by Sam Crawley
It is rapidly becoming clear that a range of environmental problems facing society require urgent attention. The UNFCCC, for example, recently remarked that, as a result of climate change “[h]uman health and livelihoods are being devastated, unique ecosystems are being irreparably damaged, and many species have become extinct.” Other issues, such as plastic pollution, do not receive the same level of media attention as climate change, yet are nonetheless having disastrous impacts on the environment. In a paper detailing the problems created by plastic pollution, Roland Geyer et al. concluded: “humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale, in which billions of metric tons of [plastic] material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet”.
Government action is central to any credible response to these environmental problems. While the choices and actions of individuals are also important, government policy is required to ensure environmental action is coordinated across all regions of a country and all sectors of an economy. Action by governments will also need to be sustained over a period of years or decades, and may amount to a substantial transformation of society. Such an extensive and ambitious government programme requires broad public support to legitimise it, especially in democracies.
What the public thinks about environmental action, therefore, matters. Exploring people’s environmental attitudes can help us to get a better sense of the nature of public support for environmental action. In particular, insights can be gained by investigating why people hold particular environmental attitudes. For instance, what is driving the backlash against environmental action seen in some parts of the world? Is it that people are concerned about the economic impacts of environmental action, or is it something more?
There is some evidence which suggests that concern about the economic consequences of environmental action make people less likely to support it. However, given the large-scale changes to society that are likely to be required to address environmental issues, we could expect people’s ideology or worldview to contribute to their degree of support for environmental action. For example, people hold different beliefs about the relationship between humans and nature, the extent to which the government should be “interfering” in the economy, or what constraints should or should not be placed on a person’s “way of life”. These beliefs may strongly influence how much a person supports environmental action.
Consistently, and in a variety of contexts, people who place themselves on the right of politics have been found to be less likely to be concerned about the environment or to support environmental action than people on the left. Similar patterns can also be found among political parties, where left-wing parties are typically more engaged with environmental issues than right-wing parties. This link between left-right political orientation and environmental attitudes is found in the majority of developed countries, suggesting that aspects of conservative political ideology tend to lead people to take a negative view of environmental action.
However, what is less clear is which specific aspects of conservative ideology relate to environmental attitudes. Conservative ideology, although oriented around resistance to change and acceptance of inequality, is not homogeneous. In particular, there are different economic and social aspects of conservative ideology that are not held equally among all conservatives. Some conservatives may orient their worldview primarily around economics (and support for free-market principles), while others may hold strong conservative social attitudes, such as right-wing authoritarianism and exclusionary attitudes. Moreover, researchers have begun to explore specific environmental aspects of conservative ideology, such as “ecological dominance orientation” (EDO).
In what follows, I briefly expand on what the economic and social aspects of conservative ideology are, and examine what the evidence says about the link between these attitudes and support for environmental action. The insights from this research can help us to understand why we sometimes see a backlash to environmental action, and what the prospects are for an expansion of public support for environmental government policy. I also discuss how expanding research on concepts such as EDO might deepen our understanding of the link between conservative ideology and environmental attitudes.
Support for free markets and opposition to welfare
Since the neoliberal turn of the late 1970s to early 1980s, many conservatives have held a strong preference for free-market economics and “small” government. These preferences tend to manifest as support for cuts in government spending, reduction in social welfare and lowering of tax. Arguments in favour of such preferences are often based on the presumed superiority of free-market approaches to economic management. Additionally, people supporting free markets often appeal to ideas of individual liberty to support their position.
Free markets are not universally supported among conservatives, however. For example, populist right-wing parties and their supporters often endorse some level of government welfare spending. However, on this view, support for welfare spending is usually conditional on the spending being targeted at particular “in-groups”. Any aversion to environmental action among conservatives who do not favour small government may thus be linked to their social attitudes, as explained in the next section.
