Friday 3 February 2017
The protester as hero
The recent 'troubles' both worldwide as a result of Donald Trump's election and within the Catholic Church as a result of Pope Francis' actions made me think quite how powerful the archetype of The Protester (and of his cousin, The Rebel) has become within modern culture.
That's rather odder than might appear. Disagreement is an inevitable part of human societies. But it's hard to think of many other cultures which privilege 'protest' as the appropriate reaction to such disagreement. The quadricentenary of Bishop Sancroft's birth recently reminded me of the non-juring attachment to passive obedience. I confess to a long standing irritation with the fame of the suffragettes as opposed to the relative neglect of the suffragists:
The NUWSS adopted a peaceful and non-confrontational approach. Members believed that success could be gained by argument and education. The organisation tried to raise its profile peacefully with posters, leaflets, calendars and public meetings.
Since the 1960s, there has been a gradual increase in the sense that protest, particularly violent, highly emotional protest, is the proper way to settle disagreement. I can quite understand that many people object to Donald Trump as US President. But that disagreement was subjected to a democratic test and Trump won. Whatever path the losers of such a test now follow ought surely to take account both of the democratic result and the need to preserve the order of the American republic: in short, if everytime you dislike your leader you 'protest' and 'resist', it's hard to see how a republic can survive.
Protest, particularly mass public protest suffers from two main defects. It is disruptive of order, and civic peace is perhaps the main desideratum of public life. Moreover it tends to be blunt: I'm not at all sure what the Women's March recently was objecting to precisely (besides losing the election), still less what it proposed to put in its place.
I suppose (though I'm not completely convinced) that there is a place for The Protester. But I'm sure it's not so great a place as is currently given. If we are to have a pantheon of political role models, let's emphasize a bit more those who conform for the sake of peace, those who bite their tongues and those who compromise. That goes for both 'sides': if a boorish, expressive individualism characterises much of the reaction to Trump, it also characterises much of the Trump phenomenon as well.