by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 24
June 2021
Response
07:00

Have we reached peak progressive?

With few things left to liberate, progressivism is starting to eat itself
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

Tyler Cowen devotes his latest Bloomberg column to Conquest’s Second Law of Politics, which states that “Any organisation not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.”

There are certainly many examples of organisations veering off to the Left. Only this week, we’ve had the spectacle of the Royal Academy of Arts cancelling an artist because of her entirely reasonable views about sex and gender. 

The Academy has now apologised to Jess de Wahls (interviewed here for UnHerd), but only after a public outcry. The episode just adds to the impression that one institution after another is falling to an ever-growing band of radical activists.

From a US perspective, Cowen cites other examples, including charitable foundations, universities and woke corporations.

However, he makes an important point when the says that the Left-wing drift doesn’t apply to every issue. Indeed, in regard to the economic issues, woke corporations are as capitalist as they ever were. Judging by the size of executive bonuses, the socialist dawn is still a long way off. Indeed, one suspects that the real purpose of all that woke posturing is to serve as a distraction from good old-fashioned greed. 

On social and cultural issues, the Left is obviously making more headway. And yet, as Cowen argues, the long march through the institutions doesn’t necessarily translate into popular support. “Left-wing views find it easier to win in spheres of reporting, talk and rhetoric” he says, but the non-chattering classes have their own views — and also the vote. As the Left keeps discovering to its surprise, the electorate is not Twitter. 

I’d add that, despite the dynamics that work in the Left’s favour, there are some counter-dynamics. The most important of these is that the liberal Left is running out of things to liberate. This is an existential threat because progressivism, unlike conservatism, is defined by its own forward momentum. Thus, to fuel the continued march of progress, radicals are resorting to issues and ideologies of ever-growing contentiousness. 

People who were once in full support of every progressive cause now find themselves left behind by — or even the targets of — the progressive vanguard. As institutions like the Royal Academy are discovering, the backlash against woke excess is gathering force. 

The more that the Left tries to impose ideological claims that go against personal experience, the harder the pushback will be. So while there’s a lot of truth to Conquest’s Second Law, let’s not forget Conquest’s First Law: “Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.”

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Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

the electorate is not Twitter

Yes, the left discovered the uncooperativeness of the electorate long ago and so they set about making the electorate irrelevant. Thus the “Long March through the Institutions”

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
1 year ago

Correct. The process of pushing the electorate to the sidelines is not almost over, it is still in its early stages.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

They also found they did not like the electorate’s views, so set about to replace them in most of the West.

Michael James
Michael James
1 year ago

It’s best to assume that self-interest rules. Corporations that go woke are hoping to lncrease their profits (like the manufacturers of Che Guevara posters in the 1960s). When the reaction against wokery is big enough they’ll change again.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael James

NO, the Left, who are the owners of woke, are very much like they were described long ago in 1984 and Animal Farm. Now corporate, and owning that, all finance trillioneers, and the Social Media, and Tech, and the Education and entertainments industries, the MSM, and political parties are all owned by them – it is a march to nu-Feudalism policed by a system even Orwell could not imagine.

Just wait till CBC (central bank crypto, like the digital yuan – ECB says 2 years for its – the Fed says 4 – once your wallet is digital every single penny made and paid is there. You are owned, not you owning the wallet.) Want to buy something? Maybe the wallet will not let you – redistribution of money? Taxes. and social credit score. No more private banks –

Once the Central Bank issues the digital currency THEY are your bank account. Private banks will be un-needed. The Gov will be everything.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
1 year ago

The fact that the left is running out of things to liberate will not stop it “liberating”. They’ll just look for ever smaller, ever more ridiculous things to reform. With the left, it’s never about right or wrong, it’s about their own vision of themselves as good, virtuous people, and you can’t do that without “reforming” something. The fact that these ever smaller, ever more intrusive reformations make the lives of all around them a hell on Earth is of no consequence to them.

Last edited 1 year ago by Francis MacGabhann
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

“you can’t do that with “reforming” something”
I think you mean “you can’t do that without “reforming” something”.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Indeed. Duly corrected.

Frederick B
Frederick B
1 year ago

“…these ever smaller, ever more intrusive reformations….” This reminds of something I read years ago along the lines of “why is sandal wearing associated with left wingers?” It seems that back in the thirties a married couple of fruitarian revolutionaries proclaimed that liberation began with the feet, and set about trying to earn a living by making and selling sandals, so of course all good progressives felt obliged to purchase a pair of these home made objects. Nothing really changes.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Look – it is all about money, which after a point is merely power.
Our system is all about debt. Central banks create bonds they sell, banks buy them and use them as security to issue money (mortgages and loans – they just create the money out of air, it is not the Gov which creates the money, but private banks. So Gov debt is used to collateralize private debt)… That is how it works. USA 200,000,000,000,000$ debt out there. Now Inflation was how all this worked. Growth, and so inflation, which reduces the debt value.
Here is the thing, TECH is DEFLATIONARY!!!!!!! Robots make the cars and phones, software does the finance at businesses, and everywhere tech makes everything cheaper – everything is getting cheaper…. This is DEFLATION, (The Great Depression was deflation)
Deflation makes it impossible to pay back debt as the money is more expensive and the debt more value.

