Why Moral Progress Is Not Inevitable

Political theorist Jacob Levy reminds us that the arc of history doesn't always bend towards justice. Moral retrogression has happened before, and could well occur again.


Vox recently asked 15 experts on moral philosophy and public policy to answer the following question: "What do we do know that will be considered unthinkable in 50 years?" The resulting essays are interesting and well-worth reading. But, with one exception, all of the experts assumed that the tide of history will move in favor of the views they themselves advocate. They all seem to expect moral progress, and do not consider the possibility of retrogression. The idea that history inevitably moves towards moral progress—or at least is highly likely to do so—is a highly influential one. Many like to cite Martin Luther King's famous statement that "[t]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Sadly, however, moral progress is far from inevitable. Retrogression has happened before, and could easily do so again. Political theorist Jacob Levy—the one contributor to the Vox symposium who did not predict progress towards his or her own preferred views—has a valuable reminder of that fact in his piece. In the process, he also reminds of a less famous, but more insightful Martin Luther King quote on progress and morality:

"What will be on the wrong side of history in 50 years time?" The very question is one of superstition and myth. In fact, the very idea that there is a wrong or right side of history has been the moral justification for a variety of historical horrors that were steeped in ideas of modernity and technological mastery.

Martin Luther King Jr., who famously encouraged hope by saying that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," later offered a different approach. In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," he wrote: "Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively…"

The superstition that the passage of time reveals moral truth has a lot of sources and a lot of variations….

The problem isn't the belief in moral right and wrong but the belief that history manifests and reveals them in some natural way. Understanding, and doing, the right thing is hard, an ongoing struggle that every person and every generation faces. Ideologies of history as moral progress try to make it easy…

Humanity's compounding scientific and economic knowledge simply doesn't translate to similar growth in moral knowledge. Indeed, sometimes the development of new technological prowess and new organizational capacity opens the door to new evils, evils we misunderstand if we think of them as some leftover from the past. The Holocaust was new, not just a bigger pogrom. The atrocities of communism under Stalin and Mao were new; so was the trans-Atlantic chattel slave trade; so was the genocidal conquest of the Americas. Murder, war, and slavery are old, but our new capabilities combine with new ideologies to create awful new phenomena out of those old impulses.

Before we attribute magical moral powers to the passage of the next 50 years, we should look backward in 50-year increments and ask: How many old moral errors keep coming back? How many new ones get introduced?

It isn't hard to find examples of horrific moral retrogression in history. Levy mentions several cases. I would add that the 19th century abolition of slavery and serfdom throughout most of the world—one of the greatest examples of moral progress in human history—was followed in the 20th century by communist and fascist regimes' massive use of slave labor on a hitherto unimaginable scale. Communists and Nazis developed new ideological justifications for an old evil, and technological advances enabled them to implement their horrific visions far more extensively than was possible in previous eras. During the same time period, even comparatively enlightened liberal democratic states also resorted to forced labor on a larger scale than before, through extensive use of mass conscription for both civilian and military "national service," an idea that has most of the same moral flaws as old-style slavery and serfdom.

It is worth considering why people so often fail to learn the right moral lessons from history. Understanding the injustices of the past should, at least in theory, give us the knowledge necessary to avoid repetition of similar evils in the future.

One reason why that often fails to happen is that all too many people are ignorant of history. We cannot learn moral lessons from events we know little or nothing about. If there is one event we like to think we have learned a moral lesson from, it is the Holocaust. Yet survey data in both the US and Europe reveal extensive public ignorance about it. That ignorance could easily get worse as the generation that remembers the Nazis passes from the scene.

Too few people understand the connection between the evils of Nazism and the ideology of nationalism, of which Nazism was a particularly extreme manifestation. We should not be surprised, therefore, that nationalistic and ethnic prejudices persist and threaten to grow in a world where many don't realize their dangers.

