The Notion of Progress in Perspective
Charles Beard begins his introduction to J.B. Bury’s The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry Into Its Origin and Growth by observing that ‘the world is largely ruled by ideas, true and false’ (1932: ix). The notion of progress is a pervasive modern idea, true or false, which has assumed global proportions and has come to rule human thought not only in the West but across the world. For traditional Nagas, progress understood as rapid change and often disruptive as well as destructive to social structure was something to be feared and diligently guarded against when the West intruded their world. However, due to unrelenting efforts by British colonial agents and American missionaries, the pervasive modern idea began to gradually engulf the Nagas, as one missionary noted below the helpless attempt of the Naga leaders in resisting the conquering force:
Robert Nisbet, in his History of the Idea of Progress, observed that the idea of progress has been the most important driving force in Western civilization (1980). Likewise, Beard predicted that of all the ideas that have given shape and substance in both private and public discourse, ‘none is more significant or likely to exert more influence in the future than the concept of progress’ (Bury 1932: xi). Similarly, Richard Norgaard argued that the ‘idea of progress has been the key to change – personal, economic, institutional and political – in the Western and westernized world’ (1994: 49).