Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Progressivism yet once more

It's never to late to restart a quarrel, or rather engage in constructive debate.

I have only just noticed that back in November the Contrasting Sounds blog took me to task for defending the use of the term 'Progressive' (“Progressive”: Orwell himself thinks it’s Orwellian.)

Orwell is supposed to have said that some things are true even if they do appear in the Daily Telegraph, and equally some views be wrong even if they were held by George Orwell. The author of Contrasting Sounds objects to my definition of 'Progressive' as meaning 'those who, regardless of party, see their political outlook as being about championing the poor, the excluded and the disempowered against the established order'. He says that this can be paraphrased as “I care more than other people do”' and implies that non-Progressives are 'Nasty people, presumably, like the Conservative Party'.

But actually, that's not what I meant. The word 'Progressive' contrasts quite neatly with 'Conservative', and although I might say differently when sounding off in the heat of the moment, I accept that it's possible to hold Conservative views without being nasty or uncaring. An anti-Progressive argument might run something like this: 'Attempts to favour the poor have unintended consequences that hurt those they are meant to help, by stifling enterprise and initiative. They can lead to a culture of envy that is damaging to society as a whole. They can be socially and economically destabilising and most people will be happier and more prosperous through the preservation of the existing order.' A perfectly respectable outlook, one with which I sometimes have some sympathy, but with which in the end I don't agree.

So using the word 'Progressive' as a political description is not just a way of saying 'nice not nasty' but of reflecting a politican outlook.


Dan Falchikov said...

I thought progressive was one of the words like 'social justice' promoted by Blair and new Labour to avoid saying 'Socialist'.

Iain said...

Dan, it probably was, and like many terms can be abused as well as used. But still it can have its uses.