purveyors of star-spangled Americanism tell us.

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