Support for free markets has an obvious natural tension with environmental action. Taxes and government regulation are generally agreed to be necessary to combat major environmental problems such as climate change, due to the high levels of social coordination and change required to address them. Research in a variety of contexts has backed up the hypothesis that people who support free markets are generally less likely to support environmental action. Studies have examined conservative economic attitudes such as opposition to social welfare, government spending and intervention in the economy, and support for tax breaks and privatisation of state-owned enterprises. Across a range of (mostly developed) countries, the results are consistent: people who hold conservative economic attitudes are less likely to care about environmental issues and are less likely to support action on the environment.
Right-wing authoritarianism and exclusionary attitudes
Many conservatives hold particular beliefs about how society should be structured, such as right-wing authoritarianism and exclusionary attitudes. Right-wing authoritarianism includes a preference for strong leaders, law and order, and traditional values, while people with exclusionary attitudes may hold anti-minority or anti-feminist views. Exclusionary attitudes can be understood through the lens of “social dominance theory”. Developed by psychologists Felicia Pratto and Jim Sidanius, social dominance theory holds that society tends to be composed of group-based hierarchies. Conservatives are frequently supportive of such hierarchies, or, more precisely, have high levels of “social dominance orientation”.
In contrast to support for free market principles, these conservative social attitudes do not have an obvious link to support for environmental action. On the surface, there is no reason to suppose that a person who prefers strong leaders, strict law and order, and rigid social hierarchies would be less likely to support environmental action. However, extensive survey research has shown that people who hold these conservative social attitudes are substantially less likely to support environmental action than those who do not hold strong conservative social attitudes. As with the link to conservative economic attitudes, these results hold in a variety of countries. Moreover, the relationship between conservative social attitudes and environmental attitudes seems, in general, to be stronger than that between conservative economic attitudes and environmental attitudes.
As I expand on below, further work is needed to understand exactly why this link between exclusionary attitudes, right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation and environmental attitudes exists. However, the evidence suggests that both economic and social aspects of conservative ideology shape people’s environmental views. People who support free-market principles, oppose social welfare, or hold authoritarian or exclusionary attitudes are less likely to support action on the environment than those who do not.
The independent effects of economic and social attitudes, and the wider implications
One possible reading of the evidence described above is that the reason people with exclusionary attitudes or other conservative social attitudes tend not to support environmental action is because most social conservatives also support free market economics. This interpretation seems plausible, given there is no clear theoretical reason why conservative social attitudes should relate to environmental attitudes.
However, in a study published in the Journal of Political Ideologies, I examined both conservative economic and social attitudes, and found that they independently relate to environmental attitudes. In other words, whether or not people support free markets, if they hold conservative social attitudes, they are more likely to think negatively about environmental action. Thus, despite these two central aspects of conservative ideology being independent, and not held by all conservatives, they both seem to have a similar but separate influence on environmental attitudes.
Given these results, the reasons why people with conservative social attitudes are less likely to support environmental action need to be further explored. Three areas in particular could benefit from further attention. First, theoretical work could further explore how and why environmental attitudes and worldviews connect to conservative ideology as a whole, and especially to the social aspects of conservatism. Conservative social attitudes could well be closely related to a set of conservative ecological attitudes that have not been as widely studied as the conservative economic and social attitudes that I have described above. Such ecological attitudes include anthropocentrism, speciesism and ecological dominance orientation (the belief that nature is hierarchical, with humans at the top of the pyramid). It may also be worth considering whether environmental attitudes should be thought of as an independent dimension of conservative ideology rather than a separate, but related, set of beliefs.
Second, while EDO is a promising start, further work could develop and validate indicators of conservative ecological attitudes. Measures for similar concepts (such as social dominance orientation) took decades to develop, and to become widely used and accepted. An enhanced conceptual clarity and improved measurement could help us to understand changing environmental attitudes among conservatives. Not all conservatives reject (strong) environmental action, and concern about environmental issues may be growing among conservatives, as evidenced by the ‘teal wave’ seen in the recent Australian election, where several centre-right, pro-environment candidates were successful.
