Fighting the Long Defeat

The myth of human progress is one of the most resilient and pervasive beliefs of the modern time.  Early versions of this myth could be seen hundreds of years ago.  Herbert Spencer was a Victorian era sociologist who applied the principles of evolution to society.  He taught that “the belief in human perfectibility merely amounts to a belief that, in virtue of this process, man will eventually become completely suited to his mode of life.”[1]  The process of evolution, according to Spencer, must end with humanity being ultimately evolved, progressing to a point where they are perfected.  After bringing the United States into the First World War because “the world must be made safe for democracy”[2] President Woodrow Wilson lobbied for the creation of the League of Nations believing that a peaceful community of nations could usher in a utopian society.[3]   History has shown the naiveté that the League of Nations represented, with disastrous results.  Even pop culture believed that the general motion of humanity was upward.  In the song, Right Here, Right Now by Jesus Jones, released in 1990, ironically on September 11, the British pop band expresses joy at the apparent revolutionary evolution of mankind.  “I was alive and I waited for this/  Right here, right now/ There is no other place I want to be/ Watching the world wake up from history”.[4]  In the 2016 presidential cycle, President Trump won based largely on the sentiment that if elected he will “bring [America] back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.”[5]  From progressive Social Darwinists, to British dance bands, to Presidents, the belief that things are destined to get better is deeply ingrained in society.