“One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution,” as Orwell wrote. “One makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.”
There are two kinds of social changes. One kind is is the advocacy of freedom: “I want to do something.” I want to vote or smoke dope or have sex in some kind of (previously) unapproved fashion. The change might be wise or unwise, but because the only requirement it puts on other people is that they cease interfering in my life, it does not lend itself to the widespread cop-ism that Freddie deBoer decries here.
Most people do not want to interfere in my life, and few people feel the desire to interfere with anything like the passion that I feel about not being interfered with. It is an unequal struggle, and the right side has all the advantages.
The other kind of change is the advocacy of virtue: “I want other people to do something.” I want them to treat black people equally or pay minimum wage or not drink sugary sodas.
The advocates of a change like this argue that people ought to act this way, that it is socially or ethically or physically healthy. The change they want would merely impose a virtue on those who have it not.
But people act as they do for reasons. They enjoy doing whatever it is that reformers and revolutionaries wish to force them to stop doing doing. To change social mores, even to change the law, is not nearly enough: you need ceaseless vigilance, ceaseless policing, ceaseless punishment.
Consider Prohibition. Its supporters argued — correctly! — that alcohol is not good for people, that people would be better off drinking in moderation or not at all. They wished to impose a virtue.
And Prohibition tore the country apart. Most people liked drinking, so most people became law-breakers; not only did they drink, but by drinking, they poured vast quantities of money and support into the maw of organized crime. It lasted 13 corrupt and bloody years.
Consider the Repeal of Prohibition. It was a movement against virtue and for freedom. And it worked! Nobody can consider Repeal a failure. People can in fact purchase liquor, the stated goal of Repeal, and we need no police, no courts to enforce it. There are no undercover Repeal stings to arrest those not selling liquor; liquor dealers do not shoot each other (or bystanders) in back alleys.
With the intermittent exception of marijuana legalization, all the changes advocated by the modern Left (and many from the Right) are changes of virtue; they are all about forcing other people to act (by their lights) virtuously. Everyone must be diverse, inclusive, consensual, sustainable, thrifty, industrious, helpful, clean, whatever.
So much so, I cannot help but wonder if that is the point. So many changes are about imposing virtue, however futilely, instead of lifting restraint that I start to think that it is the imposition that the reformer enjoy. They like to force people to act against their own desires, or failing that, they like seeing them punished. They enjoy, in a word, the power. “That is the world that we are preparing,” Orwell wrote. “A world of victory after victory, triumph after triumph after triumph: an endless pressing, pressing, pressing upon the nerve of power.”