Third, while these links between conservative attitudes and environmental opinion have been clearly established in many developed countries, less is known about the relationship between conservative ideology and the environment in the developing world. The relationship between left-right orientation and environmental attitudes tends to be weaker in developing countries than in developed countries. Thus, we could expect to see differences in the patterns of environmental attitudes among conservatives when comparing developing and developed countries. Expanding the scope of this research could help to further define the nature of the link between conservative ideology and environmental attitudes.
The link between the social and economic aspects of conservative ideology and environmental attitudes outlined above go some way towards explaining the backlash against environmental action seen in some contexts. While majorities in most countries support action on the environment, substantial minorities do not. The resistance from such groups can pose a significant obstacle to ambitious environmental action. The highly visible “gilets jaunes” or “yellow vest” protests in France were triggered, in part, by a carbon tax on fuel. In New Zealand, the “Groundswell” movement is largely driven by farmers opposed to moving agricultural emissions into the country’s emissions trading scheme. While these groups could well be facing negative economic consequences as a result of environmental policy, it is likely that some members are also motivated by conservative social attitudes. In other words, they see environmental policy as a threat to their conservative values and way of life.
Finding a way to increase the breadth of public support for environmental action is, therefore, no easy task. However, a clearer and deeper understanding of the reasons for any resistance among the public can help provide a way forward. Framing environmental problems in terms of economics (for example, making the argument that the costs of inaction on climate change will far outweigh the costs of action) will find resonance with some conservatives. Others, though, will need to be reassured that environmental action will not leave them in a world that no longer has a place for them.
 UNFCCC, ‘Climate Change Affects Us More Severely than Previously Thought’, <https://unfccc.int/news/climate-change-affects-us-more-severely-than-previously-thought> accessed (2022).
 R. Geyer et al., ‘Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made’, Science Advances, American Association for the Advancement of Science 3 (2017), p. e1700782.
 K. O’Brien, ‘Is the 1.5 target possible? Exploring the three spheres of transformation’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Sustainability governance and transformation 2018 31 (2018), pp. 153–60.
 L. Scruggs and S. Benegal, ‘Declining public concern about climate change: Can we blame the great recession?’, Global Environmental Change, 22 (2012), pp. 505–15.
 S. M. Cruz, ‘The relationships of political ideology and party affiliation with environmental concern: A meta-analysis’, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 53 (2017), pp. 81–91.
 F. M. Farstad, ‘What explains variation in parties’ climate change salience?’, Party Politics, SAGE Publications Ltd 24 (2018), pp. 698–707.
 J. T. Jost et al., ‘Political conservatism as motivated social cognition’, Psychological Bulletin, US: American Psychological Association 129 (2003), pp. 339–75.
 K. Stenner, ‘Three Kinds of “Conservatism”’, Psychological Inquiry, Routledge 20 (2009), pp. 142–59.
 R. J. Antonio and R. J. Brulle, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Politics: Climate Change Denial and Political Polarization’, Sociological Quarterly, 52 (2011), pp. 195–202.
 J. F. Henry, ‘The Ideology of the Laissez Faire Program’, Journal of Economic Issues, Routledge 42 (2008), pp. 209–24.
 F. M. Buttel and W. L. Flinn, ‘The Politics of Environmental Concern: The Impacts of Party Identification and Political Ideology on Environmental Attitudes’, Environment and Behavior (1978), pp. 17–36; A. M. McCright et al., ‘Political polarization on support for government spending on environmental protection in the USA, 1974’, Social Science Research, 48 (2014), pp. 251–60; S. B. Longo and J. O. Baker, ‘Economy "Versus" Environment: The Influence of Economic Ideology and Political Identity on Perceived Threat of Eco-Catastrophe’, The Sociological Quarterly, 55 (2014), pp. 341–65.
 Jost et al., Psychological Bulletin 129, pp. 339–75; K. M. Jylhä and K. Hellmer, ‘Right-Wing Populism and Climate Change Denial: The Roles of Exclusionary and Anti-Egalitarian Preferences, Conservative Ideology, and Antiestablishment Attitudes’, Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (2020), p. asap.12203.
 F. Pratto et al., ‘Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67 (1994), pp. 741–63.
 T. L. Milfont et al., ‘On the Relation Between Social Dominance Orientation and Environmentalism: A 25-Nation Study’, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 9 (2018), pp. 802–14.
