A recent essay published by The Imaginative Conservative asserted, somewhat pessimistically, that “progressivism will win.” Without wishing to engage that particular essay, I’d like to argue that progressivism is actually doomed to lose. Perhaps, however, and as is always wise, we should define what we mean by “progressivism.”
Progressives believe in what they call “progress,” which is not really progress at all but regression based upon an anthropological and philosophical reductio ad absurdum. This is not, however, the place to discuss what is wrong with what progressivists call “progress.” Those wishing to pursue this discussion might want to take a look at an earlier essay that I wrote on “Chesterton and the Meaning of Progress.” Let it suffice to say, for the purposes of our present discussion, that progressives believe that human society is progressing, in the sense that the present is better than the past and the future will be better than the present. To put the matter in a nutshell, things are getting better and the future is bright.
There are many ways in which this progressivist presumption can be questioned or put to the test but let’s take but one facet of the “progress” that progressivists see as grounds for their optimism. Let’s look at globalization and its political byproduct, globalism.
One of the key mantras of political and economic “experts,” as was seen particularly with regard to Brexit, is that we are all aboard a globalist Titanic, a mechanism of globalization, which is unstoppable and which it is perilous to abandon. The argument as it pertained to Brexit but which is applicable to all similar scenarios goes something like this: We are all part of this exciting global economy. To seek to integrate ourselves ever more fully into this exciting globalist project is necessary for the “progress” of the world economy. If governments such as Britain opt out of those supranational institutions, such as the European Union, which foster free trade and free markets, it will imperil the global economy and therefore cause poverty on a global scale. To abandon ship is to betray the “progress” of humanity. It is an act of treachery towards the people of the world.
So much for the argument. Let’s now dissect it logically.
There are only three ways of seeing or reading this globalist mantra. Either the experts are lying, in which case we should not listen to them, or they are truthful and right or truthful and wrong. If they are wrong, there is nothing to worry about. Let’s consider, therefore, whether they are right. Actually, for the sake of argument and for the purposes of the present discussion, let’s actually presume that they are right. Let’s presume that opting out of the globalist mechanism, or jumping the proverbial ship, imperils everyone else connected with it. If this is true, shouldn’t we be concerned by the fragile nature of the mechanism? Shouldn’t it frighten us that the failure of one part of the mechanism puts the whole globalist process and “progress” in peril? Is everything so interconnected and interdependent that we are always risking the domino effect, whereby the bad behaviour or bad performance of one part triggers a chain reaction in all the rest?
At this point, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that the globalist ship, which we might call the HMS Titanic (HMS being an acronym for Hedonistic, Materialistic and Secularistic), is on its maiden voyage. In all of human history, we have never tried this experiment before, an experiment that might be likened to putting all of our eggs in one global basket. Heeding the wisdom of old wives and their proverbial truths over new “wisdom” and its “progressive” mantras we might perhaps be concerned that millions of manufacturing jobs have been removed from the American basket so that they can be placed in the global basket. What, we might wonder, would happen if something happened globally that made the movement of manufactured goods from the Pacific rim of the basket to its other parts prohibitive or perhaps impossible? War? Fuel costs? Political upheaval or revolution? Demographic implosion?
No doubt our “progressive” experts, armed with their perennial optimism about the globalist future, will tell us that the HMS Titanic is the product of the latest technology, the pride of human ingenuity. It is, we will be assured, unsinkable. Or we will be told by another group of “progressive” experts that it is unsinkable because it will be kept afloat by a mysterious “hidden hand.” And yet, to return to our original musings, we are also being told, often by the very same experts, that it is only unsinkable as long as we all stay on board and don’t try to jump ship. If, however, any of the crew members, sensing disaster, decides to take to the lifeboats, we’re all doomed. This is not very reassuring.
And what about icebergs, those perilous things that are barely visible on the present economic and political surface but which might be deadly beneath the surface, in those murky depths which we call the future?
Even as I write, and to give the devil his due, I can hear a heckler suggesting that my metaphor is unfair. Globalism should not be likened to the Titanic but to that other pioneering ship, the USS Enterprise, which boldly goes where no man has gone before. My response is that I don’t share the devil’s enthusiasm for such “enterprise,” especially as the acronym “USS” seems to stand for “unethical, supercilious and smug.” Putting my trust in the lessons to be learned from the past rather than “progressive” fantasies about a non-existent future, I won’t be relying on technology to “beam me up” when the ship begins to sink. Being a traditionalist whom some would no doubt call a luddite, I’ll be urging my fellow passengers to take to the lifeboats.
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.