I'm TAing a class called "Progressive Alternatives", an exploration of the situation of the left, and an attempt to definite its future goals. If anyone would like to be involved in the wiki/discussion board, get in touch.
One student asked, "What does it mean to be Progressive?", positing that it has something to do with progress. I'm half-crossposting my response.
I think one answer is more than we can hope for, but I don't think that progressivism has much to do with progress. Progressivism is a catchy title, and sounds like an appropriate opposite to conservativism, but they aren't opposites anyway. Several socially conservative values are liberal, and the right's approach to economics seems to have almost nothing to do with conserving anything. Both sides want political change, and both the left and right would recognize things they like and dislike about different kinds of progress.
There seem to be two approaches to this problem. One holds that the left has a vision of a better society, based on personal empowerment. That society would be flexible and changing, but it wouldn't necessarily be characterized by aggregate progress. Sachs seems to take the other approach: the left has underlying values-- of justice and stewardship mostly, I think.
There are plenty of pitfalls here: associating progressivism too closely with current politics, trying to delineate the camps too starkly, or building out different axes that plot the space. Does anyone have a statement that they think pegs either left's ends or its values?
My progressivism is closely tied to ecocentrism, and the recognition we have responsibilities to the whole continuum of life, including other species, other places, and other times.
One of the books originally planned for the course on this topic was "Left & Right" by Norberto Bobbio. I haven't read it, but I'm curious if anyone has and can report the answer.