Appeared in Spring 1997, Vol. XXIII, No. 1

Advocates of the philosophy of liberalism claim that the history of American society, up to and including the present, is one which is progressively improving and becoming ever more humane.1 Underlying this claim are certain taken-for-granted assumptions that should be brought to the fore. One is a unilinear evolutionary scheme that posits the idea of Progress, i.e., as history marches forward, civilization moves ever closer to some utopian state of affairs. Related to this is the assumption that Progress can be measured in terms of gains in material development and accumulation, in terms of individualism defined as complete autonomy and freedom defined as unlimited choice, and in terms of the degree to which science supersedes and replaces supernaturally based religion.

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