"The modern conception of Progress or Evolution (as popularly imagined) is simply a myth, supported by no evidence whatsoever."

C.S. Lewis


It seems to me that in three centuries of progress the people of the west have achieved four principles: To be selfish, to kill others, to have little integrity, and to feel little shame. How different are the principles of Confucius and Mencius, as broad and deep as Heaven and Earth, designed to benefit all men everywhere."

Yen Fu (1854-1921)

Chinese Philosopher


"The result is almost invariably the exact opposite of what's intended. Thus, expanding public education has served to increase illiteracy; half a century of pacifist agitation has resulted in the two most ferocious and destructive wars of history, political egalitarianism has made for a heightened class-consciousness...and sexual freedom has led to erotmania on a scale hitherto undreamed of ."

Malcolm Muggeridge

Jesus Discovered


"Despite all the vaunted technological and economic progress of modern times, there are probably more poverty-stricken people in the world today than there were fifty years ago."

-Dr. Eugene Staley (Stanford Research Institute)


"Perhaps a revolution will be made against Progress…."

Jules Verne


O terrible influence of this race Which serves neither god nor king, Given over to the mundane sciences. To base mechanical professions! Pernicious breed! What will you not Attempt, left to your own devices, Abandoned without restraint to that Fatal spirit of knowledge, of Invention, of progress."

Paul-Louis Courier (1772-1825)



"Progress is The law of life; man is not man as yet."

-Robert Browning(1812-89)



"What we call 'progress' is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance."

-Havelock Ellis


"Economic progress, in capitalist society, means turmoil."

-Joseph A. Schumpeter (1883-1950)

Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy



"Progress! No word comes more often or more naturally to the lips of modern man, as if the things it stands for were almost synonymous with life itself."

-Woodrow Wilson


"Nowadays, however, there is no such expectations. ‘Progress’ as columnist Julie Burchill has remarked, sounds as out of date as the steam engine; and the cohering effect of economic dynamism is noticeable by its absence. In these conditions, we are left with the moral fragmentation which everyone is seeking to address but failing to resolve."

Andrew Calcutt

Marxism, Mysticism & Modern Theory


"So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and cannot be permanent."

Henry George (1839-97)

Progress and Poverty


"I confess I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other's heels, which form the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human kind, or anything but the disagreeable symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress."

-John Stuart Mill (1806-73)

Principles of Political Economy



"The new age of intelligent machines will….relieve man of much of his most onerous and unsatisfying work. It will extend his lifespan and enrich his perpetual reach. It will enlarge his freedom and his global command. It will diminish despots and exploiters. It may even improve music and philosophy. Overthrowing matter, humanity also escapes from the traps and compulsions of pleasure into a higher morality of spirit."

George Gilder



The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) is an alternative to gross domestic product (GDP) for policy makers seeking a more realistic measure of national well-being. GPI examines not just the exchange of monetized goods and services, but adds in non-monetized activities (such as volunteer service and domestic work) that contribute to social progress and discounts those that detract from it(such as pollution and crime).

By applying these nontraditional variables, the Genuine Progress Indicator reveals hat much of what contributes to a growth in GDP comes from fixing problems caused by economic growth, according to critics. For example, cleaning up the Exxon VAlDEZ oil spill produced a flurry of economic activity, such as extra business for local services and new jobs. The result: the infamous environmental disaster actually led to an increase in GDP.

Similarly, GDP increased by 50% between 1973 and 1993 but, as the GPI reveals, wages declined by almost 14%. Most of the growth in income went to the top 5% of households. Clearly, critics claim, a rising tide does not lift all boats."


