As the heir to the Enlightenment and its rationalist tradition, the Left inescapably deploys optimist of the will. To remain a significant political force, it must assume that ‘things can get better’, that the future is on its side. Historians and logicians, for once in accord, will point out that there is no more reason to be optimistic than to be pessimistic. Yet one must ask what the world would be like without political movements committed to a belief in progress, to the assumption that it is possible to move from a less to a more desirable state of affairs, to the idea that human distress can be alleviated, perhaps removed? It is not necessary that this belief be ‘true’; it may be necessary that it should be held.
The greens were more in tune with the rapidly developing post-Fordist Zeitgeist than the traditional parties of the Left or Right. Such a Zeitgeist, however, was still that of an elite of ‘post-modern’ intellectuals, who scoffed at the concept of progress as a remnant of eighteenth century rationalist thought. Most ordinary people expected things to get better, as they had done for most of their lives. They were prepared to acknowledge the importance of the environment to any pollster, but failed to exhibit diminishing enthusiasm for the artefacts of the consumer society.