Why I am not a Progressive

Well, in many ways that is the theme of this entire blog, but I just want to point out how although the watchword of the modern Progressive is equality, that commitment is fundamentally insincere. I was recently reading Plain Tales From the Hills, a collection of short stories by Rudyard Kipling, and in “Kidnapped,” he writes, only half tongue-in-cheek:

Properly speaking, Government should establish a Matrimonial Department, efficiently officered, with a Jury of Matrons, a Judge of the Chief Court, a Senior Chaplain, and an Awful Warning, in the shape of a love-match that has gone wrong, chained to the trees in the courtyard. All marriages should be made through the Department, which might be subordinate to the Educational Department, under the same penalty as that attaching to the transfer of land without a stamped document. But Government won’t take suggestions. It pretends that it is too busy.

I made this suggestion myself, at the age of about 15, to an ultra-Progressive friend of mine (the kind who thinks that the family is a pernicious institution because it undermines equality of opportunity) and didn’t get a satisfactory answer. My point was something along the lines of Samuel Johnson:

How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!

Now, if you are really serious about market failure in the economic sphere, if you really think that the government can intervene to good effect in economic relations, you should believe that it can intervene to good effect in social relations. Progressives love to talk about things like “social justice” and “social benefits” but despite their names, these are economic terms. “Social benefits” doesn’t mean more friendships or more respect, it means a cheque from HMG. Now remember, a lot of progressive justifications for their economic ideas are the way they redound socially. For instance, their modern bible, The Spirit Level, justifies progressive economic policies because they (allegedly) make us all happier and healthier. Now, I have no intention of joining the debate over that book, my point is simply that if that is the critique, it should be consistent across the board.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote – and I can’t find the quote, so excuse the paraphrase – that every human being should be guaranteed to be brought into the world in a loving family, to have happy friendships, to have a fulfilling job, and so on. And the reason he cared about giving everyone a job was not for economic, but for social reasons – so that people would feel needed and useful, that they were accomplishing something with their lives. We might well see this as a natural extension of progressive human rights manifestos, such as UDHR and ECHR. Progressives will generally be sympathetic to this as a concept. But when you start talking about the Matrimonial Department or Friendship Quotas, they run a mile.

Now, to be clear, I do not favour setting up a Matrimonial Department. But I don’t go around claiming “market failure” at every turn, I’m happy to allow people to make their own decisions and let the chips fall where they may.

My view is that progressives are deeply insincere, not in the sense that they don’t believe what they are arguing for, but in the sense that they don’t believe their own arguments. They do believe in economic equality, but not for the reasons that they like to put forward. This is why they are so sensitive to so-called “dog whistles” on the right – as practitioners of fundamentally insincere politics, they naturally project their own insincerity onto others. The real creed of progressivism is “From Each According To His Needs, To Each According To His Abilities,” but seen as a moral commandment, not an economic one. What they care about is a redistribution of property along those lines, and they are prepared to use any arguments to get there – and to be fair, they are hardly alone in using arguments as soldiers. So although the logic of their arguments might support these social schemes, they don’t care, because the arguments aren’t what they really believe in.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] I have written before, I regard the standard leftist concern for “inequality” as deeply insincere. As I […]

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