In yesterday’s Observer Nick Cohen made an admirably un-crowd-pleasing call for intervention in Syria, citing my colleague Michael Weiss’s proposal for helping opposition forces in that country. He wrote:
Intervention to stop a regional war carries vast risks. But we should be honest about the consequences of acquiescing to Assad. A failed state and nest for terrorism will sit on the edge of the Mediterranean. Foreign mercenaries and Alawite paramilitaries will continue to massacre a largely defenceless population and the conflict may spread into Iraq, Israel, Turkey and Jordan.
As the news that escapes the control of the Syrian censors reminds us every day, those who say we should do nothing also have blood on their hands.
I can just imagine the reaction of many readers choking over their [insert unmanly, organic foodstuff popular in N16 here]: “Neoconservatism!”
Does technology ultimately militate against democracy? Ed West looks beyond the Arab Spring to ask if democratic representation was fundamentally a product of the industrial era. Is it becoming obsolete as new technology makes large swathes of the population economically irrelevant?
Democracy is in retreat. In Greece and Italy, respectively Western civilisation’s cradle and nursery, democratic politicians have been replaced by technocrats at the behest of a European Union that has now removed any veneer of democracy. While the Arab world has risen against the sometimes bland and sometimes eccentric – but always brutal – dictators of the second world, only the most green-gilled of commentators would bet on democratic outcomes in any country. The world’s second largest economy is now an autocracy, and is steadily building a stable of similarly-minded clients across Africa.
It is common at this point to invoke the name of Francis Fukuyama, who must rue the day he wrote The End of History, which goes to show that one can produce a lifetime of incredible work but get one thing wrong and that’s what the first four pages of a Google search of your name will show.
And yet Fukuyama’s critics may be as mistaken as he was: they assume that his dream of democracy spreading across vast swathes of Africa and Asia did not materialise because those countries have failed to reach the level of economic and cultural development necessary for liberal democracies. And yet, what if economic, cultural and technological development did not in themselves ensure democracy? What if the technology of the twenty-first century was to lead away from people power? It is perfectly feasible. Indeed, it seems to be happening.
In Athens, a city now ruled by the inappropriately named Mr Papademos, democracy emerged in the fifth century BC not because of philosophical appeals to the wisdom of the demos – most intelligent Greeks despised the people – but because the sea-based Athenian Empire needed poor Athenian men to row the triremes that ruled the waves.
Athens’ might was dependent on working-class men, and so the working class were given a say in government.
In Britain, where democracy emerged between 1837 and 1918, there was a philosophical justification for the change, whether from the liberal tradition of John Locke or the radical Thomas Paine, both of them having more impact on the British colonies. (At the birth of American independence 70 per cent of adult males in Massachusetts had the vote, compared to 3 per cent in Britain.)
Yet, like the poor Athenians who muscled their way to a vote, it was a question of power for the British too. The English Revolution, during which the House of Commons wrested power from the monarch and aristocracy, reflected a change in the balance of power and money and the rise of a non-aristocratic middle class that was clearly visible by the mid-fifteenth century and whose emergence accelerated in the following century, especially in Puritan-dominated East Anglia, Kent and London.
Likewise, the development of full democracy two centuries later came about because the British working classes, as well as being large in number and potentially dangerous, were economically necessary. With the development of the more radical, unskilled trades unions, the working class could bring the country down with or without the ballot box. During the 1926 General Strike, there was genuine terror that strikers could topple the country; middle class students volunteered to perform vital services as a patriotic duty.
How times have changed. Today, more than ever, British culture is immersed in the ideology of equality: the Marxist fantasy that equality of outcome can be achieved between individuals and groups is more popular than ever, despite being ever more detached from scientific reality. Yet, paradoxically, recent technological advance has made society radically more unequal: a general strike today by manual workers would be inconceivable, not least because manufacturing jobs have dropped from 50 per cent of the workforce in the early twentieth century to 12 per cent today (although output has increased). Manual jobs can be done far more cheaply overseas or by robots.
This has hugely reduced the political power of working-class men, whose economic position has drastically declined in the last 40 years, especially since women and ethnic minorities have replaced them as the chief client of Left-wing politics. This is no coincidence: technology has created a labour market more female-friendly, while the importation of workers from the developing world has brought social costs borne almost entirely by the increasingly powerless and irrelevant working class. Needless to say, the wealthy have felt the benefit as wages at the bottom are kept stubbornly low.
