I Was Into Progress Before It Was Cool
Occasionally, someone asks me about a series of articles I wrote years ago under the title “What Went Right?” Those articles presented the challenge of how we can explain progress under the framework of the Objectivist theory of history. My conclusion was that we cannot explain it under that theory as previously stated—that we needed some new ideas and some corrections of the prevailing interpretations. So I set out to supply those new ideas.
My basic theory is that ideas move history, but they don’t just come from the top down, on a conveyer belt from the ivory tower to the masses—because by that standard, civilization would have collapsed by now. Ideas also come from the bottom up, from specialized sciences and from honest people who value and defend the institutions that embody the implicit foundations of a civilized society.
I thought this addition to the Objectivist school of thought, to the extent there is such a thing, was worth preserving in a more permanent and accessible form, so I’ve been chipping away at formatting those original articles, along with a few additions, for publication in book form.
The result is now available at Amazon.
You could say this is the series of articles that got me kicked out of the mainstream or orthodox Objectivist movement, but the cause-and-effect actually goes the other way. I got kicked out first, leaving me free to publish whatever heretical ideas I wanted. Notice that the subtitle of the book describes this as an Objectivist theory. I’ve been saying for a while (and explain in the book) that we need a way of talking about theories that are consistent with Objectivism but are new developments or even minor corrections.
Below, to whet your appetite, is the book’s Foreword.
This book is based on a series of articles originally published in TIA Daily, the online version of The Intellectual Activist, and then subsequently in the print edition. Chapters 1 through 5 were first published in late 2006 and early 2007, Chapter 6 was added to the series in 2011, and the Epilogue was written in 2014. Chapter 7 and the Introduction are new to this book.
As you can see, this is a set of related issues, not just about the Objectivist theory of history but about the organization and future of the Objectivist movement itself, that I have been chewing on for quite some time.
I have kept these previously published chapters in their original form, despite the fact that certain references have become a bit obsolete. My enthusiasm about the Tea Party movement, particularly in Chapter 6, expressed circa 2011, seems over-optimistic in retrospect and did not anticipate Donald Trump’s unleashing of the conservative Id. My celebration of the blog era in Chapter 3 survived the fading of the blogs in favor of social media, only to become relevant again in the revival of paid blogging on the Substack platform. (TIA Daily itself survives in the form of The Tracinski Letter, which you can now find on Substack.)
But as I point out below, this was never meant to be a mere report on the current state of the world, but to be an exploration of the nature and causes of progress as such. That is one respect in which these essays have aged well.
I was into progress before it was cool. Since then, thanks to the work of popularizers like Steven Pinker, the trends I discuss in Chapter 1 have become widely recognized, and a whole field of “progress studies” has sprung up. The articles below were written for an Objectivist audience and will make the most sense to those who are familiar with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. But it also contains ideas that I think are relevant to this wider inquiry.
The extraordinary story of man’s rise from the cave to the heights of modern civilization is the story of human history. It deserves to be taken seriously and provided with deep and serious explanations, including philosophical explanations.
This is my contribution to that effort.
Buy What Went Right? to get the full theory.