The term progressive is thrown around a lot in discussions of politics and sociology, but it is never defined or explained. It kind of sounds beneficial and good, but does it actually mean anything?
The literal definition is simple: it means related to going forward, or advancing. But the problem is… going forward or advancing toward what? There is no specific or even general objective or context involved in the definition of the word.
That lack of objectives and context is precisely why people use it in discussions of politics and sociology. Lacking any actual objective, people can use it to rally support for whatever they want. Everyone thinks of their own ideology or objectives as progressive. Bob and Fred could have diametrically opposed objectives, but each perceives their own as progressive, and so each is exactly as entitled as the other to use the term progressive for such purposes.
In modern Western politics, the left wingers (I’ll get to that soon) like to consider themselves progressive, and throw that word around frequently. However, the only thing progressive about their ideology is that any step forward they make is a progression toward whatever the heck they want. It is not objectively progressive in any way. Consider the many examples in recent times of self-proclaimed Liberals trying to ban ideas and words of which they disapprove. That is not at all a progression towards liberalism, freedom, or anything warm and fuzzy like that; it is a progression towards fascism.
In short, in discussions of politics and sociology, progressive simply has no meaning. It’s nothing more than a rallying cry, a meaningless banner, around which like-minded people will congregate.
Left versus right.
In my estimation, the most common assignment or accusation of political and social ideology (apart from the idiotic cry of “Racist!”) is referring to people or groups as left or right. But as with so many similar terms, the actual meaning is rarely if ever given; it is merely assumed.
As for history, people generally assert that the terms referred to the side of the room on which people sat in the French Assembly. I’ve never seen any serious historical references for this, but it is very commonly assumed. But whatever the historical roots of the terms, the reality is that the meanings have changed a lot over the years to suit the purposes of whichever people and groups have been throwing the terms around.
If you doubt that the meanings of left and right wing politics have changed to suit the narratives and goals of the people using the terms, consider more recent history. Prior to World War Two, Germany saw the rise of the National Socialist Workers Party (NAZIs). There are a couple of big clues in that political party’s name. First, they were socialists. Socialism is traditionally associated with people and ideologies labelled as left wing, such as rights of blue collar workers and poor people. Second, there’s that “Workers” word in the name, which, again, kind of indicates an association with workers. Political groups which (at least nominally) associate themselves with workers traditionally seek the support of the lower and larger socio-economic classes, which politically has generally been the province of what is most often referred to as left wing politics. But now we have the completely reversed situation, wherein those steadfastly declaring themselves leftists in Western nations are referring to anyone who doesn’t agree with them as racists, NAZIs, or even Hitler. Meanwhile, the USA’s right wingers or conservatives are struggling to conserve (hence the name) the fundamental freedoms upon which their nation was established, such as free speech, against the left wingers who have been ferociously (sometimes violently) trying to silence any words and ideas of which they disapprove (an activity embraced and utilised wholeheartedly by the fascist regimes of 1930s and 1940s Europe).
That quick and easy, you can see how the meanings can be twisted within a few decades to suit whatever political narrative is being pushed by one group or another.
Given the lack of association with historical facts, and the lack of concrete association with any specific ideology (as we’ve seen, it changes and even reverses over time), it seems reasonable to see the whole left versus right appellation as nothing more than another set of Us versus Them labels.