Although described in Aristotelian terminology, the belief in progress is completely different from the attitude of Aristotle and the whole ancient world. In Aristotle the movement from potentiality to actuality is vertical, going from the lower to the higher forms of being. In modern progressivism the movement from potentiality to actuality is horizontal, temporal, futuristic. And this is the main form in which the self-affirmation of modern Western humanity manifested itself. It was courage, for it had to take into itself an anxiety which grew with the growing knowledge of the universe and our world within it.
The earth had been thrown out of the center of the world by Copernicus and Galileo. It had become small, and in spite of the “heroic affect” with which Giordano Bruno dived into the infinity of the universe a feeling of being lost in the ocean of cosmic bodies and among the unbreakable rules of their motion crept into the hearts of many. The courage of the modern period was not a simple optimism. It had to take into itself the deep anxiety of nonbeing in a universe without limits and without a humanly understandable meaning. This anxiety could be taken into the courage but it could not be removed, and it came to the surface any time when the courage was weakened. This is the decisive source of the courage to be as a part in the creative process of nature and history, as it developed in Western civilization and, most conspicuously, in the new world. But it underwent many changes before it turned into the conformistic type of the courage to be as a part which characterizes present-day American democracy.
The cosmic enthusiasm of the Renaissance vanished under the influence of Protestantism and rationalism, and when it reappeared in the classic-romantic movements of the late i8th and early ipth centuries it was not able to gain much influence in industrial society. The synthesis between individuality and participation, based on the cosmic enthusiasm, was dissolved. A permanent tension developed between the courage to be as oneself as it was implied in Renaissance individualism and the courage to be as a part as it was implied in Renaissance universalism. Extreme forms of liberalism were challenged by reactionary attempts to re-establish a medieval collectivism or by Utopian attempts to produce a new organic society. Liberalism and democracy could clash in two ways: liberalism could undermine the democratic control of society or democracy could become tyrannical and a transition to totalitarian collectivism. Besides these dynamic and violent movements a more static and unaggressive development could take place: the rise of a democratic conformity which restrains all extreme forms of the courage to be as oneself without destroying the liberal elements that distinguish it from collectivism. This was, above all, the way of Great Britain.