Communist mass murders took even more lives than those of the Nazis. Yet both intellectuals and popular culture often neglect communist crimes, and all too many people are barely aware they even happened, much less derive useful lessons from them. For example, very few westerners realize that the biggest mass murder in the entire history of the world was committed by the Chinese communist regime of Mao Zedong, as part of the collectivization of agriculture through the "Great Leap Forward." Thus, we should not be surprised that the idea of massive government control of the economy—a key factor in communist atrocities—is enjoying something of a resurgence, as well.

Historical ignorance is just one facet of the broader problem of widespread public ignorance about political issues. Most such ignorance is actually rational behavior for individual voters, given the infinitesimally small likelihood that any one vote will decisively influence the outcome of an election.

Even when people do know relevant information about historical events, it doesn't necessarily follow that they will draw the right lessons from them. History is often complicated, and figuring out its "true" implications for the future is difficult. In addition, the same factor that incentivize many people to be ignorant about politics and history also create incentives to be highly biased in the evaluation of what we do know. Instead of considering historical evidence objectively, many people act as highly biased "political fans," overvaluing anything that seems to support their preexisting views, and downplaying or ignoring information that cuts the other way. For that reason, among others, people are often susceptible to supporting new moral evils if the case for them seems intuitive because it builds on preexisting biases.

None of this proves that moral progress never happens. It obviously has occurred. The decline of racism and sexism over the last half century or more is a notable example. The fall of communism was another. The idea that we are doomed to inevitable decline from some supposed golden age in the past is at least as much a fallacy as the idea of inevitable moral progress. Ditto for claims that moral development is necessarily cyclical, with periods of improvement inevitably followed by periods of decline, and vice versa. But the assumption of inevitable moral progress is currently more influential than these more pessimistic determinist views of historical moral development. Sadly, it just isn't true.

NEXT: Surveying the statute books and passing judgment on the laws

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Doesn’t the concept of “moral progress” presuppose an agreed upon standard of morality relative to which that “progress” could be evaluated? Absent that, the most you could honestly call it is ” moral change“.

    1. Exactly. To those of a collectivist, “redistributive justice” mindset, the Communist atrocities were, at least, directed to a just end. And even those who are willing to face those horrors may only lament their violence and “extremity” while still advocating subordination of individual rights to the collective, and negative rights to positive.

    2. Indeed. Couldn’t the failure of communism be considered by some an example of moral retrogression? How the idealistic notion of a worker’s paradise where everyone is treated equally was ultimately discarded in favor of capitalist greed?

      1. Google paid for every week online work from home 8000 to 10000 dollars.i have received first month $24961 and $35274 in my last month paycheck from Google and i work 3 to 5 hours a day in my spare time easily from home. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it..go to this site for more details…

        So I started ========>>>>>>>>

        1. Perhaps the most perfectly placed bot comment of all time.

      2. Yes it could. The greater the good someone is trying to achieve the greater the evil they will rationalize in trying to achieve it. Somin mistakenly believes that the desire for “moral progress” can’t be the cause of harm.

  2. “Without God all things are permitted.” Dostoevsky’s point is why we won’t see a moral arc towards peace and justice. Nietzsche predicted the atheistic horrors of the 20th Century when he said God was dead.

    1. Right. Which is why atheists and agnostics commit crimes at much higher rates in the U.S. It’s also the reason why countries in Western Europe that now have low levels of religious belief have become so much more violent than the U.S.

      1. You should know your data better before using it. The US has higher murder rates, but almost all of the EU has violent crime rates several times higher than the US.

        1. I believe he just left off the message — and no I’m not joking.

        2. That was clear sarcasm.

          1. So, you looked up the rates?

            “Almost all” is a bit of an exaggeration, though. “Some of” would be more accurate.

            A more cogent point would be that countries are heterogeneous, and the demographics of those who commit crime don’t necessarily match the demographics of the overall country.

