They were was progressive as they could be in their own time. We are as limited by our sensibilities now as they were then. We all have limits to what we can imagine, even you, Sci. Will we be criticized by future historians for not making social leaps that we aren't facing now and can't even imagine?
I hope so!
The past is what it is, what happened happened, and we can learn from the past without faulting them for their limitations that they couldn't overcome or even see. They weren't telling lies to themselves. They were just limited in their understanding.
Of course they were telling lies to themselves. Men have always known the full humanity of the women they were oppressing; slavers have always known the full humanity of the people they held in bondage; the wealthy have always known the full humanity of those they kept in poverty. And all have feared their subjects' rebellions throughout history.
Saying you have rule by the people when you're only letting an elite actually rule? That's a lie you're telling yourself. And future societies should recognize that lie.