On Friday morning I happened to have breakfast in the Bay Area with a center-left writer of some prominence who was once a conservative, who, surveying the wreckage of the Brexit vote alongside the decay of liberalism under Hillary and Bernie, sighed that “I’ll probably end up a conservative again.” Since it was a private conversation I won’t say who this person was, but suffice it to say he’s attacked me a couple of times for critical things I’ve written about him here from time to time.
But I don’t have to be coy about The Week columnist Damon Linker, another center-left writer who defected from our side a while ago. After reading his column this morning, “How Brexit Shattered Progressives’ Dearest Illusion,” I sent him a note saying we’d be happy to welcome him back to the ranks of the right if he keeps going like this. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here are some key excerpts from a terrifically well-reasoned column:
I used to be a conservative. I now consider myself a liberal. But I have never called myself a progressive. There’s a reason why, and it has nothing to do with policy.
Liberals believe in the rule of law; in individual rights to speech, worship, assembly, and private property; in an independent judiciary and civilian control of the military; in representative institutions founded on the consent of the governed; in democratic elections, not as ends in themselves but as checks on the power of government and as a means of gauging and forging popular support for policies pursued by public officials in the name of the common good.
Progressives believe in all of that, too, but they add something else: a quasi-eschatological faith in historical progress that gives the movement its name. This belief has many sources, and it takes many forms. One stream flows from liberal Protestant theology on down through Woodrow Wilson’s hopes for moral advances at home and an end to armed conflict abroad — with both of them realized by an elite class of public-spirited experts. The same theologically infused faith informs Barack Obama’s frequent invocation of an “arc of history” that “bends toward justice.” . . .
Politics in this expansive sense will come to an end in the imagined progressive future because there will be nothing left to debate. The big questions of politics will already be answered, the big disputes settled once and for all. Everyone will understand that all particular forms of solidarity are morally indefensible (just various forms of racism) and that all strong political stands against humanitarian universalism in the political realm are politically unacceptable (just various forms of fascism).
It would be one thing if progressives understood their universalistic moral and political convictions to constitute one legitimate partisan position among many. But they don’t understand them in this way. They believe not only that their views deserve to prevail in the fullness of time, but also that they are bound to prevail. . .
But what if progressivism isn’t inevitable at all? What if people will always be inclined by nature to love their own — themselves, their families, their neighbors, members of their churches, their fellow citizens, their country — more than they love the placeless abstraction of “humanity”? In that case, the act of ignoring or even denigrating this love will have the effect of provoking its defensive wrath and ultimately making it stronger.
It makes perfect sense to be surprised, saddened, and concerned by the outcome of the Brexit vote. But shock? Fury? Disgust? Despair? That’s what a person feels when he discovers that his most dearly held fundamental beliefs have led him astray.
I’ll start laying in fatted calves for Damon’s Prodigal Son homecoming party.
UPDATE: A reader send in this old Peanuts cartoon that captures the Progressive mentality perfectly—