Old manufacturing jobs have been replaced by unskilled service jobs, which are less well-paid and often part-time, and in which men have no advantage over women – no wonder, then, that in Britain the low-skilled young are five times as likely to be unemployed as the highly-skilled, and that this ratio has increased markedly in two decades. Where there is power, it is with Unite and Unison, unions that represent female-dominated public sector industries.
There are still good jobs out there, of course, but they increasingly require a level of intelligence that most jobs in the mid-twentieth century did not. The problem with this is that many people are not intelligent: as Daniel Knowles recently pointed out in the Telegraph, our greatest social problem is that “there are no jobs for the dim”. The August 2011 riots in London, if they meant anything, were essentially an uprising of the stupid against a society which now punishes stupidity, thanks to the relentless pace of technological innovation.
Inequality levels have been increasing at a steady pace for over three decades now, and the number of conservatives who shrug their shoulders at this fact is shrinking every year. After all, who wants to live in a gated community nervously watching out for hooded youths every time you leave the house?
For men below a certain intelligence, there is now no hope of acquiring a decent income, nor of ever supporting a family without the state’s help, so it is entirely rational that they instead turn to crime or listlessness. And it is entirely understandable why so few vote. People tend not to vote when they feel powerless; a subconscious recognition, perhaps, that they are not worthy to take part in the democratic process.
Even the panacea of National Service would not solve the crisis, because the Army no longer needs muscle like it used to – and, historically, there has always been a link between fighting power and political power: British democracy was fully realised in 1918 after the working classes had proved themselves vital to the war effort. Unpopular and unwinnable foreign adventures aside, there may no longer be a need for a 190,000-strong British military – historically, a small figure.
In 1948 and 1967, Israel desperately needed fighting men to ensure its survival. Today, the country does not require young Jewish men good at firing rifles, but technology experts, such as those who set back the Iranian nuclear programme two years with a computer virus. The irony is that many Israelis once despised the Yiddish-speaking Diaspora Jews as weak and over-intellectual, in comparison to the rugged Hebrew warriors of the desert; now, Israel’s greatest warriors sit with their eyes pressed against a computer screen.
If geeks are the new heroes, it is perhaps not surprising that their status has changed. As American commentator Steve Sailer has pointed out, American culture has become infinitely more nerd-friendly: computer geeks who would once have been beaten up at school on a daily basis are now… sexy. Forty years ago, Carnaby Street was the coolest place in London; now it’s Old Street, the centre of Silicon Roundabout.
So if, as it seems from developments in the West, full democracy was a product of the industrial age, will it fade away as the new information age highlights natural inequalities? People have assumed that China will eventually democratise, because capitalism and democracy go hand in hand, but that is not necessarily the case. China may well become some sort of oligarch-democracy, with only professionals being given the franchise.
What does this signify? That technology in the twenty-first century is mitigating against democracy and egalitarianism, having shifted the dynamic between brains and brawn in favour of a privileged minority.
Few articles in The Catholic Herald have moved readers as much as an interview we ran two years go with the American seminary applicant Philip Johnson, who in 2008 was told he had an inoperable brain tumour and just 18 months to live.
The interview prompted many people to write heartfelt letters, and one reader even wrote to us offering to pay the cost of his priestly training.
At the time of that first interview the young man (he was just 24) had already decided to pursue his priestly vocation, having been given a medical discharge by the United States Navy. And, incredibly, last month he was admitted to candidacy for the orders of diaconate and priesthood at a ceremony in Philadelphia.
When I catch up with him Philip has just received the news that after over a year of intensive radiation therapy his tumour is stable, perhaps even a little reduced.
“It went well,” he say. “The doctors think the tumour is slightly smaller. It was hard for them to tell because they had to zoom in on it. But they’re going to keep me on chemotherapy for a few months.”
Philip’s story starts on October 15 2008. He was then a gunnery officer in the US Navy and discerning his vocation. He had been suffering from nocturnal fits for several months and had been to the doctor, who thought that it was sleep paralysis, an unpleasant but not serious condition. But because he was asleep he was unable to accurately describe the seizures, and it was only when his ship was in the Persian Gulf on deployment that a fellow officer saw one of the seizures.
He was given an MRI scan. Doctors sat him down and told him he had a brain tumour, and just 18 months to live. He went to the chapel and cried.
The following January exploratory surgery revealed that the tumour was cancerous, malignant and more aggressive than previously thought. The tumour was rated as 3.3, with 4 being the fastest-growing, with average life expectancy being under two years. Because it was too big to operate on the only option available was radiation and chemotherapy. That was three years ago now.
