These days, I read a column by Thomas Friedman from October 2012 titled “Why I am Pro-Life“. Since (I think) he is a left-wing democrat, the title draws attention. But what exactly is Friedman trying to say? According to him, one cannot claim to be himself ‘pro-life’ and be against common-sense gun control, social policies to the most disadvantaged, etc. etc. Thus, Friedman is saying that he is presumably more “pro-life” than many alleged “pro-life” republicans.
As a Brazilian, I don’t feel particularly identified with neither Republicans nor Democrats. However, despite what we might think about the two mainline American parties, I do understand Friedman’s effort to ‘take ownership’ of a label which has clearly a positive sense (as he says, “the term ‘pro-life’ should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life”). I’m not saying Friedman is right, but his effort reminds me of a similar label misuse in Brazilian public sphere: the appropriation of the label “progressive” by Brazilian anti-religious left.
Personally, I don’t identify myself with organized political groups, whether they be progressives or conservatives. As labels, both adjectives mean nothing. It all depends on what you want to progress, or what you want to conserve. However, it seems clear that the term progressive has much more positive a connotation than its opposite (at least in Latin America). Although such semantic charge is, in most part, defined historically by a long process of sedimentation, I think that, generally and as a matter of principle, citizens living in democracies have more positive reactions with the label “progressive” than with “conservative”.
Despite the fact that I don’t sympathize with progressive groups any more than I do with conservative ones, I know that my positions in moral issues would be labeled as conservative or right-wing by most of Brazilian intelligentsia. However, just as Friedman, I think this is a gross distortion. Even though there are plenty of anti-liberal and anti-modern catholics, I think most catholics have, in general, a sympathetic disposition to accept Modernity and its project of an neutral and secular political order (for more on this issue, I would recommend this excellent text of Fr. Martin Rhonheimer).
Having a sympathetic disposition to accept Modernity and a secular order is perfectly compatible with an intransigent defense of life (from conception), marriage and family. In fact, I would go further: the defense of life, marriage and family is not only compatible with the acceptance of Modernity, but is also grounded on it. Thus, it strikes me as a huge distortion that the Brazilian anti-religious left can label these positions as conservatives. It is a distortion that pro-abortion and pro-redefinition of marriage positions have nowadays the monopoly of the label “progressive”. If by “progressive” we understand the willingness to promote a radically inconditional conception of human dignity, then nothing seems more progressive than the defense of unborn humans and children. That’s exactly what the Catholic Church does.