Reading from the Catholic Education Center, a definition of liberalism & progress:
It would be impossible to give a definition that captures (at a proper level of detail and complexity) all of the different aspects and phases of liberalism. Rather than define it, I will read a single passage from J.S. Mill’s On Liberty (1859). If this text does not capture the soul of liberalism, then I suspect that nothing will. Mill wrote that:
There is always need of persons not only to discover new truths and point out when what were once truths are true no longer, but also to commence new practices and set the example of more enlightened conduct and better taste and sense in human life. This cannot well be gainsaid by anybody who does not believe that the world has already attained perfection in all its ways and practices. It is true that this benefit is not capable of being rendered by everybody alike; there are but few persons, in comparison with the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by others, would be likely to be any improvement on established practice. But these few are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would become a stagnant pool. Not only is it they who introduce good things which did not before exist; it is they who keep the life in those which already exist....There is only too great a tendency in the best beliefs and practices to degenerate into the mechanical; and unless there were a succession of persons whose ever-recurring originality prevents the grounds of those beliefs and practices from becoming merely traditional...there would be no reason why civilization should not die out...
This is something I understood a while back, but I never used the word 'progress'. The way in which I oppose Progressivism has nothing to do with questioning Mills premise here, but exactly to the extent which Progressives assume that the pace of government is adequate to the task - which is in my view oxymoronic. Government policy assumes, by definition, ossification of best practices into law, which we all know cannot be practically undone at any rate sufficient for the process of discovery to be sustained. Rather it makes for a sinecure for those corporate entities who, through their marketing, infantilize the population.
Discovery is what the common man needs to exercise within the millieu of his class. His own experience is the best teacher as he discovers not only the enlightened selections of his superiors, but the alternatives to those which make his advancement a choice as opposed to a prescription.
Notice additionally the way in which Mill shows his appreciation for the good things in life which already exist. This must be the place for conservation of classics, best done by those swift enough not to be overly impressed with novelty and change for its own sake.
This is all in the context of writing skeptically of Dawson's rejection of technology, or more specifically technocracy. There too I am in agreement. But what I think neither Mill nor Dawson appreciated is the extent to which the democratization and decentralization of technology enables individual agency. That must be the gating criterion. And I then cede the conversation in principle to Richard Stallman's Four Freedoms.
I think it is possible to generalize what Stallman is saying to all of the sorts of technology that Dawson might oppose, and that should be the test. That being the case, there is always the probability of discovery long after the inventors have died - so long as the spirit of invention and discovery is maintained.
So today I just discovered and converged some very important concepts. It has made me an even greater proponent of Open Source, not only in software but in the context of the Force of Education.