Theory and Society

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 511–538 | Cite as

Pinker and progress

Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking, 2011. Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. New York: Viking, 2018
  • John Torpey

For two hundred years after the mid-eighteenth century onset of the Enlightenment, political orientations have been characterized as “reactionary,” “conservative,” and “progressive.” Reactionaries wanted to turn back the clock to a timeless, pristine Arcadia of their own imagining in which all was right with the world. Conservatives sought to defend the present—the “status quo”—as the best of all possible worlds. “Progressives” (in France, “progressistes”) were, as the term suggests, the party of progress and hence of the future. “Liberal” fit less easily into this past/present/future trichotomy. The term has also been something of a “floating signifier,” as it has meant rather different things in different settings. In the more statist European context, capital-L “Liberals” argued for less state and more freedom from its heavy hand; in the more traditionally anti-statist American milieu, in contrast, “liberal” came to mean “statist” in regard to dealing with social problems—almost...



Thanks to David Abraham and David Swartz for comments on an earlier version of this essay.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, Graduate Center, CUNYNew YorkUSA

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