        3. Where is this data you speak of?

    2. But we are living in a moral arc towards peace and justice.

  3. Interesting U-Turn sign. In no way is the current trend in the U.S. toward justice.

    1. Nor are the most vocally protested opposing trends.

    2. “In no way is the current trend in the U.S. toward justice.”

      Of course it is. Once suitable progressives control the government, our betters will be able to force us to be just to each other.

    3. And there’s no way the sign reminds the viewer of anything else.

  4. The arc of history bends toward wealth. Wealth enables justice. Note that many of the atrocities in the 20th century were the norm throughout most of history.

    1. +1

      Technology advances, human nature stays the same. Our quality of life is better, but now we have greater possibilities for destruction as much as for creating human flourishing.

      1. human nature stays the same

        Yes and no. “Human nature” is composed of the distribution of the innate elements of mental architecture across the human population. Evolution by genetic mutation is a slow process to be sure and across historical time – say the last 10,000 years – it’s not likely that there has been much of it. So the menu of relevant allelles of genes that affect human behaviour has probably changed little in that time. But that does not mean the same dishes continue to be ordered in the same numbers.

        The effect of the environment on the existing gene pool will certainly affect the relative success of different alleles. In concrete terms, if environmental change favors peaceful co-operative behavior more than it did 10,000 years ago, the frequency of alleles contributing to peaceful co-operators will increase. Commerce and growing wealth, depending on adherence to law and custom, clearly favor peaceful co-operators, relative to pillagers.

        So economic growth since the beginning of agriculture, and the consequent growth of population cannot but have changed the allele mix relevant to innate mental behavior over the past 10,000 years. In that sense human nature has certainly changed.

        1. In terms of current circumstances, evolution mostly favors being willing to accept a relatively impoverished lifestyle, and not being particular about earning your own way.

          Reproductive success declines almost monotonically with increasing income and declining reliance on welfare in modern societies. The evolutionary implications of this are kind of scary.

          1. True, but rather local and very recent. Reliance on welfare for breeding success is an entirely reasonable utiisation of a novel ecological niche. Whether it will continue to be a winner depends on how long the niche lasts. Other modernities with interesting, at least short term, evolutionary effects incude :

            (1) DNA testing and child support payments – making highly sexual successful males much more cautious about sex that leads to babies than they used to be (except for those males whose sexual success is based less on status and more on physical attractiveness)
            (2) very low breeding rates by successful career women, which is likely to make the next couple of generations both stupider, and the female half of the population “girlier” than the current generation

            Whether these interesting social changes wil be fully adopted outside the US and Europe, and how long they will last, will be interesting questions, the answers to which will be revealed to our descendants. But not, alas, to the descendants of successful career-first women.

            1. I tend to view it from a “what can’t go on won’t go on” perspective, but even a couple generations of this skewed of reproductive success is going to have measurable results.

              OTOH, with assortative mating, the effects may be isolated; We might be headed towards a more bimodal population.

              These concerns are not, of course, new.

            2. Get more birth control access to the masses. It can do nothing but good, especially since low-skill jobs are going away period.

              1. At least many of them which can be automated.

                1. I don’t think we’ve reached the point of compulsorily automating human beings.

          2. The thing is, real poverty begins and ends with having enough to eat. You don’t see many fat guys actually taking up arms against the powers that be.

          3. The thing is, real poverty begins and ends with having enough to eat. You don’t see many fat guys actually taking up arms against the powers that be.

        2. Let’s have this conversation again in another 10,000 years. 🙂

          We are making decisions using the mental firmware of many, many millennia designed for different circumstances. All told, that’s not a bad thing, because of how tenuous things really are when you get down to it.

          As it is, sexual selection is playing a stronger role in any potential human nature than evolution right now.

    2. I like to start the trend from the printing press. It required wealth of a sort just to develop, also an independent strain of thought and personality which is hard to come by without wealth, and like all tech, inspired more wealth and independence. Absent another K-T asteroid strike, that’s what the future holds.

