Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Hidebound Progressives

It is very odd that progressives — those who believe most strongly in the malleability of mankind and who thereupon push for unprecedented change in order to engender a significantly new and better society — are often compelled to express the opinion that some major aspects of society do not undergo any significant changes at all. Thus, if one talks of the decline in civility or of the increase in crime, one gets the stock-moronic response that “it’s always been that way”. One would think that such a response would be the last thing one would hear coming from the mouths of men who profess to believe not only that mankind is very changeable but also that a thing’s always having been a certain way is no justification for acquiescence or complacency in the light of its continuing existence, nor a barrier to its improvement, but rather even a spur to a determined fight against its very existence — and yet it is often the first thing one hears them say! But they are not called progressives for nothing. They do not believe in mere change, they believe in progress, that is, change for the better, as an infallible function of their ideas, and so, whilst their ideas predominate, at least as far as they can see them in policy and practice, they are loath to see any changes for the worse, except, notably, in the behaviour of reactionaries or foot-draggers, those dreadful people who oppose or appear indifferent to the promise of the better society to come.

5 comments:

David Duff said...

Only this morning I was wondering, over at my place, whether or not you had got lost in the Black Forest, but here you are back again. Welcome home!

"[Progrssives] are loath to see any changes for the worse, except, notably, in the behaviour of reactionaries or foot-draggers"

Tell me about it! The brutes seem to forget all their liberality when they come across Stonehenge reactionary relics like me, as my comments boxes will attest.

Deogolwulf said...

Thanks, Mr Duff.

". . .as my comments boxes will attest."

Ah, but you are providing a valuable public service.

Chris Roach said...

In a discussion of gay marriage, Andrew Sullivan remarks, “So the Creator of the universe is no match for liberal judges! And 5,000 years can be erased in half a decade. Whoever knew the judiciary had so much power?”

This is a common theme of many liberal defenders of changing long-established institutions. If an inherited, historical institution were worth anything, it would survive when loosened from the supports of ostracism, legislation, and other social means of enforcement. But is this so obvious? We know that social institutions often take a long time to develop, that their support in a polity’s laws lends them respectability and permanence, and that societies with dissensus on basic social morality often devolve into cruder forms of dissensus, including social and political violence. Eighteenth Century Sicily, Lebanon in the 1970s, and Modern Somalia come to mind.

In other words, we know that even universally supported moral norms–against murder, rape, and theft, for example–can become undone when life becomes characterized by dissensus on fundamental questions of social morality. And we also know that disagreement about basic norms can easily lead to the triumph of self-serving ideas that support a society’s elites or to the triumph of the norm that is the least strenuous to follow–both situations that often prevail in the case of exchanges between cultures.

It is not for nothing that Plato, in his "Laws" suggested that foreign travel should be restricted to the very old, as they are less likely to be overly influenced by foreign practices. The theme is as old as Odysseus and the Sirens. This is to say that the very controversial and constructed aspects of our traditions makes it doubly important that they are presented in song and story and even the laws as inviolate, unchanging. That is morality includes matters of social agreement that must be protected from seductive calls for change that could lead to wider corrosion of social life.

Far from proving that a norm is too weak to survive, such buttressing is necessary to counteract the universal human tendency of hubris, specifically the hubris of short term thinking, fascination with novelty, and underestimation of the impact of change. To catalog those principles that require no maintenance or that survive completely independently of any human effort to sustain them from decay and corruption would be a very short list indeed.

Good and once-strong things that have not “stood the test of time” under the influence of liberal ideology include American structures of limited government, monogamy, and the traditional American concepts of individualism and self-reliance. We’ve seen these beliefs and practices undermined in living memory. But we’re told to be sanguine about the latest assault in the form of gay marriage on the basis of a Darwinian kind of principle that is merely an article of faith: that without support anything that is damaged ultimately deserved to be damaged. Even Spengler wouldn’t have taken things that far.

One wonders if Sullivan and his liberal peers take us for fools, or if in their minds all of these declining standards are good things, the end of the oppressive influence of the past. There is something fundamental at stake here, whether one thinks anything in the past that has been damaged or has disappeared may have been good and that our lives would have been enriched if it were still present and vital. In other words, what is at stake on this broader issue of the need for supporting traditional institutions is whether or not one can really call himself a conservative.

Your post seems to hit on this from the other angle, the myth that nothing has gotten worse when it so clearly has. When things reach the absolute bottom, we'll be told that we're resisting the inevitable and living in the past, no doubt.

Lord Higham- Murray said...

...If an inherited, historical institution were worth anything, it would survive when loosened from the supports of ostracism, legislation, and other social means of enforcement. But is this so obvious?...

This is not so. When there is a concerted campaign to suppress one tradition, e.g. our Judaeo-Christian tradition and to force-feed anotehr, e.g. gay relationships laughably being called "marriages", then the progressive nobbling of legislation et al leads to a crumbling in the face of such fierce pressure.

Pietr said...

If you don't start your own tradition you aren't really trying.
Furthermore you have lost the point of the so-called Judeo-Christian mullarkey.
Politics is the thing that limits our ability.
Politics must be licked into shape, not used by one faction or another.
Let's face it, I couldn't give a damn about other people's traditions unless they match mine, still less want to impose mine or theirs.