Document: Herman Dooyeweerd, The Criteria of Progressive and Reactionary Tendencies in History (n.d.).

Excerpt: The commemoration of the jubilee of one hundred and fifty years of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences and Humanities gives occasion for historical reflection. It will not be a matter for surprise, therefore, that in considering the question as to which general subject might be best suited to this commemoration I have chosen a fundamental problem of the philosophy of history, the problem, namely, whether we may point to objective criteria whereby it will be possible to distinguish between so called reactionary or retrograde tendencies in history.

In the conflict of politics the opposite terms “progressive” and “reactionary” are often used in a demagogical sense. In earlier days the liberal parties laid claim to the designation “progressive”. Later on the socialist parties did the same. Nowadays the totalitarian parties demand the exclusive right to call themselves “progressive” in contrast to all the others that reject their ideology. But it stands to reason that these latter do not accept the designation “reactionary”. They, too, in general stress the progressive character of their political programs, at least in so far as they have not abandoned the belief in progress in its politico‐historical sense. This situation testifies to different views of the so called demands of historical development. Yet it is unquestionable that in both cases really historical standards or norms of historical development are at issue. Can such standards have an objective basis in the inner nature of history itself, or are they nothing more than unverifiable measures of a merely subjective appreciation of the course of a historical process? It is to this question that I shall devote some observations this morning.

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