      Justice is a lot easier when your belly is full and you don’t spend your waking hours dreading that visit from the King’s thugs.

  5. I guess the arc of history tautologically bends towards justice, in the sense that we, today, look at the world WE dominate, and see that, by OUR standards, it’s more just than any prior state dominated by people of different opinions.

    1. The “Anthropic Principle of Justice”.

    2. Yes. We are — all of us — ethnocentric.

  6. These arguments are generally valid, but they neglect one important caveat: thanks to both the continuing scientific revolutions and economic progress via capitalism, the blessings of civilization can actually be enjoyed by a majority of people. In the past, it was difficult to be “human” without servants. Most men lived lives, not of quiet desperation, but physical exhaustion. Working class men died at 40, women a few years earlier, thanks to both work and the constant difficulties, if not horrors, of child birth. In Europe, the post WWII generation was the first without a marked difference in size between the children of the working class and those of the upper classes. Life is better when you get enough to eat, and in the good old days a lot of people didn’t. Enormous quantities of blood were shed in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, and an even larger amount in Asia in the second half, but the 21st has been better, if only in comparison.

  7. The people who adopted the Jim Crow caste and disenfranchisement laws thought *they* were making moral progress. To those who didn’t share their agenda, it was a moral regression which lasted many decades.

    1. I don’t think those were directed at “progress”, pe se. They thought they were halting further decline.

      1. “The people rule in North Carolina, and this tommy-rot and bluster cannot change their determination to eliminate the mass of ignorant negro voters so that politics may be put on a higher plane.” – Raleigh (NC) News and Observer, June 27, 1900

    2. The Swedish Nobel-laureate Gunnar Myrdal, author of the seminal pre-civil rights era work An American Dilemma: The American Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944) concluded that keeping black men and white women apart was the main purpose of the system of Jim Crow laws, and further, that Southern whites were aware that the suppression of blacks was economically bad for them overall, but considered the trade-off worth it.

      1. I think Myrdal was wrong.

        One major motivation was to let poor whites feel superior to, and dislike, blacks. This kept them from uniting politically or to organize unions. It also made the poor whites more content with their lot, as they had someone to look down on.

        1. There are also material benefits to being in a “superior” racial caste as designated by law – better schools, better public facilities, courts biased in your favor if your interests clash in court with the interests of a member of the disfavored class, being able to influence your elected representatives because you can actually vote, etc.

          I’m not sure why the focus is on psychological benefits – it’s like focusing on the psychological benefits a thief gets from stealing. Well, maybe the thief gets a psychological charge out of stealing, but there’s also the fact that he gets concrete benefits like money, etc. without having to pay for it.

          1. Those psychological benefits were probably the only benefits poor whites actually got. Jim Crow was terrible economic policy. It arbitrarily restricted how employers could match jobs to workers, substantially lowering productivity; the probable result was that the second-worst jobs reserved for poor whites were worse than the worst jobs would have been in a free market. It limited competition in the retail market and services, so the cost of living was higher.

            The only winners were the upper class, who set poor whites against blacks to maintain their dominant position, and to keep the businesses they owned non-union.

  8. Good thing we have the collective wisdom of the Vox contributors to define what is “right,” “moral,” and “progress.” And, I’m sure nothing is intended as a political attack against the current administration.

    1. I’m sure you didn’t bother to read it.

      1. Vox’s 15 “experts” on moral philosophy and public policy? No I didn’t bother to read it. I’m sorry I read this post.

        1. You really missed out on some Deep Thinking:

          “Ending the draft will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now
          Want to end America’s forever wars? Bring back conscription.
          By Jennifer Mittelstadt Updated Apr 3, 2019, 9:26am EDT

          “Jennifer Mittelstadt is a history professor at Rutgers University. She is the author of The Rise of the Military Welfare State….