Philip’s health up until that point had always been good. “That’s why it was so surprising,” he says.
Philip was raised a Catholic in North Carolina, although he speaks with a standard Midland American accent. “I don’t know why,” he laughs. “My whole family has a southern accent. I just never picked it up.” Like most Catholics of his generation, he drifted away in his teenage years, rather than actively rebelling, and even as a child he says he was not especially devout.
Graduating from high school in 2002, he immediately entered naval academy in Annapolis, Maryland, although this involved some sacrifice for a young man. “The other universities all had parties all the time,” he says, while Annapolis was very strict and focused. But looking back, he says: “Going to naval academy saved my faith. In any other school I would have fallen away.”
At the time he had a steady girlfriend. The relationship lasted for two years, but he always had an affinity with the priesthood (his former girlfriend went on to marry and the two are still friends). “I started thinking about it after I came back to the faith,” Philip says now. “I had five years owed to serve in the military because they paid for college.”
In 2006 he met his bishop, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh, to discuss his priestly calling. Then came the news.
“I never felt anger,” he says. “I was just really scared at first and I was confused.
“I wanted to become a seminarian. We have so few priests, why would God cut short someone who wants to add to it?” he says, almost laughing.
The military gave him a discharge and he returned to the United States from his posting in the Middle East to prepare for priestly training. Later, he visited Lourdes for the first time. “I’ve probably been six or seven times. I’ve done that three summers now. It does still have that power. It keeps drawing me back. It has a unique atmosphere.”
There, he met his teacher, a hermit called Fr George Byers who was one of the English-speaking chaplains. Fr Byers teaches him only. Philip just refers to him as “the hermit” as he lives alone in a log cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“He’s been a seminary professor all his life,” Philip explains, “and it just happened that he decided to become a hermit, and the bishop of the diocese next to mine invited him. So he moved to North Carolina right when I needed to take time off for the seminary. We kept in contact ever since.”
I ask Philip whether his way of thinking has changed after carrying this disease.
“You start to care a lot less about worldly things,” he says. “Things that used to bother you don’t bother you any more, when you think about it. It changed my life for the better. It made my prayer stronger, I came into contact with people I otherwise wouldn’t have met. I can see God’s hand in it. I can’t be mad, because I can see how he is working through this. You think about the blessings you have already.
“Death: you never think about it, and if you do it’s so far away that you never give it a second thought,” Philip says. “Now I have to think about it every day.” (He recently lost a friend, Jennifer Robbins, to brain cancer. For like many people with terminal conditions he has come to know many other sufferers.)
Philip is currently assigned to St Catherine of Siena church in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and hopes to return to St Charles Borromeo Seminary for on-campus studies next year.
He loves the Extraordinary Form Mass, which he says is rapidly growing in his part of the United States. Raleigh cathedral now hosts an EF Mass one Sunday in each month and Philip finds it a source of strength. (His mother, incidentally, only became a Catholic three years ago, although he doesn’t believe he was a direct influence.)
Philip writes a blog, In Caritate Non Ficta (which translates as “in unfeigned love” and can be found at Philipgerardjohnson.blogspot.com), and his faith and stoicism in the face of such a terrifying condition have inspired many people.
“My bishop asked me to speak at the local high school,” he says. “He’d already asked them to pray for me, they were praying novenas. There was just overwhelming support.”
Philip gets letters from well-wishers all the time, and he says that knowing that people care helps a lot. “If you have a difficult day, knowing people are thinking about and praying for you helps.”
A friend in the Vatican even arranged for his name to be entered into the prayer book that sits on the Pope’s prie dieu. He remains in the prayers of so many people, friends and strangers who have been touched by his story.
Last month Bishop Burbidge, for the second year in succession, announced a novena for Philip. In a letter to priests, religious and the lay faithful of the diocese, the bishop noted that the “growth of the brain tumour appears to have stabilised about the time of the conclusion of last year’s novena”.
I happened to have read a couple of days before interviewing Philip about a new trial for treating brain tumours, called GALA-5, in which 60 patients newly diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common type of malignant brain tumour, will be given 5-amino-levulinic acid, a substance which makes the tumour glow under UV light during surgery, making it easier to remove under surgery. I mention this to Philip, then realise he probably gets these sorts of snippets of hope all the time from people. It is natural when confronted with such a terrible injustice to want to offer reassurance.
He laughs. He says that he gets “a lot of emails from a lot of people” telling him about the latest in developments in brain cancer treatment.
