The slogan under which Obama hopes to win the next four years is “Forward”. “Forward” is the quintessential progressive slogan, progressives being people who are so forward-thinking that they want to remake the 21st Century in line with their 19th Century ideas. Progressivism, like so many other flavors of futurism, is so new it’s old. It’s the world of tomorrow as imagined by men with top hats and full beards whose Twitter-wielding descendants are still shouting, “March Forward!” at us 150 years later.
The last century has represented a great love affair with the future. A hundred years of spring cleaning accompanied by the resounding cry, “Out with the old, in with the new.” Everyone was a progressive now. The one thing that all the participants in the Second World War had in common was that they were all dreaming of the future. A Thousand Year Reich, a United Nations or Communism: millions died for the sake of a wonderful future.
The Germans died for a Nazi superstate built out of Albert Speer’s monstrous concrete towers of babel, a technocratic revival of Mad King Ludwig’s castle building projects. The Russians died for collective agriculture and inspiring posters of grim workers hoeing the earth and electrifying the countryside. Everyone else died because they were either in the way of one vision or the other. Then they died so that a United Europe and a United Nations might usher in a better world.
The world of tomorrow has seen better days. The West is still in love with the future. If you doubt that, stop by an Apple Store and marvel at all the shiny surfaces. Try not to notice that the aesthetic is a retro futurism because even our future has become our past. Forty years after the Soviet Union tried to land a Mars rover and fifteen years since the first time we did it successfully, we landed a bigger and better rover on Mars. We may not be able to reach the ISS without taking a ride on Soviet Soyuz tubs, but the parts of NASA that aren’t dedicated to proving that science and technology are burning up the planet through Global Warming, can still execute an occasional engineering triumph.
But the future is not so much a place as it is a state of mind. It is a fervent faith in the inevitability of human progress. Men have died for this faith and men are still dying for it.
Britain’s Olympics opener celebrated the journey from the industrial revolution to the NHS euthanasia bed. While capitalism killed workers randomly and unscientifically, the progressive state kills them scientifically and methodically. Any old factory can kill a worker by dropping a load on his head or allowing him to inhale fumes that in retrospect turn out to be toxic, but it takes a genuinely progressive turn of mind to leave him lying in bed for three days begging for a drink of water while he dies because he has become, in the fine German phrase, “Lebensunwertes Leben” or “Life Unworthy of Life.” That is true progress, which also happens to be the name of the unmanned Soyuz cargo ship that keeps American astronauts from starving or dying of thirst up on the ISS.
The Nazis and the Communists believed that certain races and classes had to be wiped out to make the future possible. We, the modernists who communicate through shiny slabs of white and black plastic, who use the flag of the United Nations as our background image and John Lennon’s “Imagine” as our ring tone, don’t believe in such barbaric things. Instead we kill people because they are too old or too sick and use up medical services that are always short in a collective system.
WW1 and WW2 were fought over regional ambitions, but we have gone beyond them. Our scientists can measure every atom of carbon in the atmosphere and assign responsibility for it to individuals. “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?” Yeshayah’s prophecy asks These are the territories that now concern us.