          “Fifty years from now, Americans will observe with shock the damage to both foreign policy and domestic institutions wrought by our acceptance of an increasingly privatized, socially isolated, and politically powerful US military.

          “But they may retain the all-volunteer force anyway. The dynamics that produced all-volunteer force ? the power of free-market ideology, a dislike of forced military service ? may only have strengthened by then. And it’s quite possible that Americans will have learned to accept the economic, humanitarian, and anti-democratic costs imposed by an all-volunteer military.”

          1. And by Adia Harvey Wingfield:

            “But in 50 years, we’ll look back at how a declining public sector has led to a dizzying array of increasingly out-of-reach options ? whether that’s private schools, charter schools, or “good” public schools in inaccessible expensive areas ? and consider it unthinkable….

            “…we’ll need to recognize that investing in the public sector (including but not limited to schools) helps a wide segment of Americans. If not, we’ll look back and realize that sacrificing the public sector on the altar of “school choice” and individualism has left us unprepared for an increasingly multiracial society.”

            1. Well, one can only hope we escape the nightmarish prospect of a dystopian future society that accommodates individualism and choice. I mean, who wouldn’t prefer the obvious benefits of a forced collective? Hopefully socialist too because where has that ever failed.

  9. The examples don’t really prove the point you are making. The atrocities of Naziism and Communism were not accompanied by large number of people arguing that it was actually OK to gas Jews or purge millions of dissidents. The international consensus at the time was that these things were wrong, and their perpetrators went to great lengths NOT to admit that they were doing them. (You can search far and wide for spokespersons or even supporters of the Nazi government arguing publicly that Germany should pursue a policy of murdering all the Jews. Such statements are very hard to find.) The Nazis and the Communists (and others) were BREAKING widely recognized rules.

    A slightly better example might be the eugenics movement. After progress was made on the cause of anti-racism in the 19th Century, including the abolishment of slavery in much of the developed world, in the early 20th Century a new form of “scientific” racism became very popular for a time. “Improving the breed” and “eliminating inferior races” became a discussion point of legitimate science. Thankfully, humanity again moved away from that sort of thinking.

    The question is whether there is any example of a regression, similar to the eugenics movement, which has really stuck. There is one possible one on the horizon. If China continues to assert its increasing dominance over the world, you could see a regression on international standards of human rights that the Chinese government explicitly and openly rejects.

    1. It has always amazed me how many despots go to such great lengths to emulate all the trappings of republics, with legislatures and public courts. There is no better indication of moral progress (whatever that may be at any time) than despots trying to pretend to be moral and just.

      1. “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

    2. Actually “Eugenics” itself is making a comeback, via the selective abortion of those children who have “undesired” characteristics. Remember, Iceland has eliminated Down Syndrome. Via selective abortion. Who knows what else will be selected for in the future. Blue eyes? Blond hair?

      1. And compulsory vaccination, whose underlying principle put us on the slippery slope to compulsory eugenic sterilization in the past, is making a comeback as well.

        1. The underlying principle of compulsory vaccination is actually extremely libertarian. Anti vaxxers violate the NAP by infecting us with previously eliminated diseases and the only way to stop them is to vaccinate them by force.

          It’s the same reason a libertarian country would have strongly enforced borders and state violence to deter anti-libertarians.

          1. If you torture logic enough, you could justify anything. Are you serious, or trolling?

            1. Are you trolling? You don’t have a right to infect me. If you had a highly contagious disease and spread it deliberately, that’s already a crime. Just because these diseases are preventable with vaccines doesn’t change the fundamental premise.

              1. If someone were chasing you down to cough, slobber, sneeze, or ‘other’ onto you, I might agree to your point.

                They are free to get infected with dumb shit. We are free to stay away from them, and tell them to stay away from us, on threat of harm if bypass certain barriers which could lead to infection.

                You could discriminate against them too, in libertarian land. ‘Customers must be vaccinated’.
                See how that works?