I ask Philip what he is currently praying for. “I’m praying for strength,” he replies. “I’m praying for the strength to accept God’s will and be joyful about that, because miracles happen.
“I’ve always had a feeling, right after I was diagnosed, immediately I was told I had 18 months to live… for some reason I didn’t believe it. And I keep hearing it from different people, from priests I know, who say that when they pray for me they have a feeling I’m going to be around for a while.”
For some reason I get the same feeling when we speak, such is the strong feeling of hope that he communicates, not just for himself but for all of us who are ultimately heading in the same direction. So many people, in fact, across the world are praying for Philip that it seems as if he has an enormous force of faith behind him. So this Christmas, please remember him in your prayers.
The European Court of Justice has ruled that Britain and Ireland cannot return asylum seekers to Greece because their human rights would be jeopardised.
An Afghan had challenged a British decision to remove him to the first safe country he had arrived in, and the court stated that “an asylum seeker may not be transferred to a member state where he risks being subjected to inhuman treatment.”
The case is significant because the convention on refugees has always been that they must seek asylum in the first safe country in which they arrived. But now the EU’s own court says that Greece does not pass that basic test, mostly because it is too poor (because Ireland is rolling in money right now). It is also significant because it suggests that refugee policy is now going to be pooled.
It is interesting how far the logic behind the asylum system has shifted down the years. The first UN Convention, in 1951, dealt with people made homeless by the changing map of Europe (including millions of Germans driven out of Prussia). It was never intended, nor even imagined, that vast numbers of people from failed states would move permanently into Europe, marking the continent’s greatest movement of people since the barbarian invasions.
There are many arguments to be made against our current policy, the prime one being that it enables dictators to rid themselves of troublesome elements, and for failed societies to avoid confronting their problems; more pertinently, with birth rates in the most disastrous countries far outstripping death rates, there is no simply no foreseeable end (Afghanistan, for instance, has a fertility rate of 6.42 children per woman).
And next year, as conditions worsen in the Middle East – Iraq is surely going to collapse, as anyone not on the political equivalent of lithium could have predicted – libraries across Europe will start to notice increasing demand for history books about the fall of Rome.
There are, of course, many other similarities between our age and the late Roman Empire: a declining birth rate, especially marked among upper-class women; a collapse in religious belief and the growth of a more vital and passionate monotheistic faith from the Middle East; a shrunken attachment to the ideal of the country – patriotism – and increased attachment to the state, a state which virtually all ambitious, educated people wished to work for.
Today the large taxpayer-funded charitable sector is one area of the state that attracts well-educated and idealistic people. On the radio this morning Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council (88 per cent state-funded) argued that refugees have a “right to protection in Europe and we have to do our bit to uphold that”. (One thing I will say for the Refugee Council – unlike many politically active charities, they do not appear to take money from the EU).
Do Afghans have a “right” to protection in Europe? Who granted them such a right? God? Nature? The UN? What right do I have to live in, say, Afghanistan, assuming I was insane?
This is, in reality, a distortion of the English language. An Afghan has no rights to England; if he is within its borders he enjoys the human rights that English law and custom ensures (well, used to), but he has no civil rights, including the right to reside. (I remember a particularly dim-witted individual on Question Time claiming that government policy made refugees “second-class citizens”.)
An Afghan who arrives here is, in fact, a guest, and the system takes into account thousands of years of custom whereby guests are protected; this featured strongly in ancient Jewish and Greek culture, with Zeus being the patron and protector of all strangers. Likewise a Pathan will look after you if you stray on to his turf, but in no sense do you have any “rights” within his society.
That’s because the asylum system is by nature contradictory, taking that ancient custom of hospitality and confusing it with the very modern concept of rights, rights which can only be derived from citizenship (and in a modern democracy asylum seekers, assuming they stick around, must inevitably become citizens).
And the idea that an Afghan has “rights” here is based on the totally fraudulent idea of indiscriminate altruism. In his famous 1982 essay, “Discriminating Altruisms”, Garrett Hardin wrote that a world without borders, barriers or distinctions is impossible.
The success of countries such as England can be partly attributed to their ability to widen the spheres of trust within society, beyond family, clan and tribe, allowing vast numbers of people to co-operate and trade through a common culture and law; the failure of Afghanistan is much down to its rigid old clan and tribal codes (this makes it impossible to build any sort of civil law or to counter corruption). Yet there are limits to how far the sphere of trust can extend. Hardin wrote that “altruism practised without discrimination of kinship, acquaintanceship, shared values, or propinquity in time or space” was impossible, because the benefits of belonging would cease to exist. Eventually, if we continue down our path of universalism, the benefits will disappear for us, too.
