'Progressivism': The Modern Zeitgeist

As noted below, it is true that Leftists now rule the "Zeitgeist". They have comprehensively completed their long march though the institutions. But there is cause for hope. This has happened before. "Progressive" ideas and assumptions totally dominated public thinkig in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. But that did become unwound after WWII when the rise to prominence of the ghastly Soviets forced a new fear and a new realism on people. And starting from Ike and his narrow view of the role of government a new era of American prosperity began. But once the Soviets fell, fear of Leftism evaporated.

The results of that were perverse. Once Leftism was no longer something to fear, it became more readily accepted and its old hatreds once again gradually became fashionable. Leftist whining was taken increasingly seriously. And the constant Leftist discoveries of new "humanitarian" causes -- from "affirmative action" to transgendererism -- has given them a continuing voice and respectability in public affairs.

It is a disturbing thought but maybe we need another war to divert attention from the foolish to more serious matters. With the containment of Russia in Ukraine, however, that possibility has thankfully retreated to an extent. Russia has now been revealed as a paper tiger. So while China remains restrained we can at the moment continue to be frivolous about what matters. On past precedent, however, that frivolity may not be permanent. Taiwan may uproot our calm

To fully understand current events, it is critical to comprehend that every human is a product of their times, their present culture, their “zeitgeist”—the term I will use in this column. The word “zeitgeist” means “the spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the generally accepted ideas and beliefs of the time.” In every period of history, a certain model of thinking dominates the age, and everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, is influenced by it. It's impossible to totally separate ourselves from our “zeitgeist” because we are surrounded by it every day, we grow up learning it and absorbing it, it is the inescapable environment universally acknowledged and rarely questioned—even if it’s wrong. Here are a couple of examples of historical “zeitgeist” to illustrate what I mean.

Christopher Columbus and his “age” was certainly different from ours. We don’t approve of many things they did (they wouldn’t approve of much of what we do, either), and the Left is especially vociferous in their condemnation of Columbus and the early European explorers. But their “zeitgeist” was completely different from ours. They saw no dichotomy between converting the heathen and looting them of their gold. Such a dichotomy is abhorrent to us, but we didn’t grow up in their “zeitgeist.” Reading modern viewpoints and opinions back into history is not an acceptable way to judge and interpret previous generations.

Certainly, the people of Columbus’s age “sinned” and knew they were doing so, just as we do (or should). But to understand them, we must understand their “zeitgeist.” The Aztecs whom the Spaniards conquered were hardly exemplary. We should learn from, but not blanketly condemn them when their culture, education, and surroundings were totally unlike ours. Failing to even attempt to comprehend previous people’s thoughts is most unjust. The Left are masters at it.

Another example. I quote: "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races...I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

Those words were spoken by Abraham Lincoln in 1858. While obviously repulsive to Americans today, it was the “zeitgeist” of Lincoln’s time. Indeed, Harvard University had done a study of human skull sizes and discovered that the average skull size of a black person was smaller than that of a white person’s. And, in Lincoln’s day (and even into the early 20th century), it was accepted that the bigger your brain, the smarter you were. Whites are superior to blacks because they have larger brains! “Science” proves it! Now today, we know that brain size has nothing to do with intelligence, but that was the “science” of Lincoln’s day, and he would have been “unscientific” to reject it. How can we condemn him if we truly understand the “zeitgeist” of his age? We can’t, and we shouldn’t. What we should do is try to understand and learn from it.

Rising above our “zeitgeist” is a most challenging accomplishment, and not even historians can do it perfectly. If we had lived in Columbus’s Spain (or Italy) in 1492, or Lincoln’s Illinois (a Northern state, mind you) in 1858, we would surely have believed the exact same things they did. Some people are occasionally able to “think outside the box” and see truth from an eternal, fixed perspective, but that is a very rare commodity among humans. By and large, we accept the “zeitgeist” of our age.

“Zeitgeist” arises out of history, of course. It’s a process, not an event, and usually takes time to develop. Columbus and Cortez did not invent the dichotomy they lived in regarding converting the heathen and stealing their gold. If you think Lincoln’s words were bad, read his debate opponent, Stephen Douglas’s (a Democrat), sometime.

We haven’t arrived at our present “zeitgeist” in America overnight, either. Currently, most Americans’ thinking has become dominated by “progressive” ideology, and interestingly, a hypocrisy inherent in that thinking is to condemn anyone who lived before who might foil their political agenda—Columbus, America’s Founding Fathers, though rarely Lincoln, for rather obvious reasons.

Naturally, different cultures had/have different “zeitgeists”. Human or child sacrifice was an acceptable “zeitgeist” among the Aztecs and many other ancient “civilizations,” as was slavery, polygamy, war, and a few other currently frowned-upon customs. Our Leftist-driven “zeitgeist” has “progressed” from those practices to abortion on demand (no sense in waiting for the child to be born to sacrifice it), transgenderism, child mutilation, and, in China—the Left’s great model—mass murder, forced organ harvesting, and re-education camps.

Human inequality and racism are “zeitgeists” of nearly every culture in history and are evident today in the Left’s DEI program. Columbus’s (and Lincoln’s) “zeitgeist” accepted Jesus as God and Savior, and a world created by God, something our modern Leftist “zeitgeist” rejects in favor of Darwinian-based atheistic naturalism. Modern communication has shrunk the world, thus, much of Leftism is virtually universal now. Middle Eastern Muslims reject most of it, but they are barbarians, right?

Rising above our “zeitgeist” to see eternal truths is extremely challenging. Nobody does it perfectly. After all, doesn’t everybody have their own “truth” nowadays, as a recent modern “progressive” DEI-hire informed us?


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