Today’s conservatives generally trace the civilizational decay we deplore to the 1960s. That is, of course, when the weeds took over the garden, but it goes back much farther than that, at least to Rousseau. According to some, it really started with Luther.
What is really discouraging is that the trend towards progressivism has never been successfully resisted. A century ago there were men who saw the disasters towards which we were headed. Citizens fought the trends, to no avail. In The Meaning of Conservatism, Roger Scruton remarks, “Even respectable historians can describe conservatives as ‘staving off’, for a period of years, and inevitable ‘forward’ movement, while others ‘advance’ the liberal or socialist cause…. A socialist state that lasts ten years is a prelude to eternity; a conservative state that lasts thirty years is only a gesture of survival.” Unfortunately, history suggests that this attitude is entirely correct. So far as I can tell, the world will become increasingly more progressive until civilization collapses completely. Eventually civilization will rise out of the barbarism once more, but only after who knows how many centuries of human suffering, famine, oppression, and mass murder. I am not the first to point this out. So what is to be done? Books have been written, elections fought, and the process continues right on despite all we can do. It’s enough to make you want to move into the woods with a rifle and build yourself a log cabin, but at the current rate of immigration, in America, at least, there are unlikely to be enough woods left to hide in before long.
Mencius Moldbug has described progressivism as a highly adaptive system of thought. It is good at preserving itself and infecting others. Why exactly is this?
There are many reasons, one being the “envy” I discussed recently, another being the sense of moral superiority Thomas Sowell depicts in A Conflict of Visions. The one which I believe is the single most powerful, however, is that of license. I could say “freedom”, but that much-abused word has too many positive connotations. I will not insult any reader of this blog by assuming that they need the difference between the two explained to them.
Civilization depends upon a great deal of restraint, for both great matters and everyday ones. To achieve work of real importance, whether it is soldiering, building a ten-story building, or creating a work of art, requires a huge amount of discipline. Professions such as medicine require years of such discipline, much of which must be self-imposed, in order to reach any result. Besides innate ability, major achievements require years of studying or practicing instead of watching television, talking on the phone with friends, or surfing the internet. In other words, they require telling yourself “No” a thousand times.
Normal civilized life also involves a thousand “No’s”. No, you can’t have sex with anyone you want; you have to pick one person and stick with them. No, you can’t run out on your husband because you want the fun of new romances and still have him pay your bills. No, you can’t just grab your neighbor’s possessions, you have to pay for stuff of your own. No, you can’t treat the lord of the manor as if he were a criminal in the stocks waiting to have things thrown at him. No, you can’t kill your children just because you don’t feel like looking after them. No, you can’t expect to be paid and admired for throwing paint onto a canvas at random. No, you can’t start a new religion that involves you and the rest of the priesthood separating rich silly people from their money and bedding their teenage daughters. No, you can’t have a job you’re not capable of doing, even though it does look like fun. No, you can’t ingest any old substance you like. No, you can’t run naked down the street. No, no, no.
I would hazard a guess that most progressives have just one or two of these things they would like to do, and for the sake of those, they are willing to grant a great deal of license to others. It’s a sort of a quid pro quo: you let me steal the fruits of my neighbor’s work (in the form of welfare), I’ll let you sue employers who won’t hire you just because you’re unqualified. Small wonder that people expect homosexuals to automatically support progressivism (which they usually do); in return for the license to commit previously forbidden sexual acts, they are supposed to support the license of others to murder their children. (So far it’s only the unborn ones, but already people are advocating extending abortion “rights” to killing children as old as two.)
Of course progressivism is popular. It means never saying “No” to self-indulgence.