 See also: K. M. Jylhä et al., ‘Climate Change Denial among Radical Right-Wing Supporters’, Sustainability, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute 12 (2020), p. 10226.
 F. Uenal et al., ‘Social and ecological dominance orientations: Two sides of the same coin? Social and ecological dominance orientations predict decreased support for climate change mitigation policies’, Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, SAGE Publications Ltd (2021), p. 13684302211010923.
 A. M. McCright et al., ‘Political ideology and views about climate change in the European Union’, Environmental Politics, 25 (2016), pp. 338–58.
by Richard Shorten
Author's Note: The expectation to communicate from personal experience is a crucial driver of modern politics. A recent book I have written, The Ideology of Political Reactionaries, shows how reactionaries have mastered, but subverted, this expectation. Therefore, progressives need to do better. Voice has ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ aspects that need exploring both more explicitly and more creatively. My short discussion distils voice into six foremost elements: argument style, emotional tone, metaphor, prioritising, humour, and personality. Together, these can be wrested into ways for exercising voice in greater (and more meaningful) equality, co-operation, and solidarity: respectively, to reflect, to feel, to connect, to weigh, to confide, and to become energised.
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Academics used to like to define politics as a matter of ‘who gets what, when, and how’. Lately, it has become a matter of who can say what. And how, and when.
‘Culture wars’, ‘wokeism’, and ‘cancel culture’ are all names for things that make people more aware that there is nothing irrelevant or nondescript about voice. Nor is there anything innocent about it. Voice is what people—not just politicians—use to make them real for others. And, it might be added, for themselves. Hence the two parallel expressions, to ‘find one’s voice’, and to ‘give voice’ to others (via an originating act of the giver’s own voice, that is). But ever since the global financial crisis of 2008, progressives have surrendered this ground, and done so meekly. So, in relation to predictable but also unpredictable public issues, reactionaries have grown mutating and enlarging constituencies of support, many proving storm-like and short-lived, but some showing worrying signs of being longer-lasting: enthusiasts for Trumpism post-Trump; immigration and climate change deniers morphing into Covid vaccine sceptics; Zemmouristes, as well as Lepenistes, outlasting the gilets jaunes in France.
The Ideology of Political Reactionaries tries to distill the reactionary voice, to break it down into its ingredients and make it plain. There is a baseline unity to reactionary ideology, notwithstanding its varying content across particular iterations: all reactionary ideology (from Euroscepticism in its mild form to neofascism at its strongest) participates in the prominent sounding of a rhetorical core comprising indignation, decadence, and conspiracy. Aside from the getting the historical and contemporary records straight (reactionism has a shady border with conservatism; reactionary ‘nostalgia’ is chimerical because the message is always more embittered than melancholic; the explanation by post-truth ignores the persistent fetishisation of facts), the study is intended as a nudge towards building a more desirable rhetorical public culture.
How do language, tone, and style connect reactionaries in and across Europe and America’s past and present? What starts to look enduring at least once the fascination with the apparent novelty of digital media is scaled back just a bit? And what do things look like when we lay out beside one another quite diverse packages of words and gestures for comparison and inspection? Such examination ought to be revealing, even if the lessons for progressives will, in the first instance, have to emerge by default inversion. And equally, it will show that ‘who can say what, when, and how’ is not simply a topical problem of politics and culture. It is actually quite an old one.
Reactionaries do not reject the in-vogue imperative to communicate from personal experience. Publicly, and on the surface, they might demean it. But, in truth, they subvert it. Reactionaries know that the authority to speak is closely bound up with personal involvement in what is spoken (i.e., having skin in the game); timing (e.g., taking care not to speak before others have been heard); and manner. They know this, even if their ‘knowing’ should really be understood more as the product of habit and inclination than of implausibly all-seeing calculative intent. On a tentative estimate, they know, and subvert, voice in at least six ways.
