Change is our Only Tradition

In the prevailing political dichotomy of left and right, it has always been obvious which side is destined to lose. As a shining example, Rush Limbaugh recently admitted that gay marriage is “inevitable”, that the issue is lost for American conservative politics. With news such as this, it is worthwhile to consider the fact of the inevitability of change in all its different meanings, social, economic, political and technological.

The “right”, or the “reactionary” position when we apply more accurate terminology, professes an allegiance to tradition, to foundations in scripture, and to custom. But it is ours, the progressive side, which is really in possession of the oldest and firmest historical foundation of all. Ours is the only true foundation that can never fail us, because it requires only time. It is, in fact, we, the proponents of progress, who remain the only people acting in the real spirit in which humanity was founded.

Today’s reactionary politics, when their origins are examined, are simply proven to be the progressive politics of yesterday. The Jacobin ideal of the “nation” was the goal of progressives in the past, while today it coincides exactly with the so-called “patriotic” idea championed by reactionaries. There is much more. Like the radical Jacobin origin of the Nineteenth (and Twentieth) Century nationalisms, we can trace every reactionary belief back to its initial radical progressive proposition. Anyone with enough forward thinking can already see how those who place themselves in the ranks of reaction today are only the stay-behinds of history. Undoubtedly, at one time, the Christian faith was the most radical idea in the world, and I can say unreservedly that the Christian belief was the progressive idea in the time of the oppressive beliefs of Ancient Rome. Also, at one time, the US Constitution was the most radical document to be endorsed in the world. Both of these now reactionary relics were once triumphal symbols of enlightenment and progress, and they are now but relics and sources of backwardness. All traditions were once not traditions, but still the tradition of change has remained with us throughout history and is the only tradition worth saving.

The revolutions, while preaching the creation of new orders, only reaffirmed the true long-term order of history, the order of continual change through successive revolutions with no perfect order really waiting in the end. Indeed, the sole lesson of the French Revolution that birthed the modern world was its affirmation of the normality of change. Change is our foundation. Change to a superior order, however dark some of the junctures of our journey may be, is our only tradition. It is in the process of bearing change that we must be prepared to sacrifice, because change is the sole value that remains worth loyally defending. It is the only value that has endured and will endure. The struggle of people for recognition and justice has always been the concern of every one of us. And, as long as their communication remains intact, the oppressed will always stand ready to walk through fire for change even as every other value is trampled underfoot.

People on the left should avoid perceiving themselves as working towards a perfect set of state policies, or acquiring state power at all, and should instead think of posing a perpetual challenge to the status quo. That alone is our role. No ideal, final state should be worshipped ahead of its time but we should be at the altar of change itself. Change, by which we mean beneficial progress, is the foundation on which we should theorize and act. All things eventually become archaic, but change is the beginning and the end, the only value preserved throughout history. That is the only tradition we know to be capable of enduring into the long-term future.

Progressives should express their pride to be part of the greatest and oldest tradition in the world, the arcane tradition of change that has blown every religious doctrine out of the water and is the seal of history. We should regard those who are fixated on religious scriptures or recent documents such as the US Constitution as people merely with an infantile penchant for historical re-enactment. The idea of remaining fixed on traditions is simply historically misinformed, because all our knowledge directs us to recognize the normality of change and its responsibility for everything valuable in our civilization.

At no point, should progressives find themselves as apologists or defenders of regimes. To fall into apologetics and the defense of regimes would move against the very definition of progress, and at that point we would know that we have slid into the camp of reaction. No matter how enlightened an idea may have seemed when it was first proposed, it can no longer be called progressive if we must summon riot police or initiate crackdowns to defend it. The progressives stand against the status quo, and the future, by definition, belongs to those of us who stand most strongly against the status quo.

Today’s progressives will perhaps slide into the camp of tomorrow’s reactionaries, but the tradition of change will remain intact and this tradition will prevail. As a prediction, let us imagine that today’s radical reforms in the institutions of religion and marriage will be laughed at as archaic and our successors will call for the abolition of marriage and religious authority altogether. Perhaps that will be the call of tomorrow’s progressives, if the trend of historical change is unbroken.

To sum up, there is only one tradition and we are its protectors.

Harry J. Bentham is a British futurist blogger who has been a contributor at a number of think tanks including the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies since 2013. His work at Press TV and the multi-faith Beliefnet website has gained increasing attention and praise, including in the international media. Commentaries on political and ethical controversies by Bentham have been published at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, H+ Magazine, Dissident Voice and numerous other publications. He edits The Blog. Read other articles by Harry.