Many people have observed that the Left/Right distinction doesn't really make sense any more – if it ever did. What are we left with? I would be inclined to go for Conservatism vs Progressivism. “Liberalism” has become totally meaningless. Hillary Clinton would call herself a Liberal – so would Toby Baxendale. These two are so far apart as to inhabit different intellectual universes. “Liberal” can’t encompass both.
“Right wing”, as used by many contemporary progressives, simply means “evil”. I’ve characterised myself as right wing for many years but I refuse to accept the assumption that I am therefore racist and homophobic – or, indeed that I love banks and what has been described as “crony capitalism”.
Progressive seems to me to mean essentially anti-Conservative.
“Conservatism” is to me “common sense” – if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Lots of features of our society are clearly broken. Lots of things need fixing. However, progressives are constantly fixing things that aren’t broken. In the name of “social justice” they legislate to make things “fairer”. In the course of doing so they act unjustly by expropriating the successful few. In almost every case they fail to improve the lot of the unsuccessful many. Another characteristic of conservatism is that it aims to encourage traditional virtues: hard work, self-denial, thrift and honesty. Conservatives want as many people as possible to enjoy what Arthur Brooks calls “earned success”. Earned success is what makes people happy – much happier than winning the lottery.
Welfareism has done much to undermine the family. It discourages marriage (the foundational institution of society) and thus opens the door to the ills of our society: addiction, crime, academic failure.
Young people are naturally seduced by progressive ideas – “ Wouldn't it be nice if...”, “From each according to his ability – to each according to his need”. This is the default position of all decent children. If you knew nothing about the real world, you would be a real shit not to espouse it. However, as we grow older and learn stuff about the real world, we tend to realise that it isn’t that simple. Everyone becomes more conservative the older they get – provided they don’t give up thinking.
To stick with your youthful progressive view is to be infantile.
So, how do we characterise “conservatism”? Progressives, of course, would say that it is preservation of the status quo. This is nonsense, in view of the fact that they (conservatives) are eager to replace the status quo with less state control. Conservatives view the state of Britain and the US as a ghastly and oppressive statist conspiracy against individuals.
An enormous number of our fellow citizens are obsessed with sport. It is their major interest. This is, to me, interesting and puzzling. Many progressive voters who favour high taxes and generous entitlement programmes are fanatically attached to a football club or a cricketing county. The Olympic Games were watched by a huge majority – inevitably including a very large proportion of progressives.
This is puzzling because the whole ethos of sport is essentially conservative. A successful sportsman starts by being lucky in his physique and ability; he goes on to succeed by intensive training, self-denial and determination. Many of our most successful champions are people with little or nothing in the way of financial advantage. Yes, it takes resources to become a champ and if you don’t have resources yourself you have to get others to bet on you, by intensive training and self-denial. Sport is pure free enterprise. No one proposes to give every competitor a medal.
Champions are idolised like no other human beings. They are revered as role models. How comes it that successful entrepreneurs are not idolised. They are exactly analogous to successful sportsmen. They have to have innate ability; they have to work hard; they have to deny themselves; they have to be determined and in most cases they have to persuade others to invest in them. Actually, successful entrepreneurs are superior to successful sportsmen, measured not by their good intentions (athletes can as easily be wonderful human beings) but simply by the contribution they make to society. They have to provide goods and/or services that citizens value and in the course of doing so they provide employment for their fellows.
Of course, by successful entrepreneurs I do not mean those who get ahead by using political influence. People of that ilk would be comparable to sportsmen who employ gangsters to nobble their opponents.