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Progressivism (from Latin prōgressus , genitive -ūs , m. "Progress", prōgredior "I step forward") describes a political philosophy that is based on the basic idea of progress in the fields of science , technology , economic development and organization ; it is thus the counter-philosophy to conservatism . Progressivism had its origin in the era of the Enlightenment and is based on the conviction that positive progress in the areas of civilization can be achieved through developments .


Progressivism emerged as a political current as a response to the social changes during the period of industrialization . The extreme social inequality that went hand in hand with the industrial development process gave rise to fear that, as a result of the huge monopoly corporations that had emerged and because of the violent unrest between workers and capitalists, an economic and social situation could develop that would hinder further progress .



19th century

Progressivism ensured the development of a German social and national state in the 19th and 20th centuries .

After the failed liberal revolution in 1848, several parties formed from the old liberals . A large part of the members went into the German Progressive Party . The latter rejected the increase in Prussian military spending , from which the Prussian constitutional conflict resulted. They were in opposition to the new Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck , who continued to rule without a budget. Since this successfully shaped the German wars of unification , the situation led to a change of mood in which the DFP lost members and voters.

In the party, the number of those who, mostly for economic reasons, was more important to political unity than to insistence on the previous liberal legal position grew. As a result, they turned away from the DFP and joined the National Liberal Party , which worked with Bismarck .

The German People's Party (DtVP), also known as the South German People's Party , was a left-liberal split from the Progressive Party. In contrast to the National Liberal Party, it put the commitment to classic liberal freedom rights over German unification under Bismarck.

After the founding of the German Empire , the DFP set accents in economic policy and in the dismantling of trade restrictions, and Bismarck's policy was supported in the Kulturkampf .

The DtVP, however, represented federal structures even after the establishment of the German Empire and called for democratic reforms, in particular a strengthening of the parliament. Its members campaigned for a separation of state and church, but rejected Bismarck's anti-Catholic exceptional laws and “ socialist laws ”. The development of social legislation that was initiated by Bismarck and supported by the National Liberals and laid the foundation for a welfare state was, however, supported. The majority of the party consisted mainly of people from the smaller handicrafts and trades, farmers and employees, the party leadership was dominated by academics and entrepreneurs.

In 1884 the German Progressive Party merged with the Liberal Association , a left-wing split from the National Liberal Party, which campaigned against the reintroduction of the protective tariff and was supported by free-trade economic and liberal educational circles, to form the German Free-minded Party . Representatives of the Liberal Association previously demanded - following the example of the British Liberal Party - that all liberal parties should join forces in order to prevent troublesome trench warfare. This failed, however, because of the Bismarck's benevolent attitude towards the National Liberals. After the subsequent elections, however, it finally became clear that cooperation with the National Liberals was imperative if one wanted to pursue a consistent course.

The association hoped to be able to achieve parliamentarianism . Furthermore, he stood for the safeguarding of the freedom of the press, assembly and association, a separation of state and church and last but not least the equality of all religious communities. He also advocated massive tax cuts, the abolition of Bismarck's protective tariff policy and the strengthening of workers' self-help associations. He vehemently rejected Bismarck's and also the social laws proposed by the socialists because, in their opinion, they weakened the workers' initiative to help themselves.

After Bismarck's dismissal in 1890, the DtVP gained influence through successful participation in a constitutional and administrative reform in Württemberg . In Baden, the DtVP worked closely with the newly founded Liberal People's Party from 1893 .

This emerged from the remaining left wing of the German Liberal Party after - although the German Liberal Party had been successful - the tensions between the "left" former progressives and the "right" of the former secessionists from the Liberal Association had grown. The conflict had come to the surface in view of the supportive vote for the army bill of Chancellor Leo von Caprivi, which had been directed against the rest of the party line. The former secessionists justified their behavior with the fact that a vote in favor of this proposal was mandatory in the common party program of 1884. The dissenters were then expelled from the parliamentary group by a narrow majority.

The excluded, however, received unexpected support from former secessionists and a group of old progressives who declared their departure from the party and formed the Liberal Association .

