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Words that think for us

Things can only get better, can't they?

By Edward Skidelsky   May 2010

The launch of the “progressive conservatism” project by Demos last year signalled a new milestone in the decline of political language. So meaningless have both terms become that few people noticed the oxymoron. The Conservative party has long since ceased to be conservative. And calling something “progressive” is like calling it “cool”—it creates a frisson of modernity without committing you to anything.

The word “progressive” once meant something a bit more definite. In the early 20th century, it stood for a constellation of ideas on the margins of the socialist movement. Progressive schools such as Summerhill and Bedales ditched…

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