The sort of Progressive I am:
It seems that if you do not agree to be ‘left,’ you will be designated ‘right,’ without choice or requirement for consent. I have never liked any of these labels, and reject them all. Even the word ‘conservative’ has become contaminated by malodorous propaganda, even though, as Roger Scruton has observed, everyone is conservative in the everyday things: if you are looking for a midwife at four in the morning, a belief in the value of crystals asserted on a website or Golden Pages entry is unlikely to clinch it.
I don’t call myself ‘conservative,’ still less ‘right-wing’ or ‘right’. I am a progressive, which I will explain in a little while.
When I was a young man, I thought of myself as a lefty, but it was the soft leftism that comes from reading too many Billy Bragg interviews in the NME. I had also read my Orwell back to front, and was in no sense at a loss as to the facts. But being a lefty was de rigueur for a rock journalist seeking street cred, so I paid my dues and saluted in all the right places.
Three things changed me:
1. Alcoholism, which woke (hah!) me to the precise dynamic of my human mechanism, reminding me that I was a creature making his way through a given world, driven by a desire for something far greater than anything in a bottle or even a party dress.
2. Prague 1990. After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, I visited Prague to cover the first post-Communist elections in what was then Czechoslovakia. A man called Ivan became my guide and, going around, we talked a great deal about politics and life. Then in my early 30s, I was still in conventional Paddy Radical mode. Ivan was having none of it. Remorselessly, he outlined what leftism had done to his people and his country, how socialists had terrorised and slaughtered, demonised and imprisoned, how they had stultified the life of Czechoslovakia and imposed upon it what the great dissident and soon-to-be president Vaclav Havel had called ‘a Biafra of the spirit.’
On the day of my departure, he came with me to the airport, and on his knees in the taxi nursed a cardboard box, refusing to tell me what it contained. At the departure gates, he solemnly shook hands, handed me the box and waited while I opened it. Inside were a dozen busts of the most infamous socialist top brass – Stalin, Lenin and some of the local Czech half-breed – made of candle wax. Ivan had been given the job of cleaning up an impromptu alter constructed at the spot where the Velvet Revolution had kicked off, and had found this rather quintessentially Czech way of disposing of the wax that flowed onto the sidewalk from the thousands of candles placed there by passers-by. Now, as we said goodbye, he looked me in the eye. ‘You must take to Ireland,’ he said, ‘the heads of the socialist murderers.’
The penny finally dropped. These guys were not cuddly-cool icons, but tyrants whose hands were stained with the blood of millions. It was time to stop posturing and join the human race.
3. Becoming a father in strained circumstance in 1996 and discovering that, whereas I was shocked to discover that a single father had virtually no legal rights to a relationship with his child, none of the social-justice warrior types with whom I’d been consorting over the previous decade or so could see anything wrong or strange about this. Far from joining my posse, they tried to kick my head in every time I mentioned the matter.
These three events caused me to rethink everything – or, rather, to start thinking, in the words of Hannah Arendt, ‘without a bannister.’ Giving up drink helped in a different way too: I was no longer consorting with journalists in Dublin’s taverns of groupthink, and so began to enjoy watching my courage grow.
Today, I regard myself as a progressive in the C.S. Lewis sense.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote:
“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when we do arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start over again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”
It adds up. What we call left-liberalism is really nothing like either of its alleged constituent elements, and is certainly not ‘progressive’. In fact, left-liberalism as we have come to know it in recent times is an ideology grounded in the falsification of equations of justice. It advocates stealing from Paul to pay Paulette, or, to put it Thomistically, to fail to give to each what is due. Left-liberal ‘justice’ is distributed on ideological lines, favouring listed victims over categories – under different headings – of deplorables: unborn babies, fathers, men, Christians, white men, white fathers, straight men, white straight Christian men, straight fathers, white straight fathers, white straight Christian fathers and their unborn babies of any colour, religion or inclination.
If ever there was a road to turn back from, this is it.
John Waters is a writer, the author of ten books, the latest of which, Give Us Back the Bad Roads, has just been published by Currach Press. If you enjoyed this piece, make sure to listen in to the podcast on The Right Side tomorrow that analyses these ideas in more detail.