With few things left to liberate, progressivism is starting to eat itself
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.
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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.”