Social Conservatism, Progressive-Style
In a classic example of the way progressivism, like all aggressive irrationalism, devours itself, we have the spectacle of the ubiquitous and increasingly literal policing of politically incorrect attitudes, a social deformity which has now grown into its final (in the sense of fatal) shape: today’s infantile world of safe spaces and public shaming.
For generations, progressives attacked so-called social conservatives for their excessive and (supposedly) hypocritical moralism, and their “oppressive” intolerance of views or behavior which those conservatives deemed inappropriate or offensive in polite society.
Today, the ideological heirs to this progressive assault on social conservatism have revealed their movement’s true colors, the decrepitly ancient face behind that pragmatically youthful mask of openness and tolerance they used to wear. It is they, after all, who are the real social conservatives, oppressively intolerant of any alternative moral views, violently hostile to speech or behavior indicating even the mildest dissent from their absolute certainties, utterly devoid even of the critical distance of lighthearted humor, let alone the humility of circumspection, regarding their own most extreme and seemingly ever-evolving assertions of Unchanging Truth.
Of course, as with the old moral majority types, our new moral majority — which, like its predecessor, is in fact a minority that claims majority status in a self-revealing act of group-think insecurity — has taken the increasingly obvious stance of self-doubt masquerading as strength, or rather as anger and hatred aimed at any whose objections might pose a threat to this most delicate and tenuous of unshakable truths. In the case of today’s progressive social conservatives, in fact, the mire of self-doubt and uncertainty seeping up through their surface smugness is so palpable that one almost winces with embarrassment at their indignant outbursts and cries of “Witch!” against anyone who dares to question the validity of their transgender women’s track champions, their climate apocalypse totalitarianism, or their whining, defensive rationalization of infantile dependency and nihilistic idleness behind the rhetorical façade of victimhood and oppression.
The indignant outburst, in fact, is their universal anthem. Indignation is the prevailing mood and overriding tonality of all their crusades. And indignation — the “How dare you!” response — is typically the passion of a man who in his heart knows perfectly well how one might “dare,” and is merely disturbed that someone actually did. The indignant man is he who has had his carefully hidden fears and masked weaknesses thrown in his face. If honestly examined in the privacy of one’s own soul, then, indignation may become an important step on the road to self-knowledge, and even self-overcoming.
Such an ennobling effect, however, is exactly what our progressive social conservatives, whose spiritual goal is precisely the addled infantilism of “belonging” and “acceptance” — their euphemisms for hiding — must never allow to happen. Hence their practical reaction to the threat of dissent and disapproval aimed at their sundry “justice” movements of the moment — equality is all the rage among those afraid of being forever undistinguished — is two-fold.
First, they assert the coercive power of government and the intimidating mob behavior of public shaming to force alternative voices into submission, by literally outlawing and socially exiling unacceptable ideas and speech. This is the political equivalent of “telling mom,” i.e., childish backstabbing and vengefulness.
Second, they demand that society as a whole, and any subsection of society which they happen to inhabit or “occupy” — an apt progressive term, suggestive of one merely taking up space as a means of displacing others, rather than for any positive purpose — formally and systematically accommodate and protect their sensitivities. This demand for accommodation and protection, typified by the safe spaces and legally-mandated gender language of today’s university, is nothing but a cry for unconditional acceptance — a cry which is understandable in a very young, dependent child, but is anathema to the growth of adult character and the expansion of human understanding. For it is by learning to face up, in the sense of actually listening and answering, to even the most abrasive challenges to one’s rawest of raw spots that the immature soul’s potential for independent adulthood is gradually actualized. The university safe space, with its coloring books and stuffed animals, is nothing but progressivism’s overt rejection and barricading of the only path to adulthood, namely the acknowledgment of the inevitability of disagreement, of resistance to one’s wishes or beliefs, of the need to defend or justify one’s choices and opinions, and above all of the need to prove one’s mettle to oneself.
The university safe space, the epitome of the childish cowardice that passes for a moral stance in our late stage progressive social dementia, is a perfect allegory of the modern soul. This soul knows no tribal barriers or class divisions. (What else is Donald Trump, for example, but the safe space president, lashing out with uncontrolled hatred from behind the protective walls of his supportive crowd, at anyone who dares to criticize or deny him in any way? What is his crowd, for that matter, but millions of lost souls praying for a strong daddy with a “big beautiful wall” to protect them from all their fears. There is no advanced nation today, and no prominent political faction, that does not share this essential deference to dependency, material and emotional.) Safety, in the sense of non-resistance, smooth sailing, the non-judgmental acceptance of everything — except judgmental non-acceptance, of course — is the tenor of the moment, dominating political debate, education, entertainment, advertising, athletics, and the various forms of nihilistic exhibitionism and careerism that occupy the place of art and philosophy today.
But what is this progressive rejection of all resistance but a rejection of life itself? Life is struggle, pain, obstacles, refusals, failures — and the soul’s eventual awakening to the ultimate value, even and especially the survival value, of all this harshness.
A ten-month old baby, safe and cozy in the comfort of his mother’s arms, freely succumbing to gravity and weakness as he writhes and crawls around the floor, is suddenly, one day, dragged to his feet by an adult. He falls on his backside, perplexed and thwarted. He is dragged to his feet again and again, against his immature tendency to remain flat and comfortable. When he falls too often, or too hard, he cries until the very source of his torture picks him up and consoles him in his frustration at failing to evade this overwhelming force resisting him in his weak inclination to remain on his hands and knees, or in his mother’s arms, forever.
Before long, however, he is fighting alone to drag himself to his feet. Using tables and chairs, banging his head into hard corners and wooden legs, he works and concentrates, facing down his impulse to stay cozy and safe, until at last he is standing — and then teetering, falling again and again, and dragging himself back up again — of his own accord.
He does not enjoy falling and failing repeatedly. Nobody does. But he quickly learns the attractive force of the potential benefits of the freedom he is seeking through this series of annoying failures. And he learns it largely by means of the very resistance that challenged his crawling comfort. This is a natural and universal instance of self-overcoming, which is to say education, which is to say maturation. As these instances of self-overcoming become more complex and intellectual in character, and particularly as the obstacles to be overcome are increasingly one’s own self-doubts and emotional habits, they also become easier to evade. In today’s moral climate, they may almost be escaped entirely, through the agencies of totalitarian “protection,” the smothering progressive equivalent of a mother’s comforting arms.
And progressive schooling and entertainment seal up the cracks through which the soul caught in this social trap might have found a little independent air to breathe. By fostering emotional extremes and irrational excesses — which, though pretending to be daring and provocative, are in truth nothing but infantile cries for “belonging” and “acceptance” — while at the same time providing rationalizations for the indignant posturing that might have afforded that suffocating soul the painful life lessons it needed to overcome its immaturity, modern “education,” which is actually the very opposite of education, manufactures today’s unnatural beast of youth: the weak animal drained of all internal resources for fighting against his own weakness; the creature of nihilistic pleasure that has been trained up to self-righteous attitudinizing about his mindless gratifications, and is therefore impervious to the shame and self-doubt that ought to have been the oars he might use to propel himself away from the sirens of Tartarus.
And by means of this progressive infantilization of modern humanity, a new, more virulent form of social conservatism is born. This is the social conservatism of childish hatred for, and coercive annihilation of, the very resistance without which spiritual development, which is to say human completion, is impossible. Life is nothing but a series of increasingly spiritualized efforts to stand up without assistance. Progressivism is the ideological impulse to avoid such efforts. The new social conservatism is the universally indoctrinated and coercive systematization of this life-avoiding impulse.