          2. “The underlying principle of compulsory vaccination is actually extremely libertarian.”

            Is it broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes?

      2. Nobody wealthy will have kids with Down Syndrome unless they are social conservatives (a vanishing minority). Most libertarians think selecting characteristics for your kids is an individual right.

    3. Eugenics could actually be useful to improve the species.

      Hey! Get that knife away from my balls. I didn’t mean me. I didn’t mean me!!

  10. Conscription? Really? You might as well put “Taxation” on that list with slavery and serfdom.

    Unlike serfdom and slavery, Conscription is temporary (and notably puts firearms in the conscriptees hands, which is a poor way to oppress a given group). Moreover, one might consider it “necessary” in order to prevail in the given wars of the time. And a country which didn’t employ it, might find itself quickly losing all of its freedoms.

    1. “We had to destroy freedom in order to preserve it.”

      If an existential threat won’t get volunteers to fight it, then the threat isn’t scary enough, or the government isn’t worthy of preserving. The draft is a one word oxymoron.

      Draft enthusiasts like to drag out WW II, and I do too — there were often too many volunteers to take, and all the draft really did was smooth out the enlistment rate, and provide bona fide excuses for those with connections who didn’t want to fight.

      1. “If an existential threat won’t get volunteers to fight it, then the threat isn’t scary enough”

        “If an existential threat won’t get people to volunteer to pay taxes for it, the threat isn’t scary enough”.

        The issue with both of these situations is, while it’s better for society as a whole to have people volunteer for the draft or to pay taxes (ie voluntarily pay the government), it’s better for the individuals not to do so.

        The tragedy of the commons is a real issue, and sometimes requires responses to enforcing the common good. Whether it be taxes or conscription.

        1. The tragedy of the commons is a real issue, and sometimes requires responses to enforcing the common good. Whether it be taxes or conscription.


        2. The issue with both of these situations is, while it’s better for society as a whole to have people volunteer for the draft or to pay taxes (ie voluntarily pay the government), it’s better for the individuals not to do so.

          The last few months of WW2 in Europe was a good illustration of the point. The Allies swept across France in August and September 1944, and then basically came to a halt for nearly six months over the winter. Part of the reason was extended lines, and getting supplies to catch up with the rapid advance. But a number of observers noted an increasing reluctance among the troops – particularly veterans* – to take risks. And that definitely slowed further advances. Why get yourself killed doing something heroic in the last phase of the war, when you know you’ve already won, and you can see your way clear to surviving ? Conversely on the German side, there wasn’t much flagging of miitary spirit – it was a death struggle for them.

          * obviously this reluctance was statistical not universal. And it seems to have been more noticeable among the Brits – whose veterans had been in action longer – than the Yanks who were relative newcomers.

  11. Is historical ignorance a problem or is it deliberately lying about history to push an agenda that’s the problem?

    On Martin Luther King Day, NPR had an activist guess who told us that the world is a much worse place than it was 50 years ago, and that poverty has increased. He dismissed all the progress the world has made because he needs to justify his existence and liberal policies, and of course bash the US.

    “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and “Factfullness” document that the world is a much better place than it was in the past, and that thus far, that trend continues. But never do they claim that this trend is inevitable.

    But as horrible as the Nazi and Communist atrocities were, they ended and the trend towards a better world continued. While there may be setbacks, I think in the long term, this trend will continue, as long as we don’t become complacent about the inevitability of progress.

    1. LiborCon: “I think in the long term, this trend will continue, as long as we don’t become complacent about the inevitability of progress.”

      Okay — but thinking, or predicting, or indeed hoping, aren’t the same thing as knowing or being able to foretell.

      Pinker is correct that we are much less violent toward one another than in the past (yes — even in the U.S.), but that could end or reverse.

      Moreover, other sorts of things can replace violence, and these often come about /because/ of pure disagreement about what /is/ the most moral action. I may (and do) see the trend toward elimination of free expression as worrisome — even ultimately totalitarian — but those who push it consider it necessary to achieve moral ends.

