According to the eminent historian J. B. Bury, the idea of human progress “is based on an interpretation of history which regards men as slowly advancing … in a definite and desirable direction, and infers that this progress will continue indefinitely.” Bury contends that progress, in this sense, is a distinctively modern notion—one that does not begin to take shape until the 16th and 17th centuries, whereas other historians, such as Robert Nisbet, attribute the idea to Greek, Roman, and Christian writers long before the advent of the modern era.

A libertarian theory of progress is one that stresses the role of liberty in the progressive improvement of humankind. Whatever position we may take in the historical controversies about the origin of the idea of ...

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