As the 19th-century French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once put it: “If all the world is my brother, then I have no brother.”
One of the many things I prefer about being in France to England, along with the superior food, beautiful architecture and even more beautiful language, is their civilised attitude to alcohol – cheap, freely available and not used by the authorities as an excuse to constantly tell the population how horrible and rubbish they are.
So on one level the letter by medical experts urging the Government to take “bold action” by bringing in minimum prices for drinks should leave us cold. After all, as Christopher Snowdon points out (after reading his blog about the lies, mania and all around irrationality of the taxpayer-funded health campaigning industry, the term “health fascist” starts to look like an insult to Mussolini), Britain has the third-highest alcohol taxes in Europe.
Yet even though all our political instincts tell us otherwise, and much as I’m personally wary of doctors playing politicians – the fiasco about banning smoking in cars being a recent example – we should not immediately dismiss them.
Alcohol is most certainly a major social problem, and unlike, for example, obesity or smoking, it is a social problem which invariably affects non-participants (by all means suggest otherwise – let’s have that debate in any town centre at 11.30pm).
Alcohol is also, historically speaking, cheap: at least compared to most of the 20th century, although as anti-prohibitionists say, not compared to the 19th (although which would you rather live in, the 1950s or the incredibly violent and poverty-ridden 1850s?).
But the major problem with the libertarian argument is that it tries to compare Britain with other countries, and therefore tends to mix up cause and effect. France has a relaxed attitude to drink because it doesn’t have Britain’s alcohol-related social problems (cirrhosis of the liver, yes, but that is less the concern of policymakers than street violence and wife-beating) – it’s not the other way around.
Slashing taxes on wine and beer would not make people in Glasgow and Belfast drink like Italians or Greeks. So far attempts to create a more mature drinking culture through relaxing closing-time laws (a maddening and infantilising restriction) have failed to do so.
Of course there are nudges that might encourage sensible drinking, such as incentivising people to eat with their alcohol, or to drink in inter-generational groups – although how the state can do this is another matter, beyond more blindingly obvious and patronising advertising campaigns – but it’s unlikely that this would make serious inroads into “booze Britain”.
It’s a cultural thing. Or perhaps not, for alcoholism is thought to have a strong genetic component, and the affliction often runs through families. Furthermore rates of alcoholism are known to differ between population groups – no one would suggest that cafés on Native American reservations start serving wine to create a “continental drinking culture” there. Likewise many east Asians are genetically incapable of drinking alcohol without feeling sick. Yet policymakers routinely ignore the likelihood that there is a genetic component to the northern European weakness for alcohol.
As the Wall Street Journal reported:
Like the Asian flush, some alcohol-related genes are particularly prevalent in certain ethnic or geographic groups. A recent study in Nature found that a rare variation in the HTR2b gene, linked to severe impulsiveness, is found almost exclusively in Finnish people. “Almost all these severely impulsive individuals are also alcoholic, and their worse impulsive problems occurred while they were drunk,” says Dr. Goldman, the study’s senior investigator.
The Finns are famously reckless and uncontrollable drinkers, and Finland has even higher alcohol taxes than Britain, but attempts by the government there to lower them have coincided with increases in violence (a few years back a Viz wall poster of Europe illustrated Finland with a man surrounded by vodka bottles, which is not entirely unfair). Top of the Euro alcohol tax table is Ireland, a country with high levels of alcoholism and also a very strong prohibitionist tradition, in which, in living memory, up to a fifth of the population were teetotal.
In The 10,000 Year Explosion Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending of Utah University even suggest that the early use of wine in Mediterranean cultures helps explain the low levels of alcoholism among people of Greek and Italian extraction, compared to northern Europeans, who have not had time to build up as much immunity. I’ve not read this elsewhere, but it’s certainly possible.
Of course culture plays a part. Americans of British and Irish ancestry tend to drink less than the British and Irish, because drunkenness is more frowned upon in the US, but that is not entirely “cultural” either; America has always had pretty strict alcohol laws, from its minimum age of 21 to compulsory ID, restrictions on public drinking and numerous dry counties (and even after the repeal of prohibition, many states in the South remained dry, Mississippi being the last in 1966).