Perhaps the first rule of voice in politics is that the task is to make space. Reactionaries recognise this, and one thing they are always sure to do is to make space to reflect. They upend progressive calls to reflection. They do their best, in written and spoken word, to steer any thinking about politics whatsoever through the prior filter of a story about the unstoppability of decline. Such stories—which technically are ‘narratives’ (in the meaningful way, not in the way dulled by generalised over-use to refer to any sense-making exercise whatsoever)—vary in content. But invariably, they are all-absorbing.
Progressives ought to do nothing so grandiose as to craft sweeping counter-narratives. But they must find ways to open up, and in due course expand, alternative spaces for reflection, spaces that that are focused around objects of concern that are simultaneously human and humane. Human, because they will resist being formed around immovable abstractions (which is the historical case of adaptable reactionary fixation around ‘revolution’, ‘defeat’, ‘feminism’, etc.).). Humane, because space-shaped reflection would be unapologetically ethical, impatient with the conjuring of ‘liberalism’ into the enemy, or with the celebration of conflict for opposition’s sake.
Not only as an afterthought, making the space to feel must take up an important place next to making the space to reflect. The objects of concern created by the reactionary voice are self-referencing: reactionaries pity themselves and those like them. This is the glue that binds. It is also the basis for feelings that are externally directed towards what are made into targets, specifically, targets of anger. The sense conveyed that this anger is not something that has been heard to date—that it has been suppressed, unacknowledged, allowed to fester—is how a circle is squared with the timing rule: licence for reactionaries to speak is to have successfully created the impression that those people being spoken ‘for’ have long been unheard, and remain still unheard. But used creatively in collective life, emotional tone of voice makes people attentive—thereafter receptive—to the vulnerability of others, who, moreover, are others in their fullest diversity. Hence moral philosophers talk of the ‘circle’ of concern.
The task, by modulating tone of voice, is to expand that circle, and to do so without de-intensifying attachments in the process. Uplift, good will, faith in others: the promotion of all these things is often made to seem trite, a pathology of the extension of psychotherapeutic language into politics. But that itself is a function of the snare of cynicism in contemporary rhetorical public culture; in turn, a complex cause and effect of reactionary ‘edginess’ in its particular alt-right incarnation. Feelings liable to be dismissed as trite in any case do not exhaust the range of emotions far more likely to be timely to any moment than unspent self-pity: sorrow at wasted lives and livelihoods; outrage, not festering anger, at perpetration, complicity, or indifference.
Making the space to connect is another capability of voice. Metaphor connects the person to other people; it also helps that person to connect things to things. Reactionaries cement fellow-feeling with others who are not really like them, not in a way that couldn’t be challenged by more plausible connections; connections far more immanent in the the structures of social and political experience. Reactionaries do so by act of making the particular universal, or the part into whole (which more technically belongs to the branch of metaphor that is metonymy). In this way, dethroned monarchs, culturally-mocked millionaires, and failed artists can all be made mirrors to the hardships of the truly vulnerable, because the suffering in each of these scenarios—and the suffering of individuals—becomes representative: not statistically or descriptively representative, but symbolically representative. (Victimhood becomes the state of being belittled in whichever way makes meaning reflect back in this conveniently dangled mirror.)
How reactionaries connect things-to-things is by metaphors that are dominantly naturalist and hyper-masculinist. Metaphors from ecology or biology, in particular, dramatise what thereby becomes deep-rooted, health-threatening decline, in idioms that can extend to the frankly carnal. An under-appreciated aspect of the ideology of Eric Zemmour, for example, is the loss of male virility (which, inside his 2014 book The French Suicide, is far more a trope than the national ‘suicide’ of the title). Decoding reactionaries by metaphor is one step towards disarming them, but the next task is to turn the metaphors inside out, to craft them to more humane purpose and effect. One way of doing this is by explicitly reclaiming bodily metaphor, for it is the body which provides human vulnerability with its shared site. Another way of doing so is to take the structure of analogical reasoning (which works on the idea that because you accept something similar already, you will accept something else proposed), to wrest it away from its dominant reactionary or conservative uses (in idealisation of the status quo or status quo ante), and to place it into progressive use. Co-opted analogical reasoning would work on the idea that what has most meaningful prior acceptance is not overtly bound to parochial culture: people’s most pre-existing commitment of all is to be their best selves.
