Everything has a beginning, including the philosophy of progressivism. Though progressive thoughts and ideas run rampant in our politics and culture today, progressivism isn’t a new idea. In fact, its roots can be found long before Obama or Clinton or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Progressive thought preceded Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and America’s Founding. The genesis of progressive ideology can be traced back to the continent of Europe, hundreds of years ago, before Karl Marx himself.
To find the roots of progressivism, one has to go back to Germany in the 1500s, and the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church by Martin Luther. Was Luther a progressive? Hardly, but his ideas about man’s relationship with God have morphed and metastasized the past 500 years into something unrecognizable from what he originally intended. Luther’s declaration that man could have a personal relationship with God without enlisting a papal leader inadvertently started the ball rolling toward progressivism.
More than two centuries later in the late 1700s, German professor George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel would use his disbelief in God for a similar purpose — to better humanity. After surviving an epidemic, Hegel’s views on God were irrevocably changed. Hegel concluded that experts and knowledgeable persons should rule — not God — with the most perfect government and unlimited authority over the individual. Through the State and its rulers, man would essentially become God on earth. This was the foundational principle that eventually became known as progressivism.