From Mao to Now: A ‘Progress’ Report on the New Millennium

December 28, 2020 Updated: December 29, 2020


Whenever one hears the dreaded pleasantries “diversity,” “tolerance,” or “inclusion,” one knows that another of one’s fundamental democratic liberties is about to be rescinded by the revolutionary guard of progressive orthodoxy. Having witnessed the progressive—in both senses of the word—erosion of the freedoms of speech, religion, and association in Canada, which have fallen faster than Cold-War dominoes, I now hear myself repeating the words of Shakespeare’s Edgar: “The worst is not / So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’”

Only a dystopian novelist could have foreseen all the moral and institutional novelties that have been foisted on the rest of us in the past couple of decades, or still await us over the sunny horizon at the end of the road to the post-modernist neo-Marxist paradise.

No, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. And certainly only a perennial naïf or historical illiterate could fail to recognize that where we are going is where we have always gone, whenever a cadre of fanatics with an idea for the creation of the New Man and the re-engineering of society, along with the revolutionary ruthlessness to impose it, has achieved a hegemony—to apply the cant of progressives to themselves—over the legislature, the courts, the media, and the educational establishment.

Revolutionary Justice and the Progressive Terror

The history of modern progressivism is too sordidly complex to retail here, but the aetiology of this risibly self-congratulatory term in the official propaganda of the Soviet Union and Maoist China is surely instructive. Having inherited from their communist totalitarian forbears the self-righteous certitude that they have proprietary rights to virtue and truth, contemporary progressives continue to occult a Nietzschean will to power behind a nimbus of moral superiority. In the good old days of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, non-conforming opinion was condemned as “bourgeois,” “anti-revolutionary.” Today, the enemies of progress are denounced as “bigoted,” “racist,” “sexist,” or “homophobic,” and thereupon subjected to all the latest instruments of revolutionary justice.

Non-progressive opinion—i.e., any criticism of homosexuality, transgenderism, radical feminism, or Black Lives Matter—is criminalized as “hate speech”; ideological censorship is now euphemized as academic “trigger warnings,” “speech codes,” or Big Tech “fact-checking,” or effected by political mobs who have exchanged the brown and black shirts of last century’s utopian fanatics for the more fashionable hoodies and balaclavas of the millennial social justice movement. (As in Lenin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, the political architects of the New Society have always been able to depend upon university-educated youth to prosecute the campaigns of violence necessary for their ascent to power and the reification of their beneficent vision.)

Lenin’s and Mao’s paranoid loathing of the bourgeoisie, moreover, has once again mutated, as it did a century ago, from class hatred into race hatred, in the post-modernist diabolization of whites as the inheritors of “privilege,” and along with it a collective guilt transmitted through the blood, demanding rituals of expiation. In the sacred narrative of the Church of Progress (which divides the moral cosmos into oppressors and oppressed and is thus as reductively simplistic as Marxist historical determinism), whites are the racial bogeymen responsible for the world’s social and economic woes (as the Jews were for the National Socialists, who had learned from their communist tutors the political usefulness of scapegoating a collective enemy).

In the speed with which revolutionary justice is meted out, modern progressives have improved marginally upon their predecessors. The crime of offending militant activists or any of those among the proliferating categories of the oppressed now leads to instantaneous dismissal and ostracism—even if the thought-criminal has sentenced himself to the obligatory struggle session, grovelled histrionically, and professed his rehabilitated solidarity with the revolutionary ethos—whereas Lenin and Stalin had to go to all the trouble of organizing a plausible show trial. (I am aware that there is no Cheka or Gulag in the post-modernist West. To those who point this out as proof that I have utterly lost my mind, I reply only that their absence in a putative democracy is hardly reassuring.)

I admit, besides, that thus far in the 21st century, the casualties of the progressive terror (those who have been jailed, fined, hounded out of office, fired from their jobs, officially censured, shouted down by “anti-fascist” fascist mobs, intimidated into silence, or sentenced to sensitivity training or to other re-educative modalities for the impurity of their thoughts) have probably only numbered in the tens of thousands in North America. The vast majority of conservatives, traditional Christians, Jews, or Muslims, like the dissidents in the revolutionary utopias of the previous century, have avoided such career- or life-destroying penances by prudential self-censorship. But the numbers will ineluctably grow, and sooner or later, no one will be safe from the vigilance committees of the progressive state.

Until an occidental Solzhenitsyn undertakes to catalogue its protean structures of ideological coercion, and a westward-facing Ronald Reagan steps forward to demand their tearing down, it is hard for the refuseniks of today’s revolutionary truth to know what to do. For the past several decades, I have consoled myself by poking fun at university safe zones, crying closets, trigger warnings, self-identified gender, state-compelled confessions of progressive dogma, and the whole repertoire of the self-satirizing phenomena of post-modernist humbug.

But while humour may be temporarily therapeutic, it will not dissolve the intellectual chill, reassure ordinary citizens that they can say what they think without arousing the human rights constabulary into action, or restore any of the other lost liberties that we seem to have to fight for again and again.

Harley Price has taught courses in religion, philosophy, literature, and history at the University of Toronto, U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, and Tyndale University College. He blogs at

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.