For more info see: The Genuine Progress Indicator,available from Redefining Progress, one Kearny ST. fourth Floor, San Francisco Ca 94108….a brief version is avail on the Web site of ideas;



For several centuries we have lived upon the idea of progress. Today, suffering has almost eradicated that idea from our minds. So nothing now prevents us from seeing that it is not founded in reason. "

C.S. Lewis


The idea of progress is another of the great contemporary ideas. A vast amount of personal ambition of rapacity , of lust for power is sanctified and at the same time made actively effective by this idea. It is in the idea of progress, coupled very often with the humanitarian idea of universal welfare and social services, that the modern business man finds excuses for his activities. Why does he work so hard? To obtain power and make himself rich, the cynical realist would answer. Not at all, the business man indignantly replies, I am working and fighting for progress, for prosperity, for society."

Aldous Huxley

Music at Night



"The idea of progress is the idea of the gradual coming to birth, in tie course of time, of the better from the less good."


C.S. Lewis


"I am not at all fond of regimentation or repression; that is

why I have never written a novel about Utopia. "

G. K. Chesterton



"Why should we pretend any more that the world is on the road to Perfection? Or that we want it to be? The world is in perpetual oscillation. Let us be thankful for every inspiring revelation of a New Imperfection."


Havelock Ellis



"We have often been told, in the past few years, that is was going to be a better world; but it sometimes appears to present two faces: That of a public world which becomes more and more incredible, and a private world Which becomes more and more intolerable


T. S. Eliot 1946



"Dreams of the far future destiny of man were dragging up from its shallow and unquiet grave the old dream of Man as God. The very experience of the dissecting room and the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stifling of all deep-set repugnance’s was the first essential for progress."

CS. Lewis

That Hideous Strength


"Nothing could be further from the truth than the facile belief that God only manifests himself in progress, in the improvement of standards of living, in the spread of medicine and the reform of abuses, in the diffusion of organized Christianity."

William F. Albright

From Stone Age to Christianity 1946


"Belief in progress is a doctrine of idlers and Belgians. It is the individual relying upon his neighbors to do his work."



"Speculation about progress, if the foregoing is correct, has reached something of a dead end. As the twentieth century draws to a close, we find it more and more difficult to mount a compelling defense of the idea of progress; but we find it equally difficult to imagine life without it."

Christopher Lasch

The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics


"All progress is based on a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income."

Samuel Butler


"Technical progress seems to have gone bankrupt, since instead of happiness it has only brought the masses that physical and moral wretchedness in which we see them floundering."

Simone Weil


"It is the old story. A discovery is made-the human race triumphs; enthusiastically everything is set going to perfect the discovery more and more. The human race is jubilant and worships itself. At . long last there comes to a halt-man pauses and asks; is this discovery really a boon, especially the extra-ordinary perfection of it that has been achieved! Then a new call goes out for the most eminent heads, and they torture their brains almost to madness to find safety-values, dampers, clogs, etc. in order, if possible, to put a brake on, to prevent the matchless and matchlessly perfected discovery, the pride of the human race, from riding rough-shod over the whole world and destroying it. Consider, for instance, the invention of the printing press, perfected to a top-speed machine sure to guarantee that no dirt or dregs remains unpublished. Consider the railways. Consider the free constitution, these matchlessly perfected discoveries-the pride of the human race-which makes us hanker for some Oriental despotism as offering its subjects more chance of happiness."


Soren Kierkegaard 1851


   "One may be tempted to retort that there has been progress since 1850. There has indeed: capitalism, carrying advanced industrial technology, has spread from Britain to the whole world, in certain parts of the world being transformed into the state capitalism commonly known as communism. It has had precisely the effect which Proudhon foresaw that it must have; it has given an enormous increment in wealth, in material well-being; by so doing it has provoked an equally enormous increase in population; and has given us an enormous, a colossal, a probably unmanageable increment in poverty and slavery. I have no fear whatsoever of being contradicted when I say that there are at least ten times as many people living in misery in the last quarter of the 20th century as there were in the middle of the 19th. And where, for example in the USSR, the socialist solution, instead of going to the root of the trouble and avoiding the fatal contradictions of the system, institutionalizes it by substituting the state for the private capitalist, driving out Satan by Beelzebub, slavery, in all but name, is universal."