Prioritising by voice is identifying issues and embracing the task to weigh. Reactionaries weigh issues often with outward portent, but, ultimately, trivially. They do so habitually by lists, or by acts of either linguistic or literary brutalism. List arrangements of projected wrongs and grievances allow for the heaping up of externally-directed criticism and censure, fabricating the illusion of rising gravity. By imagined actions (or sometimes by sheer temerity of existing) migrants, ethnic Others or cartoonised social justice warriors can made to bask in the negative spotlight, and on that basis be made to shoulder blame for whole unlikely catalogues of sins. Brutalism in words and sentences is the creation of heightened urgency by graceless transition, jolting an audience into attention; and, by unfortunate correlation, repeated jolting has the simultaneous effect of deadening human sensitivity.
Lists plus brutalism may not exhaust reactionary techniques for deleteriously amplifying concerns, but above all this is a faux seriousness, a seriousness of the shrill or the pompous. What it doesn’t need is more of the same in reply. In the political act of prioritising—which is necessary not primarily because decision-making capacity is finite, but rather because the political imagination is drawn towards specific things and/ or specific persons—the practice of hierarchical ordering is hard to dispel in its entirety, but comes with downsides that may nevertheless be counter-acted. To be sure, listing bona fide wrongs has a dignity that listing imagined injustices does not. However, within contemporary culture, bona fide wrongs have frozen into competitive victimhoods: injury by racism versus class; by sex-based versus gender-based oppression; by historical fascism versus historical colonialism. And one way of chipping away at this (by wakening metaphor again) is to try to introduce alternative spatial orientations into public language: suffering that is neither ‘above’ and ‘below’, nor ‘before’ and ‘after’. Are there ways of juxtaposing experiences that are more consensual than conflictual? Ways that will not cancel out sympathy generated, but render sympathy liable to be reproduced in many directions, even perhaps in ever more fine-grained complexions?
Humour in voice is, or can be, a way by which to commune: to confide, to reassure. In reactionary voice, it is anything but. Psychologists of humour talk of humour style, and reactionary styles of humour tend strongly towards the maladaptive, i.e., aggressive. Rarely do reactionaries participate in the affiliative style of humour which (to play upon the original religious meaning of ‘to commune’ from communion) is capable of firming up human relationships by exchange of thoughts and feelings. Reactionary humour is the humour of put-downs and jibes at out-groups, destructive of bridge-building between people. Fairly recently, in the United States, Sarah Palin—the vice-presidential contender and under-emphasised forerunner of Donald Trump—developed a political style that gave a lot of time to unkind mimicry. In British politics, Nigel Farage experimented with a humour style that drifted into bullying, offset only partially by the kind of jocularity that gestured beyond the aggressive by virtue of being self-effacing and buffoonish: the notional punches-upwards could be unceremoniously dumped for punches-sidewards, soon becoming punches-downwards (recall the public humiliation of Herman van Rompuy in the European Parliament).
In the terms of theories canvassed across the history of thought, then conspicuously often—to the point of being a rule—the humour of reactionaries matches the comedy identified by Hobbes, operating by ridicule and superiority; not the tension-release by laughter observed by Freud, and still less the comedy that arises out of incongruity (between expectation and occurrence, between unconventionally paired ideas). Alternatively, non-Hobbesian humour is only at a very crude level urbane and elitish, or metropolitan because cosmopolitan. And it is very far from being exclusive since (in a last piece of humour taxonomy) it is open to expression in whole range of types: from the dark, dry and droll, through to the satirical, slapstick, and screwball. In France, currently, Eric Zemmour does possess a more stylish line in witticism. His niche in The French Suicide is to observe paradox, presented as incongruity between the intentions of both leftists and liberals and the effects of their policies. But his paradoxes are not really paradoxes: they are wilfully dark contrasts (such as that gay people were freer when encouraged to be discreet about their sexuality, or that straight women could be less guilty about sex when there existed rigid social norms to police their access to it). And in the process, there may be an instructive lesson about the need to unpick nuances in the uses of dark humour: Zemmour’s are wilful contrasts not only in the sense of being false, but also in the sense of being, ultimately, victim- (and not victimiser-)mocking. As such, shorn of the more appealing victim-empathising quality of ‘gallows humour’, the humour in his book is reduced to word-play. Which is clever, but not funny.