But at no point in history have northern Europeans, and the British in particular, been known to drink sensibly – as far back as the early medieval period, continental observers spoke with horror about the Anglo-Saxons and their hopeless drunkenness (indeed many English soldiers got drunk on the eve of the Battle of Hastings; I can’t imagine the sight of 9,000 heavily armed Normans would play well with a hangover). Further back, ancient Greek writers were shocked that the Scythians, the ancestors of today’s Ukrainians, drank their wine neat rather than mixed with water, as moderate Hellenes did.
So as much as we might loathe the idea of more state interference, we should be realistic about alcohol and stop making comparisons with other countries – the British are never going to have a Mediterranean drinking culture.
From The Catholic Herald, December 9 2011
Mark Steyn argues that big government has become a form of religious belief, says Ed West
By Mark Steyn
The Canadian-born, British-educated, American-based Mark Steyn is the biggest of the big beasts of the Anglosphere conservative commentariat. He is one of the wittiest, most original and erudite of writers of this era, even if one of the more pessimistic. As one of the reviews of his last book put it, he’s the only person who can make the impending apocalypse laugh-outloud funny. That publication, America Alone, looked at the demographic implosion facing most of the western world; the sequel is about a more pressing, but not unrelated issue: debt.
The 111th United States Congress (2009-2011), the author points out, ran up more debt than the first 100 congresses (17891989) combined. Within a decade, America will be paying more in interest payments than on its military, which itself is more than the combined militaries of pretty much everyone else.
America is certainly not alone in this. Greece might be the first into the abyss but many European countries are falling into a debt black hole, a situation that David Starkey recently described as being as big a danger to Europe as 20thcentury Fascism.
But just as a credit card statement says something about an individual, the West’s debt pile reflects a deeper moral malaise, both in the state and its people. Government spending is, Steyn argues, a “moral crisis”, not a spending one. And at the heart of it is an existential crisis, one not unconnected to Europe’s abandonment of faith, of a people who only desire to live for today.
Citing the economist John Maynard Keynes’s comment that “in the long run we are all dead”, Steyn points out: “Keynes’s flippancy disguises his radicalism. For most of human history functioning societies honour the long run. it’s why millions of people have children, build houses, plant gardens, start businesses, make wills, put up beautiful churches in ordinary villages, fight and if necessary die for king and country. It’s why extraordinary men create great works of art – or did in the Europe of old. A nation, a society, a community is a compact between past, present, and future, in which the citizens, in Tom Wolfe’s words, ‘conceive of themselves, however unconsciously, as part of a great biological stream’.”
Europeans have stopped thinking of themselves in such terms, and the stream has become a stagnant swamp. Shorn of a belief in the hereafter, or a higher truth, their cultural efforts have slumped as quickly as their birthrates. Why bother making great art or having children when in the long term we’re all dead?
In an enfeebled civilisation cut off from its own cultural heritage, the state and its apparatchiks have taken on the function of religion. In this secular world “Big Government becomes a kind of religion: the church as state”, and that religion co-opts “many of the best and brightest but politically passive”.
This statism is as intolerant as any theocracy, demanding a narrow set of values of those within its communion, even where those values are shamelessly ignoring the reality of life as it is truly lived.
Britain is, for once, way ahead of America, as Steyn, an Anglophile who has become deeply disillusioned by Britain, points out. He describes a failed, broken and violent society where people in the most expensive real estate on earth dare not wander outside their own homes (with excellent timing, the book came out just as London was rocked by three nights of looting that resembled a zombie film).
Steyn quotes Frederich Hayek’s description of the Britons of 1944, characterised by “independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, non-interference with one’s neighbour… and a healthy suspicion of power and authority”.
Today 40 per cent of Britons receive state handouts, tradition is reviled, and the standard response to any inconvenience is that the Government “do something”.
Reflecting on the welfare state, Steyn says: “Cooperation between the state and the individual has resulted in a huge expansion of the former and the ceaseless withering of the latter.”
This statism has made European society infinitely weaker, unhappier, more sterile and broke, and yet Barack Obama is busy importing this same failed ideology into America. It is, as Steyn comments, like coming down the gangplank on to Ellis Island and finding there’s this new thing called “serfdom” that is all the rage in America.
Little Englanders, xenophobes, eccentric constitutionalists, men of intellectual violence, extremists, Europhobes, even Mosleyites – Eurosceptics been called everything.
So if long-standing opponents of the EU are starting to sound a little tedious in their denunciations of “the Guilty Men” who tried to push Britain into the euro, forgive us. But when the entire political class of our continent has got such an important issue so utterly wrong it’s not something that should be brushed aside.