To avoid this we use QE, and Stimulus, and deficit to keep inflation – WILE keeping interest at zero. This is the fact: 1)Zero Interest, 2) 2% inflation – this is what is needed with such debt levels, and spending and spending, and creating money more and more every month is all which stops it collapsing from deflation.
To keep REAL inflation and keep the system working you have to overcome the deflation, which is say 3%. Thus to get 2% inflation (the ideal since fiat currencies began) you have to inflate the money supply 5%, and so increase the money supply 5% at a very minimum, but really by much more, as we do.

It is all a Ponzi scheme, and we kick the can down the road by this fiscal and monetary MMT printing of $, because if it slows the global economy collapses. You not only can print all the money you need, you HAVE to

UBI soon will be needed JUST to be able to print enough money out of air to keep the deflation from Tech from collapsing the world economy. We are stuck in an increasing debt cycle, and to break it will destroy it.

This does not end well.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Good to have you back Sanford ! -what do you think we should be doing with our retirement savings then ( a bit of a sidetrack I know but – but somewhat related to where the banks/corporations are taking us all). we do have to survive all this nonsense……

Sam
Sam
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Technically central banks do not create bonds that “they sell.” The Treasury creates bonds, primary dealers buy them and then the Fed can buy the bonds from the PMs.
The Fed can neither create new bonds, nor buy them directly from the Treasury.

Earl King
Earl King
1 year ago

In the US, Democrats are now putting the GOP itself in the same category of institutions that are racist or bigoted or patriarchal. The GOP is now = to White Supremacy and anti-democratic.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Earl King

GOP = alt right/fascist. You left out those other favourite names.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
1 year ago

The Left has won, and therefore can’t win any more? Not sure we should be so happy with that argument…

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

The problem is that the right is actually championing the ideas of the left. This is why the left has won – there is no alternative.

Nick Wright
Nick Wright
1 year ago

Maybe this stems from ‘creatives’ (musicians, artists, literati) identifying as left-wing. Progress is thus a matter of ‘creating’ new ideas, even if those ideas aren’t actually useful for society.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

Indeed, in regard to the economic issues, woke corporations are as capitalist as they ever were. Judging by the size of executive bonuses, the socialist dawn is still a long way off. Indeed, one suspects that the real purpose of all that woke posturing is to serve as a distraction from good old-fashioned greed.
Thank you. It’s time someone acknowledged the obvious.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The nazi and russian communist elites all had pretty big houses and an army of propaganders-sounds similar to me. The contemporary ‘elites” dont need violence to acheive their goals just media ……and ignorance

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

People who were once in full support of every progressive cause now find themselves left behind by — or even the targets of — the progressive vanguard.
What is new? ‘Twas ever so. About 50 years ago my father used to tell me how all my choices were wrong: my music was rubbish, my career was anti-working class, my clothes showed a lack of respect, my long hair was silly… It is a generational thing. About two months ago I quoted a Bob Dylan song (badly):
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticise what you can’t understand.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Your farther was in good company then. Socrates.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Your parents were right.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
1 year ago
Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago

The wokerati are not inevitably left wing. Silliness exists across the political spectrum!

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

I think this is true, in general terms. Growing up in the United States in the 1980s and early 90s, I certainly remember the drum-beating, drooling patriotism that, believe me, brooked no dissent.
But Woke-ism, then and now, depends on a form of social coercion that comes from political ascendancy. And right now, that seems to belong to the left.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

The 80s and early 90s – the era that broke Communist expansion and the Soviet Union’s oppressive rule and domination of Eastern & Central Europe, and funding wars in Africa. Not bad results for a bunch of drooling drummers.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 year ago

Communism broke communist expansion, and America funded plenty of wars in the developing world. Listen, we could argue the geo-politics of the Cold War for days, but that’s not my point. My point is free speech was in short supply. The social control exerted by the dominant ideology left no room for dissent.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

so you call that which made the country great and unified ‘Drooling’?
Just imagine if USA had been founded by the Kamala,AOC, Omar, Biden, Bernie ‘Founding Fathers’. We would be trying to get into Mexico to find freedom and work.

Stuart Y
Stuart Y
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

I have a question for you and the gentleman below. Why do people on here and elsewhere have the need to down vote perfectly sensible comments? Or in fact any comment. Weird very weird.

Nicholas Oglethorpe
Nicholas Oglethorpe
1 year ago
Reply to  Stuart Y

And why does Unherd ascribe different values to likes and give sometimes three likes for one press on the Like button? Very dodgy.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

Because people are voting at the same time as you or since you refreshed your page.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
1 year ago
Reply to  Stuart Y

It’s an expression of disagreement, I would think.

ian.walker12
ian.walker12
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

My down vote is meant as a joke btwl

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Stuart Y

Because it is not sensible. Wokeism belongs to the radical left and progressives.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Stuart Y

an expression of disagreement ?? or disrespect for a reasonable contrary view ?? – what happens if people dont bother joining Unherd due to the heavy down voting – you end up in an echo chamber of likeminded people who never get any challenge to look outside their own square – bad situation for open debate…

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

And, I would add, the left are not all woke, thank goodness!