Social Imaginaries

Volume 4, Issue 1, Spring 2018

Festschrift for Peter Wagner

Johann P. Arnason
Pages 171-189

Questioning Progress
Retreat, Revision or Revival?

The paper discusses some aspects of Peter Wagner’s argument in Progress: A Reconstruction, and relates them to the work of other authors, especially Hans Blumenberg and Marcel Gauchet. Blumenberg’s view on the Christian background to modern ideas of progress, as consisting in inherited questions rather than persisting beliefs in new guise, is accepted; it serves to contextualize the diverse and changing understandings of progress. They develop in interaction with the legacy of traditions, the unexpected and challenging results of growing knowledge, and the dynamics unfolding in different spheres of social life. The political sphere, where progress can be reinterpreted in terms of revolution and become a theme of political religions, is a particularly significant context. In that regard, the question of Communism and the need to examine its trajectory more closely is raised. This historical experience has a general bearing on the problematic of progress; it also concerns the particular turn taken after World War II, with the rise of Communist China, which had major implications for perspectives on progress. On a more general level, the issue of totalitarian regimes and their complicated links to the democratic imaginary should be included in a comprehensive discussion of progress and its paradoxes. Here Marcel Gauchet’s conception of democracy as a mixed regime proves to be helpful. The final conclusion is that present conditions suggest a more pessimistic view of progress than the one proposed by Wagner.

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