Edward Hyams

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind & Works


"The higher standard of living enjoyed by the industrial nations is not the result of greater productive efficiency, but of an enormously expanded increase in the amount of energy available per person. In 1970 the United States used up the energy equivalent of twelve tons of coal per inhabitant, while the corresponding figure for India was one-fifth ton per inhabitant. The way this energy was expended involved far more energy being wasted per person in the United States than in India. Automobiles and airplanes are faster than oxcarts, but they do not use energy more efficiently. In fact, more calories go up in useless heat and smoke during a single day of traffic jams in the United states than is wasted by all the cows of India during an entire year. The comparison is even less favorable when we consider the fact that the stalled vehicles are burning up irreplaceable reserves of petroleum that it took the earth tens of millions of years to accumulate. If you want to see a real sacred cow, go out and look at the family car."


Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches

Marvin Harris

Random House Pub


People are always shouting they want to create a better future. but its not true. the future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. the past is full of light, eager to irritate us, Provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it, the only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past. they are fighting for access to the laboratories where photographs are retouched and biographies and histories rewritten."


Milan Kundera

The book of laughter and forgetting



"The golden age is the most unlikely of the dreams that have been, yet for it men have given up their lives.




"We begin to suspect that the belief in progress- a slow, steady, upward development toward truth and perfection and the banishment of man' s ills- is spurious. In more than a few quarters the thought is being voiced that the wisdom of the ancients-the abilities of those who created the great Pyramid, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu-are far beyond our ken. For we know neither how these structures were built nor why. These mysterious constructions of gigantic stones fitted to a whisper, measured to incredible exactitude, defy modern man' s ability to emulate or understand."


James Wyckoff

Franz Anton Mesmer

Prentice Hall



"Spokesmen of the new dominant culture speak on an "advance' from 'ignorance' and 'magic' to 'knowledge' and natural science, yet in terms of philosophy, religion and the arts, the same events can only be seen in opposite terms as a decline from knowledge to ignorance . "

Kathleen Raine



"I do not know whether you have any illusions left on the subject of education, progress, and so forth. I have none, any pamphleteer can show the way to better things; but when there is no will there is no way. My nurse was fond of remarking that you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear; and the more I see the efforts of our churches and universities and literary sales to raise the mass above its own level, the more convinced, I am that my nurse was mostly right. We can do nothing but take the most of us all as we are, and that would most would clearly not be enough even if those who are already raised out of the loftiest abysses would allow the others a chance."


George Bernard Shaw (a letter to Arthur Bingham Walkley)

(The Smithsonian actually has a synthetic silk purse made out of a

sow' s ear)ed ******



"If we would condescend to waive for one moment our belief in the indefinite progress and necessary superiority of later generations over the ancients, we should at once perceive that the colossal civilizations of antiquity possessed Science, Universities, and Schools"




"Society must cease to look upon "progress" as something desirable. "Eternal progress" is a nonsensical myth."




"Human life is driven forward by its dim apprehensions of notions too general for its existing language."

Alfred North Whitehead



"We plow new fields, we open new mines, we found new cities; we drive back the Indian and exterminate the buffalo; we gird the land with iron roads and lace the air with telegraph wires; we add knowledge to knowledge, and utilize invention after invention; we build schools and endow colleges; yet it becomes no easier for the masses of our people to make a living. On the contrary, it is becoming harder. The wealthy class is becoming more wealthy; but the poorer class is becoming more dependent. The gulf between the employed and the employer is growing wider; social contrasts are becoming sharper; as liveried carriages appear, so do barefooted children. We are becoming used to talk of the working classes and the propertied classes; beggars are becoming so common that where it was once thought a crime little short of highway robbery to refuse food to one who asked for it, the gate is now barred and the bulldog loosed, while laws are passed against vagrants which suggest those of Henry VIII. We call ourselves the most progressive people on earth. But what is the goal of our progress, if these are its wayside fruits?

Henry George

Progress & Poverty 1878



" People fascinated by the idea of progress never suspect that every step forward is also a step on the way to the end and that behind all the joyous "onward and upward" slogans lurks the lascivious voice of death urging us to make haste."