      1. “Pinker is correct that we are much less violent toward one another than in the past (yes — even in the U.S.), but that could end or reverse.”

        IS reversing, over in Europe. Take Sweden, for example.

        It’s driven by high levels of immigration from high crime countries.

        1. That graph looks a little odd.

          The homicide rate hasn’t budged, and it’s my understanding that homicide rates are by far the most reliable indicator of crime.

  12. Of all the annoying things “progressives” say, that they are on the “right side of history,” takes the cake. History doesn’t validate our moral imperatives. It only reflects them. In 1950, those arguing for legal abortion were on the “wrong side of history.” If today, they’re on the “right side of history,” will they again be on the wrong side if societal mores change in 50 years?

  13. “[t]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

    This is true only in the sense that justice is subjective. What we consider “justice” today may not be what we consider to be “justice” in the future, just as what was “justice” 150 years ago seems barbaric by today’s standards. But yet its all justified in its own era

  14. You’re all wrong about not being able to define what the ‘right side of history’ is.

    Let’s look at the individual and use Maslow to determine what is right.

    At the first level, a person needs appropriate food and shelter to live and world data (while still intolerably high) have been trending in the right direction: (spaces added) https:// ourworldindata. org/grapher/ prevalence-of-undernourishment ?tab=chart.

    At the second level, a person needs a secure environment and we all see (and hope) that the major – global – conflicts of the 20th century where hundreds of millions of people died have not returned (yet). Recent conflicts are very localized and (relatively speaking) low intensity.

    YES – it’s NOT a perfect world and we have a very long way to go.

    But it IS moving in the ‘right’ direction.

    1. Explain European history between 160 AD and 560 AD, please.

      1. I decline your request but feel free to provide your input.

        1. Everything the whig theory of history says could have been said by any thinking person (at least in what would have then been considered the developed world) in 160 AD.
          That person would have been dead wrong.

  15. Progress is subjective and meaningless with regards to morality. From my point of view, most modern societies are degenerate and not worth preserving. Progress is dependent upon what you consider moral, not an objective standard of human development.

    Also I can’t stop laughing at your pathetic attempt to taint nationalism with Nazism. Nazis used math and science too. They were humans, so they also had to eat, sleep, and drink water. Nationalism is a characteristic of many societies. It doesn’t lead to Nazism any more than anything else we have in common with Nazis does.

  16. The notion of moral progress seems to require a thesis/antithesis sort of premise?if only to prevent the absurdity of supposing moral perfection is to be had effortlessly, this instant. And with thesis/antithesis you get factions on opposing sides, neither of which is likely to own up to moral inferiority.

    Consider the historical case of Reconstruction, after the Civil War. As a policy, Reconstruction was both favored and opposed by rival factions. Each thought it’s preferred outcome was morally superior. Eventually, Reconstruction was defeated politically, and in its stead came the long moral disaster of Jim Crow.

    Taken together, most folks today probably regard the end of Reconstruction and its replacement by Jim Crow as a practical example of moral progress reversed. It’s not clear the factions opposing Reconstruction ever saw it that way. Nor is it clear those factions have entirely disappeared.

    1. Reconstruction’s end was the only feasible choice in the mid 1870s.
      Even in the 1960s, a hundred years after the war ended, voters in the “North” were roundly opposed to open housing laws.
      Keeping an occupying army in the South was financially and politically impossible.

      The Pathological Whig view of history which the likes of Kirkland likes to sputter is a ignorant, infantile fantasy just as much as the Marxist, dictatorship of the proletariat view.

      Things get better, and they get worse, and they get better and they get worse…
      Again, ask someone who has studied Europe from 100 AD to 600 AD, about the arc of history.

  17. Unless Justice or Moral Progress is a synonym of Entropy, I think it is very unlikely it will increase in the long term. In fact Justice while not really an antonym of Entropy seems incompatible with increasing Entropy.