And when the establishment has been so exposed, it is rational that we start to question its other orthodoxies. James Delingpole and Guido Fawkes, among others, see parallels with the political consensus over climate change, and indeed Peter Oborne’s description of the appeasement era, “when dissent was greeted with suffocating ostracism and personal calumny, reminiscent of the fate of religious non-conformists in earlier times” could be applied to many areas where the British elite become ferocious towards bad-thinkers. This Independent editorial from 1992 will be studied in history books for years to come, as an example of politically motivated hate. (And, I hope, in psychiatrists’ manuals.) Yet the European project – the euro delusion – is part of a wider utopian mania that grips the political class.
At the Labour Party conference two days ago, Ed Miliband said that Labour had got it wrong over immigration, and “underestimated the level of immigration” from Poland. Only by a factor of 100 to 1 – so don’t worry about it. However, as my colleague Philip Johnston points out, this is to give a totally misleading account of Labour’s immigration policy, of which the A8 migration was just one part.
And it was not just that Labour “got it wrong” in a technical sense. They were systematically, fundamentally wrong in their entire philosophy, a level of wrong-ness that only comes about when intelligent people suffer from collective madness. Their approach to immigration, as many party workers have since confessed, came about from a flawed belief that ethnic, religious and cultural diversity was itself a good and liberal thing, a millennial belief in a universalism that could be called the diversity delusion.
The diversity delusion and the euro delusion are both symptoms of a similar pseudo-religious mania. Both sprung from a noble attempt to ensure that the horrors of 1914-1945, inspired by nationalism and scientific racism, were never repeated. Both make them more likely to be repeated. Jean Monnet, architect and first president of the European Coal and Steel Community, conceived the idea of a United States of Europe in order to ensure such wars never happened again, through a new empire in which nationalism had been erased. Because Monnet was opposed by Charles de Gaulle, who favoured a Europe of nations, he therefore he developed the “Monnet method” of “integration by stealth”, a policy that ultimately led to the tragedy of economic union.
Perhaps more influential still was Alexandre Kojeve, who set up the embryonic European Union and influenced a generation of pro-EU thinkers in France. He came up with the “end of history” theme, whereby national boundaries and exclusive communities would wash away and a new world without borders would emerge. The EU’s vapid motto, United in diversity, reflects this neo-Christian utopianism.
Without exception the guilty men of Europe also shared, and still, share, the diversity delusion. The Liberal Democrats have entirely signed up, and most of the Labour Party too, although the Tories must share the blame too. Only one senior Tory spoke up against both mass immigration and the Common Market, Enoch Powell (who was also a voice in the wilderness in opposing Keynesian policies – only Paul the Octopus in recent years has been more right). Powell’s provocative language certainly helped his opponents, but as immigration is by its very nature a more toxic subject, so milder opponents have been silenced, leaving only the cranks, oddballs and extremists to represent opposition to this new utopia. This in turn makes it easier to present critics as extremists, just as even a couple of years ago opponents of the euro were labeled extremists and xenophobes. Contrary to what proponents of this delusion claim, it is not about xenophobia or racism; the issue, as Charles Moore wrote on Saturday, is one of sovereignty, and sovereignty relies on the legitimacy that only nations can provide.
Instead, as Roger Scruton noted, European intellectuals tried to “discard national loyalty and to replace it with the cosmopolitan ideals of the Enlightenment… The problem… is that cosmopolitan ideals are the property of an elite and will never be shared by the mass of human kind.”
The European project was a utopian idea, and I suspect that Britain’s peripheral part in the third great stupid, European idea of the last century will soon be over. National loyalty, whatever the elites feel, is here to stay. I guess we’re all extremists now.
Several Sundays ago, two sweet-looking, middle-aged women appeared at our front door in quick succession.
The first handed me a colourful brochure promising an end to all suffering and, so long as we stuck by the tenets of her faith, eternal joy.
A few minutes later, a second, wearing a red rosette, handed me leaflets promising an end to child poverty, inequality, the gender gap and racial division.
Soon after, the failure of the end of the world to materialise – as predicted by an obscure Christian group in the United States – led to much self-applause on this side of the Atlantic.
Yet, for all their supposed atheist superiority, many Britons have merely replaced the Christian God with a new idol – the state. The callers at our front door made for a good analogy for that transfer of faith.
The last half-century has seen British society transformed like never before. But perhaps the most striking is the state’s takeover of the role of the church, so that the state does not just run services, but also provides moral leadership, salvation and happiness.