Milam Kundera

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting



"Totalitarianism is not only hell, but also the dream of paradise-the age-old dream of a world where everybody would live in harmony, united by a single common will and faith, without secrets from one another. Andre Breton, too, dreamed of this paradise when he talked about the glass house in which he longed to live. If Totalitarianism did not exploit these archetypes, which are deep inside us all and rooted deep in all religions, it could never attract so many people, especially during the early phases of its existence. Once the dream of paradise starts to turn into reality, however, here and there people begin to crop up who stand in its way, and so the rulers of paradise must build a little gulag on the side of Eden. In the course of time the gulag grows ever bigger and more perfect, while the adjoining paradise gets ever smaller and poorer."

Milan Kundera


"Each generation makes of the world more or less the kind of place they dream it should be, and each when its day is done is often in a mood to regret the work of its own hands and to praise the conditions that obtained when it was young."

Lord Conway



"Progress might have been all right once, but its' gone on too long."

Ogden Nash


"One would like to ask: is there, then, no positive gain in pleasure, no unequivocal increase in my feelings of happiness, if I can, as often as I please, hear the voice of a child of mine who is living hundreds of miles away or if I can learn in the shortest possible time after a friend has reached his destination that he has come through the long and difficult voyage unharmed? Does it mean nothing that medicine has succeeded in enormously reducing infant mortality and the danger of infection for women in childbirth, and, indeed, in considerably lengthening the average life of a civilized man?

If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no phone to hear his voice; if traveling across the ocean by ship had not been introduced, my friend would not have embarked on his sea-voyage and I should not need a cable to relieve my anxiety about him. What is the use of reducing infantile mortality when it is precisely that reduction which imposes the greatest restraint on us in the begetting of children, so that, taken all round, we nevertheless rear no more children than in the days before the reign of hygiene, while at the same time we have created difficult conditions for our sexual life in marriage…..And, finally, what good to us is a long life if it is difficult and barren of joys, and if it is so full of misery that we can only welcome death as a deliverer."


Civilization and its Discontents



"We plainly see that in Transportation, for example, progress has been made. We fly where we rode. The error is to suppose that this progress has been a pure addition of comfort or wisdom or peace. We have paid for this progress in innumerable ways. As we have for all other "advances,’ no matter how beneficent."

Jacques Barzun




"Every new way of getting wealth more quickly, every machine which lessens work, every means of diminishing the costs of production, every invention which makes pleasures easier or greater, seems the most magnificent accomplishment of the human mind."

Alexis de Tocqueville (1830)

Democracy in Discontents



"By turns the steamboat, the railroad, the postal system, the electric telegraph, the airplane, have been described as instruments that would transcend local weaknesses, redress inequalities of the natural and cultural resources, and lead to a worldwide political unity-"the parliament of man, the federation of the world." Once technical unification was established, human solidarity, "Progressive" minds believed , would follow. In the course of two centuries, these hopes have been discredited. As the technical gains have been consolidated, moral disruptions, antagonisms, and collective massacres have become more flagrant, not in local conflicts alone but on a global scale."

Lewis Mumford

The Pentagon of Power



"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."

Franklin Roosevelt



"WE are, all of us, being drawn into the electronic world, and we can’t stop it. It’s like being given a car without anyone telling you how to drive it, and you don’t have a road map. We’re driving blind.:

Sandy Sparks (Lawrence Livermore Lab)


"There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People."

Umberto Eco



"The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously….there was no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment."

George Orwell




"It’s impossible to imagine the heights to which, a thousand years from now, man’s powers over matter will be carried. We will learn to deprive large masses of matter of their gravitation and to give them an absolute lightness that will make them easier to carry. Agriculture will lower its work and double the production. All our diseases, including old age, will be avoided or cured. Our lives will be lengthened at will, even beyond the time they lasted in the days before the flood. And I hope that moral science will be perfected too, so that we will stop being wolves instead of men and that human being will finally learn to practice what they now mistakenly call humanity."