From then on, the DtVP and FVp formulated a joint election call. Together they stood for a democratic right to vote in the Reichstag also in the individual states and for a parliamentarization of the Reich. They also called for diets for MPs and a fairer division of constituencies. Last but not least, an annual approval of the army budget was sought. Higher army expenditures were consistently rejected. The party was similarly critical of colonial policy and the building of the navy. In terms of economic policy, government intervention should be limited. On the other hand, the party wanted to legally recognize trade unions and called for the promotion of self-help institutions and the abolition of the privileges of large landowners. Due to the radical Manchester liberalism of Eugen Richter and other views, an implementation of this program was not possible, as one would have relied on cooperation with forces such as the Social Democratic Party of Germany .

In contrast, the Liberal Association developed primarily economically liberal goals. The confidence of voters in left-wing liberalism in the Reichstag elections in 1893 was shaken overall, so that both parties together still lost voter favor. A substantive rapprochement of the National Liberals existed through support for the naval and colonial policy of the German Reich government.

20th century

A merger of the German People's Party with the bourgeois-liberal “left-wing parties” (historical context) such as the Free People's Party and the Free Union stood in the way of Eugen Richter from the FVp. Only after his death in 1906 did the cooperation talks between the various parties result in the “Frankfurt Minimal Program”.

At the FVp, in view of Richter's death, things turned around. The naval proposal and the colonial policy were approved, and the situation in terms of political cooperation was constantly changing. Little by little, a majority of the parliamentary group and local clubs joined the FVg. In 1910 they united to form the Progressive People's Party .

This stood for a further development of the electoral law, a fair division of electoral districts, the development of a liberally structured imperial constitution, parliamentarization, lowering of protective tariffs, progressive taxation of income, cooperation between parliaments, governments and self-help organizations to improve the economic and social situation of workers and white-collar workers, strengthening of occupational health and safety, measures to protect against unemployment and at the international level, the expansion of international law and arbitration institutions. In addition, the interests of the export industry, trade, banks, handicrafts and the trade were represented with economically liberal tendencies, but Manchester liberalism gave way to a certain orientation towards the welfare state. A renewal of left-wing liberalism was based on the fact that self-help was no longer a dogma, but was supplemented by demands for state regulations.

With the dissolution of the Empire during the November Revolution, the FVP merged with the left wing of the National Liberal Party to form the German Democratic Party . They called for a unified federal state and a revision of the Versailles Treaty , but then broke up. In the Federal Republic of Germany , the staff was mostly in the FDP and CDU .

The German People's Party emerged from the rest of the National Liberal Party after the November Revolution . The DVP also criticized the Versailles Treaty and the burdens associated with it, as well as a tax policy that particularly burdened the middle class. With her participation in government, the consequences of hyperinflation could be mitigated and the Weimar Republic consolidated. Above all, it saw itself as a liberal party, which was expressed in the fact that in its politics the freedom of the individual from state interference was more important than the enforcement of majority decisions against the interests of individuals.

An active urban and housing policy was implemented that enables decent living in the big city and takes care of social hot spots; an active labor, women and child protection policy in the companies; support for trade unions and consumer protection. In addition, the creation of state social authorities, apart from church and civic volunteer work, belonged. The creation of the technical emergency aid , the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund Germany , the voluntary labor service and other civilian examiners, technicians or paramedics as well as an order for fire extinguishing were part or support of progressive politics.

United States

Political progressivism

By 1900, belonged Progressives in the US to the proponents of both an anti- cartel policy, strict regulation of corporations and monopolies, and government-funded environmental protection measures (u. A. The establishment of national parks ). A right to vote for women, introduced nationwide in the USA in 1920, was also one of their goals.

On November 3, 1896, the Republican William McKinley won the presidential election in the United States against the Democrat William Jennings Bryan . The election marked the beginning of progressivism in the United States and Republican dominance that lasted until 1932.

Progressivism had supporters in the big cities as well as among the rural population. In rural America, the independent smallholders fought against the power of the banks and big landowners, against the gold standard in monetary policy and for state support for agriculture.

