Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Making our way along the ‘progressive’ trail

  • May 22, 2012

Two questions about political progressives have always stumped me: What do they think we are progressing toward, and how will they know when we get there?

Three months of student protests in the streets of Montreal fail to provide   full answers, but they are prime evidence of an outcome. Nearly 50 years of progressive politics have produced a generation whose very vanity is a form of violence as bad as, perhaps worse than, smashed store windows, nightly street riots and quasi-terrorist attacks on the public transit system.

Yet, to be fair, maybe that’s not what political progressives really want. It might be only what they are willing to accept so far.

Perhaps Metro stations, where tens of thousands of Montrealers were evacuated after smoke-bomb attacks, were just necessary way stations on the way toward a grand and glorious greater good. Perhaps university classrooms emptied of students by goons and thugs marauding through hallways and using mob intimidation to block doorways were just stopgaps  for the best that is yet to come. 

Patience is a virtue, it is true. I wonder, though, whether my progressive brothers and sisters will excuse some impatient foot tapping and finger drumming while we wait for answers to the questions above. They are, after all, notoriously quick to assert that we must never, under any circumstances, renew cultural, social or moral positions that “turn back the clock” or otherwise erase gains apparently made on the path to wherever we are headed.

Indeed, the claim that we have indisputably moved forward, and must continue to do so inexorably, has settled into the heart of our current politics. The mantra spouted for so long and so loudly by progressive voices has become an idee fixe even among many self-proclaimed conservatives, including governing Conservatives.

Recent treatment accorded Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth is one case in point. Woodworth, of course, has introduced a motion in the House of Commons asking his colleagues to discuss the science around the moment when unborn children become undeniably human. For his retrograde temerity, he has been reduced to public pariah status by the government whip, Gordon O’Connor, and by the prime minister himself.

Both men have made it abundantly clear there will be no backsliding on fetal rights. Abortion is here to stay. A fetus is only a matter of choice. Yes, Woodworth’s motion can still be debated for form’s sake. But the government has decreed it defeated in advance.

No matter that an opportunity will be lost to articulate a renewed vision of what constitutes the human. The question is, a priori, closed. We’re not going back. We’ve moved implacably on.

In like manner, the newly re-elected Tory premier of Alberta, Alison Redford, has declared that merely discussing the conscience rights of those opposed to the progressive moral order is itself an offense against progress, a throwback to a dark and evil age.

Progressive Alberta, Redford says, is no place for those whose consciences are violated by being forced to provide abortions or obliged to officiate at gay marriages. Such miscreants, she insisted, must move forward or, presumably, move somewhere else. And the ominous historical overtones in the state forcing people to choose between their devout beliefs and their freedom to earn a living where they live? No matter. Progress counts above all.

Add together enough such examples and the impression becomes unmistakable that our current exemplars of progress bear a striking resemblance to the reactionary archetypes of bygone days. What is, is now, and forever shall be. It must be defended at all costs — whether that cost is extracted in freedom or intellectual honesty or social coherence. Those who disagree can hold their peace — or pick up the pieces of their lives once the ever-roving mob has finished with them.

Watching the student bonfire of the vanities in Montreal, and its intellectual correspondence in the heart of our current politics, I keep finding myself facing two fresh questions: Is this really what political progressives were progressing toward all along, and are we there yet, or will it just continue to get worse?

No doubt one of my progress-minded brothers and sisters has an answer at the ready. I just wish they’d tell me before I wear the soles off my tapping shoes or drum my impatient fingers down to stumps.

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