(a letter from Benjamin Franklin to Joseph Priestly 1780)



"We cannot do without the notion of progress, yet it does not deserve our attention. It is like the "meaning" of life. Life must have one. But is there any which does not turn out, upon examination, to be ludicrous?"

E.M. Cioran



Science explores :Technology executes: Man Conforms.

("motto of World’s Fair Chicago 1933)



"Have not great Merchants, great manufacturers, great inventors done more for the world than preachers and philanthropists. Can there be any doubt that cheapening the cost of necessities and conveniences of life is the most powerful agent of civilization and progress?"

Charles Elliot Perkins (President of the Chicago, Burling, & Quincy Railroad 1888)




"Some people would like to think that this long sequence of industrial innovations has changed human life and even human nature in fundamental ways. Perhaps it has-but, arguably, almost always for the worse. I know that "technological progress" can be defended, but I observe that the defenses are invariably quantitative-catalogs of statistics on the ownership of automobiles and television sets, for example, or on the increase of life expectancy-and I see that these statistics are always kept carefully apart from the related statistics of soil loss, pollution, social disintegration, and so forth. That is to say, there is never an effort to determine the net results of this progress. The voice of its defenders is not that of the responsible Bookkeeper, but that of the propagandist or salesman, who says that the net gain is more than 100%-that the thing we have bought has perfectly replaced everything it has cost, and added a great deal more: "You just can’t lose!" We thus got rich by spending, just as the advertisers have told us we would, and the best of all possible worlds is getting better every day."

Wendell Berry

What are People For?




"After several generations of "technological progress," in fact, we have become a people who cannot think about anything important . How far down the natural order do we have to go to find creatures who raise their young as indifferently as industrial humans do now? Even the English sparrows do not let loose into the streets young sparrows who have no notion of their identity or their adult responsibilities."



"How do we chart progress" Is it true that people who live in caves, shoot with bows and arrows, suffer from leprosy, and practice infanticide are backward, while people who live in thirty story buildings , shoot with bullets, suffer from drug addiction, and practice genocide are ahead of the game? And what is the game? Is the name of the game moral progress?"

Roberta Kelochofsky



"Faith in progress is deep within our culture. We have been taught to believe that our lives are better than those who came before us. The ideology of modern economics suggests that material progress has yielded enhanced satisfaction and well-being. But much of our confidence about our own well-being comes from the assumption that our lives are easier than those of earlier generations or other cultures.

I have already disputed the notion, that we work less than medieval European peasants, however poor they may have been. The field research of anthropologists gives another view of the conventional wisdom.

The lives of so-called primitive peoples are commonly thought to be harsh-their existence dominated by the "incessant quest for food." In fact, primitives do little work."

Juliet B. Shor

The Overworked American the unexpected decline of leisure


"Intensified progress seems to be bound up with intensified un-freedom. Concentration camps, mass exterminations, world wars, and atom bombs are no "relapse into barbarism," but the unrepressed implementation of the achievements of modern science, technology, and domination."

-Herbert Marcuse

Eros and Civilization


"Just consider what they were up to during the century and a half before the Thing. Fouling the rivers, killing off the wild animals, destroying the forests , washing the topsoil into the sea, burning up an ocean of petroleum, squandering the minerals it had taken the whole of ecological time to deposit. An orgy of criminal imbecility. And they called it Progress."

-Aldous Huxley

Ape and Essence


Book: "World's Fairs and the End of Progress: An Insider's View" by Alfred Heller

Book: "The New Renaissance: Computers and the Next Level of Civilization" by Douglas S. Robertson

Book: "World's Best Ideas" A Global Ideas Bank Compendium: by Nicholas Albery, Stephen Evans and Stephanie Wienrich eds

Book: "Progress Without People" by David F. Noble

Book: "Farewell To Reason" by Paul Feyerabend

© 2001



Back to Chrestomathy           Next Page