What Does Progressive Mean?

Fred Block|Research professor of sociology at U.C. Davis.

The Center for Engaged Scholarship is committed to supporting scholarship that advances progressivism. But what does progressivism mean in today’s world? There is not a simple or a timeless answer to this question. Each generation has to answer this question in its own way. 

The Center for Engaged Scholarship is committed to supporting scholarship that advances progressivism. But what does progressivism mean in today’s world? There is not a simple or a timeless answer to this question. Each generation has to answer this question in its own way. Our answer for now is that progressivism rests on three central values. The first is equality which means that all human beings deserve to live lives of dignity, freedom, and opportunity. This puts us in opposition to inequalities of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, class, and sexuality. It also means we seek to reduce those global inequalities that doom some children to poverty just because of the accident of where they were born. 

The second value is democracy which means as Lincoln said: “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” And we believe that true democracy must mean more than electoral competition; it means giving people the right to participate in the key decisions that shape their lives.

The final value is environmental sustainability. We believe that current practices such as burning vast amounts of oil and coal and dumping waste into the oceans threatens to make our planet uninhabitable. So without concerted global action to protect the environment, everything else we value will be lost.

We understand that conflicts between these values happen routinely as when elected leaders refuse to pursue environmental protection or greater equality. Nevertheless, the great challenge that progressives face is to find ways to reconcile these three fundamental values or else progress will prove impossible.

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