Satirists are natural conservatives. From the Romans on, they have flourished by pitching an older, superior order against ridiculous and sinister innovations.
Juvenal contrasted old Rome with the vulgarity brought by Greek flatterers and Jewish merchants who had so corrupted the eternal city that they left “no room for honest callings”. All the great satirists followed his example of nostalgia and alarm. Swift hated the Whigs for dragging his peaceful country into the long wars against Louis XIV. The threat of mass society to the old aristocratic order appalled Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell. By the Eighties, it was the turn of Leftists to be Conservatives and deliver furious tirades against Margaret Thatcher’s destruction of social democratic values they had assumed to be settled. Norman Tebbit showed he understood the satirical dynamic better than many literary critics when he wrote of the best satire of the Thatcher years: “Spitting Image’s creators were rooted in a mid-20th-century ‘Guardianesque’ political consensus, which, at the time, was being comprehensively trashed by the Thatcherite reformers.”
Thatcher won, of course. The targets of satire nearly always do. Swift no more stopped the Whigs making England a European power than Michael Moore stopped George W. Bush winning the 2004 election. Politicians should not necessarily worry if their opponents have the best jokes. To call satire a conservative art is another way of saying that it is the art of the defeated. Even Orwell’s Animal Farm only became an obituary for Soviet communism after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like everyone else in the Forties, Orwell imagined the regime carrying on indefinitely, until “a time came when there was no one who remembered the old days before the Rebellion”.