There is No Progress: It is Delusion
Sooner or later, someone had to say it. The idea of progress is pure delusion. Until we part with this prejudice, all our projects and plans, analyzes and historical reconstructions, all our scientific ideas will rest on a false foundation. It’s time to say good bye to the very idea of progress.
There is no linear progressive development of human societies.
Once we recognize this, everything will immediately and instantly fall into place.
The idea of progress was first formulated by encyclopedists in the 18th century, and it originates in the heretical theory of Joachim de Flora about the three kingdoms – that of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Christian tradition recognizes the era of the Old and New Testaments, that is, the era of the Father and the Son, but the end of Christian civilization is followed by a short period of apostasy, the coming of the Antichrist, and then the end of the world. And no special spiritual revival, no improvement of Christianity is expected.
When the era of the Son ends, humanity falls – degeneration, collapse, and degradation follow. Joachim de Flora and his followers, mostly Catholic Franciscans, on the contrary, considered the future to be wonderful, and after the fall of medieval Christian civilization, they prophesied the onset of something even more sublime and sacred - the kingdom of "Holy Spirit". Encyclopedists no longer believed in the "era of the Holy Spirit", as well as in the Church and in God Himself. But the conviction in the end of Christian culture was shared and the end of religion and the beginning of a new society were joyfully proclaimed. After the Christianity something fairer, more perfect, more rational, and more democratic, more advanced should arrive.
This is how atheists and materialists – Turgot, Condorcet, Diderot, Mercier – developed the theory of the universal progress of mankind, which was quickly elevated to the status of absolute dogma. People of the Modernity were encouraged to doubt everything – God, man, mind, matter, society, hierarchy, philosophy, but to doubt progress … No, this is a sort of sacred.
Why is this axiomatic? Why did the opinion of a number of thinkers – and not the brightest and most impressive – suddenly acquire the status of dogma? And why can’t one afford to criticize it, discuss it rationally, question it?
There is some kind of mystery in this. In modern times, progress cannot be categorically refuted. This feature is common to all political ideologies – liberalism, communism, and nationalism, to all scientific schools – idealistic or materialistic. Belief in progress has become a kind of religion. And religion does not require proof. The more absurd, the more reliable.
So, with a reference to progress, the Modernity discarded Antiquity, the Middle Ages, theology, the traditions of Plato and Aristotle, the hierarchy, the Empire, the monarchy, the ancient foundations of the sacred peasant labor.
Of course, there was criticism of progress – both from the side of traditionalists and from some thinkers who adhered to the cyclical idea of the logic of history, and in the school of European structuralists, and in the theories of new anthropologists. The myth of progress was convincingly defeated by the outstanding Russian-American sociologist Peterim Sorokin.
But in the public consciousness – and even in the collective unconscious – it retained his dominant position. Despite of everythin -- a series of large-scale political catastrophes, an obvious degeneration of modern culture, a collapse of social systems, the sinister discoveries of psychoanalysis, or an ironic criticism of Postmodernism, humanity still blindly believes in progress. And thus continues to aggravate the situation.
But one has only to admit that it was a heresy, an unsubstantiated hypothesis, completely refuted by the very course of history, as the picture of the reality around us will return to focus.
Modern civilization is rather in a state of deep decline. This is a bitter confession, but it is not the same as despair. If everything went wrong – and everything really went wrong – let’s return to fullness and health, let's restore everything as it was -- in the state that existed before it went bad. Moreover, the rejection of progress by no means prohibits the recognition of the improvement of certain aspects of life. But it just doesn’t make it binding law.
Something is improving. Something is getting worse. Moreover, one phase can replace another. And in different societies, these cycles – if they have any universal algorithm at all -- may not coincide. Somewhere now there is progress, and somewhere regression. Summer in Russia, winter in Argentina. Without progress, we will restore both our sober rationality and our freedom. We can make the world a better place, but we can also make it worse. You have to think again every time you are going to make anything. Compare, analyze, refer to history, rethink the legacy of the past – without any arrogance or prejudice. Nothing is certain, everything depends on us.
So let’s make our being worthy. Certainly better than now. But in order to make at least one small step in this direction, it is necessary to ruthlessly discard the idea of progress – this dangerous, corrupting perverted heresy.