Voice also offers, lastly, the chance to inspire, in the possibility of positive response to the comportment of others. This last thing reactionaries know is that expressing viewpoint is simultaneously opportunity to display the virtues one carries. In reactionary practice, those are shallow virtues at best, and misguided inspiration. Charisma is more often bombast. Authenticity is double-edged, and in any event is contradictory to charisma. Bravery is martyring. Bragging should not be mistaken for much inspirational at all. And publicising insider knowledge—Trump’s business prowess, Farage’s Brussels days, Joseph McCarthy’s dogged curiosity—is (as well as in tension with flagging outsider credentials to denigrate ‘expertise’) the accomplice of community-destroying conspiracy claims that are reliably present.
This is not collegiality; not integrity or honesty; not gentleness and generosity; not constancy or meaningful self-knowledge. There is, to appreciate, an intrinsic difficulty in trying to craft the progressive articulation of personality in voice: the infra-person location of vocal chords, or the hand-gripped wielding of the pen, point to the hazard of carrying over-exaltation of individual action into the securing of new collective space, pushing against the collective exchange of perspectives. So, minimally, one part of comportment must tasked with trying to find a balance with modesty, as well as with trying to achieve a particular split: between twin tasks of showing one’s skin in the game and bringing others into it.
It is here, finally, that some existing conceptualisations of voice on the progressive side of politics are suspect. To be sure, from out of the conventions of academic political science, these present accounts improve vastly on the most established, most frequently-cited account: a 1970 text which makes voice into an alternative to ‘exit’, into a grossly individualised phenomenon, and, fundamentally, a matter of interest, not principle (in effect: ‘I’m not very happy about this, so I’m saying so’). But the dominant, progressive accounts are suspect nevertheless, and suspect, specifically, in respect to the conceptualisation of movement. Rightly, they contest the uniform flatness—the stuckness—of reactionary representations of ‘vox populi’: instead, at their best, they stress the importances of co-creating the meaning of experience, and fashioning demands on that basis. And rightly (albeit from a distinct angle), they stress the ‘situatedness’ of voice. Yet working against these stresses, they tend to portray the who-ness of voice as if the issue were pre-settled. Plus, on the issue of what people ought to do with voice once they get there, they are hesitant, such that they under-estimate the complexities of ‘when’ and ‘how’.
Enabling voice, whether for progressives of either a moderate or more radical kind, presently tends to be understood as a single movement: either to or from a single location. Just the direction is reversed. For moderates, the movement is dominantly ‘toward’—in which voice is something graciously presented to somebody, as though receiving a gift-giving guest (‘there you go, here is voice, now use it’). For radicals, the movement is ‘away from’—by beseechment to join something at some distance from a starting point (‘“come to voice” with us’)—and with just a hint that before being exercised, the new joiners’ voices will need to pass through a final stage of screening by older occupants.
The future situational pressures on voice cannot, by nature, be foretold. But if the inverted lessons from reactionary practice are instructive, then the desiderata for better voice will—centrally—comprise maximal inclusion, minimal coercion, or pluralism in balance with empathy. From this starting set of features: to reflect, to feel, to connect, to weigh, to confide, be energised. To genuinely co-create. To use voice so that it sounds—then echoes—in a multitude of directions. Above all, to use voice to make space so that others might find space in it of their own.
 Note that this immovability by abstraction can even be a risk for contemporary progressives, who, following a very timely call for an appreciation of what is ordinary (cf. Marc Stears, Out of the Ordinary: How Everyday Life Inspired a Nation and How It Can Again [Belknap Press, 2021]), can often be drawn towards abstractifying the value of the ‘everyday’.