    That’s the science, or at least Newtonian Physics of Moral Progress, Quantum theory may provide a more optimistic answer, String Theory may provide more than one answer, maybe up to !26.

  18. “so was the genocidal conquest of the Americas.”

    Nine tenths of the people who died did so of disease. Once contact was made, their deaths were inevitable, a biological accident of history. There were deliberate race-based killings, but then the locals had been killing each other in the same ways for millenia. Please remember that the Aztecs fought wars just to capture prisoners for human sacrifice.

    “Too few people understand the connection between the evils of Nazism and the ideology of nationalism, of which Nazism was a particularly extreme manifestation. ”

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Hitler and the National Socialists despised the traditional German state and the German people. National Socialism was a racist ideology – it was the Aryan race, not the German people, that was glorified. And the proof is in the pudding – when they were losing the war and desperately needed more arms, the leadership insisted on killing off as many of the Jewish slave laborers as they could as fast as they could. And when all was lost, Hitler said that the Germans didn’t deserve to survive. The Nazism = nationalism equality is communist propaganda, and it lives on at Reason.

    1. The Jews and Gypsies were not considered “real Germans” by the Nazis. ‘Race’ and nationality were confounded. In 1935, when the government passed the Nuremberg Laws th declared that only Aryans could be German citizens.

    2. Hitler and the National Socialists despised the traditional German state and the German people.

      I don’t think so. And there really was no “traditional German state,” since Germany as a unified state was only about 60 years old when Hitler took power.

    3. JonFrum, your comment conflates (apparently on purpose) the largely-16th century epidemics which killed so many across the Americas, with the quite different 17th?19th century campaigns against American Indians. The latter were an openly avowed genocide by policy, practiced by turns lawlessly, lawfully, and under military discipline. You seem to be trying to excuse the inexcusable. Why?

      That Nazism was a manifestation of nationalism (among other things) is also beyond question. I suppose you meant to suggest somehow that that fact doesn’t mean that every nationalist movement is somehow akin to Nazism. And that is true. But the European Fascist experience remains a useful caution about the vulnerability of nationalist movements to racialist abuse. It looks like nationalism will always exert a magnetic pull on racists looking for seemingly-principled justifications.

  19. I agree with Professor Somin on this one. As I’ve sometimes pointed out in other contexts, advocates of slavery in the 19th century were convinced that more permissive attitudes towards slavery than in early periods represented genuine moral progress. One reason why John Calhoun became a Unitarian was because of its more progressive, liberal, tolerant attitude towards slavery and treatment of slaves than more traditional churches with less up-to-date conceptions of morality.

    Similar observations could be made about eugenicists and the sterilization or euthanasia of disabled people. They, too, regarded traditional attitudes disapproving of such practices as anti-progressive, hidebound, superstitious, and archaic.

    1. ReaderY, given that 19th century Unitarian churches (including the buildings themselves) in the U.S. were generally direct descendants of Congregationalist (including Puritan) forebears, that bit about Calhoun is interesting to me. Can you say where I can read about it?

  20. Before long, history will look on the massive scale slaughter of unborn babies and judge the enablers harshly, similar to the Germans in Nazi Germany who said they didn’t know about mass slaughter that went on there.

    1. Prolifers will know they’ve won when textbooks describe their movement as progressive and the supporters of legal abortion as conservative.

  21. The recent drift of the pro-choice faction into post-natal baby nullification practices illustrates the tenuous explanations people offer when explaining why their thinking is “moral” or even advanced, whereas someone else’s is immoral or backwards.

  22. Cidofovir dihydrate,Boc Sciences is the world’s leading provider for special chemicals. We offer qualified products for 149394-66-1(CidoFovir hydrate (1:2)),please inquire us for 149394-66-1(CidoFovir hydrate (1:2)).

Please to post comments