A long, long time ago, when I was an adolescent, and later a young man, there was a terrible swear word we could use in political discussion. When someone did not see the obvious, blinding clarity of “the party line” on any issue then we were free and quick to call them “reactionary“. Much like the use of ‘fascist’, ‘nazi’ or ‘racist’ today the simple use of this adjective was extremely powerful. Calling someone a ‘reactionary’ instantly revealed that you were in the right (having recognized a reactionary, like a witch, when you saw one) and completely obviated any need for further discussion as this single, powerful, word settled fully any debate. I can remember spotting reactionaries. It was remarkably easy; if somebody was older, more experienced, and unable to immediately fall in line with my current Marxist philosophy they were almost certainly a ‘reactionary’. It is amazing how many debates I won by this simple rhetorical device. It is therefore with some embarrassment that I have found that I, with some justification, could warrant the ‘reactionary’ tag.
When young I was naive enough to know that there was an “arc of history” which “bends towards justice”. That the future was almost already written, and the important thing was to be on the “right side of history” as we progressed onwards. Those of us in the vanguard could be expected to meet people who would try and stop our progress, but we would soon dismiss these reactionaries as we marched ever onwards to our utopia. It was simple really, we were on the side of progress and therefore good, reactionaries tried to thwart this and therefore were bad. But unfortunately this all has a fatal flaw. Namely that, change and progress are not synonyms. Whilst the progress is towards making life better for all, then those pushing this are indeed on the side of the angels. However, if the change is dangerous or likely to bring future harm then good people have a moral duty to try and oppose it. Reactionaries are simply reacting to proposed change; if the change is bad then they are the good guys.
At present we are witnessing an extremely dangerous trend in our culture. The idea of free speech is being eroded: authors and commentators are being pressured to talk within narrowing guidelines; the public is being advised to censor itself, by shaming and bullying, and the state, in the form of the police, is increasingly deciding the limits of acceptable discourse. While this important liberty is being eroded an important advance is being turned back. We are watching a return to racist and sexist thinking as we define people, and their actions, increasingly on their biological groups rather than on their thoughts or actions. This tends to fracture our humanity and fragment us into small groups. The net effect of this is to damage the idea of community. Through the mechanism of this change and increasing consumerism and individualism we are also witnessing a weakening of the family structure with little evidence that we have any though of what will take its place in the roles of mutual support and child rearing. On a larger scale the advance of globalisation threatens, and has seriously weakened, national planning giving capital the whip hand over labour and undermining the practice of democracy. When capital and wealth are globally mobile it is very hard for national democracies to hold them in check.
All of these changes demand a reaction and for this reason I am a reactionary. However, as this term still echoes in my psyche unpleasantly I might have to find a different moniker. After thought it was obvious, that as a reactionary, I was resisting change. Therefore, I was part of the resistance. Indeed, as I was trying to preserve freedoms, the freedoms of thought and association as well as the freedom from prejudiced appraisal, I was also a freedom fighter. A member of the resistance and a freedom fighter, now with that title I’ll sleep happily.