Many cultural workers and journalists supported progressivism with educational works and investigative journalism ( muckraking ). Is known z. B. The jungle by Upton Sinclair , who describes the hygienic and social ills in the slaughterhouses of Chicago.

The Progressives vehemently advocated the nationalization and “Americanization” of immigrants and the rest of the residents. Well-functioning cities and municipalities should be redesigned for this purpose. This policy attacked the ethnic-religious identity of the people, which particularly affected Germans . Closely connected with this was the demand for immigration restrictions and the question of an independent and active imperial policy. This was accompanied by a strengthening of the federal level of the United States of America in Washington, DC at the expense of the federal states .

As a result, there was a shift in the American meaning of the word liberal . Previously, this meant exclusively state-skeptical, classic-liberal positions that emphasized personal responsibility , but the word liberal soon developed into the epitome of big government (→  statism ). As a result of this contrast, libertarian was used in the context of a radically liberal limited government philosophy, according to which the state should largely stay out of the human environment (→ “ night watchman state ”, minarchism ).

Nowadays, parts of the Democratic Party and the Green Party refer to the progressive legacy. This includes the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and the Great Society under President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s.

Progressivism in Education

Educational progressivism is still very much anchored in schools and colleges in the United States. He sees people above all as a social being who learns best in a social, application-oriented context together with others. The educational philosophy behind it and also numerous practical school experiments were inspired by the educational reformer and Professor John Dewey . To this day, Dewey is regarded by US educators as one of the most important academic leaders in educational science.

Progressive pedagogy is less interested in a classic educational canon, but rather seeks the learning experience in the here and now. Experiential learning , learning by doing and project work are just as important as critical thinking, problem-solving thinking and group discussions. Discovering, understanding and acting are more important than just acting. Progressive educators see their responsibility in training learners to be socially responsible and democratically acting people.

The American movement was partly strongly influenced by the German kindergarten and European Montessori and Pestalozzi movements .

Overall, progressivism is particularly oriented towards the learner, not the knowledge or learning goal or the priorities of the teacher. This resulted in interfaces to developmental psychology.

The “progressive” pedagogy continues to have an effect up to the present day. Goals such as those contained in the Bush Administration's “No Child Left Behind” program are shaped by the key goal of objective test success; Teachers should encourage their students to achieve certain standards in objectified performance tests. The enforcement of centralized testing dates back to the Progressive Era . During the First World War, all American recruits were forced to take an intelligence test for the first time.

Critics of progressive education such as the former New York teacher John Taylor Gatto see the lowering of academic standards, as it has been propagated since the early 20th century, the beginning of a transformation of the school into an instrument of behavior modification and education for conformity , that denies most children access to the spiritual traditions of the West and thus prevents their development of critical faculties. At the private elite boarding schools, which are attended by the children of the upper class, however, they continue to teach according to the traditional curriculum .

See also


  • Hans Fenske: German party history. From the beginning to the present. Schöningh, Paderborn 1994, ISBN 3-506-99464-6
  • Peter Lösche: Brief history of the German parties, Stuttgart, 1993
  • Thomas Nipperdey: German History 1866-1918. Vol. 2: Power state before democracy. Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-44038-X
  • Walter Tormin: History of the German parties since 1848. Stuttgart, 1967
  • Wolfgang Schmierer: German Progressive Party. In: Gerhard Taddey (Hrsg.): Lexicon of German history . People, events, institutions. From the turn of the times to the end of the 2nd World War. 2nd, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-520-80002-0 .
  • Daniel T. Rodgers: Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age , paperback, Harvard University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-674-00201-6

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Walter Nugent : Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction , Oxford University Press (2010), ISBN 978-0-19-531106-8 , page 2
  2. ^ Jürgen Heideking, Christof Mauch, History of the USA , Tübingen and Basel. 5th edition 2007, p. 212 and 213
  3. ^ John Taylor Gatto: The Underground History of American Education. An Intimate Investigation into the Prison of Modern Schooling. The Oxford Village Press, New York 2006.