Priests are thin on the ground, but social and youth workers are in abundance. Church schools are frowned upon for indoctrinating pupils, yet the state’s core principles of equality and diversity, not to mention “sex and human relationships”, are enforced on every child. The various equality and anti-discrimination laws passed since the 1950s have grown from tackling blatant, open racial discrimination to making a window of men’s souls. Those who refuse to accept the new articles of faith – equality in particular – can be excluded from public service; thrown out of communion, as it were.
The state has replaced the church in other areas, too. In the days when the Church supported art, artists gave glory to God in their work. Where the state now takes that role, television, radio, theatre and cinema praise the wonders of the state. No wonder that so many actors and artists are firm believers.
Personally I can spot Left-wing bias on the side of a cereal packet, but I doff my cap to Ben Shapiro, the US conservative who has written a new book outlining the secret Left-wing messages that have been “pumped out” by television programmes such as Friends, Sesame Street and Happy Days. According to this paper:
Conservative columnist and author Ben Shapiro accused television executives and writers of pushing a liberal agenda in several high profile American television entertainment shows.
His book “Primetime Propaganda” will show how the “most powerful medium of mass communication in human history became a vehicle for spreading the radical agenda of the left side of the political spectrum,” according to the publishers HarperCollins.
Shapiro interviewed dozens of leading industry figures, some of whom admitted to including a left wing bias in their shows. The results showed “unrepentant abuses of the Hollywood entertainment industry” and how movers and shakers in the television world tried to “shape America in their own leftist image”.
One of the founders of Sesame Street told him that the show had sought to address how conflict could be resolved peacefully after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Of course he’s right, almost to the point of making a truism. The entertainment industry, and the arts in general, are intrinsically Left-wing; not only are they made by and aimed at a younger demographic than the population at large, but by its very nature the artistic mind – childlike, inquisitive – tends to be liberal. As a rule the better an actor is, the more Left-wing; compare, say, Pete Postlethwaite with Ronald Reagan.
But it’s also the case that television is itself Left-wing. The very medium makes it easier to present liberal messages, which tend to revolve around more obvious and simple cases of right and wrong, and which tend to trigger positive emotional responses in the audience. So, for example, it’s easier to present, whether it’s a kid’s programme with a talking bird or a 30-minute sit-com, the idea that conflict can be resolved peacefully. It’s far harder to present the argument that sometimes it cannot, that not all grievances are legitimate and that just because people hate you, it doesn’t mean you deserved it.
It’s easier to present a situation – as television often does – where lone mothers overcome stigma and heroically win against the odds (many, many do); it’s harder to illustrate via television why social stigmas against lone parenthood are beneficial to society. And on a range of issues, from immigration to taxes to defence, it is just far more difficult to present a conservative argument using this medium, because the whole point of TV is to make us feel good. This is not necessarily a positive thing; to take an extreme example, how hard do you think it would have been for Winston Churchill (himself banned from the BBC in the late 1930s) to present his argument that the Nazis could not be reasoned with on television? And how easy would it have been to present the argument that the Germans, like us, just want peace?
This is not the same with previous mediums. British theatre might make the BBC look like Fox News, but it wasn’t always so, as surviving works from Euripides to Shakespeare demonstrate; the same goes for literature, and all other art forms going back to the birth of western civilisation and The Iliad (not a liberal sentiment throughout).
But there may also be a cultural shift which goes beyond the medium; since becoming a father I have noticed – and I’m sure this is not impending lunacy on my part – that children’s books, when they have an underlying message, basically have a left-liberal one, most often about the environment. And yet almost all fairy tales have a deeply conservative message: think about Red Riding Hood, a lesson to pubescent girls that the world is a dangerous place full of dishonest and aggressive men; or the Emperor’s New Clothes, a warning against innovation that explains an aspect of human nature so well that it has become the most overused cliché in political discourse. Meanwhile The Ant and the Grasshopper, like all of Aesop’s Fables, has a very conservative message: save or starve.
It may be that the media has become Left-wing; but perhaps it is just the case that those stories which say something about human nature, which tend to be conservative, last the test of time.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, which began with the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Although the phrase “the first modern war” is applied to other conflicts, namely the Crimean War (which was the first reported in the British press), the American Civil War was the first truly mechanised war, the first in which use of railways, telegraph, mines, iron ships and rifles were used, not to mention a submarine.
Because of this it was also exceptionally horrific, one of the bloodiest in history. And it was also the first conflict to be widely photographed: there are a handful of images from Crimea, but over a million prints were made of the “War Between The States” (many of which ended up being used as glass in greenhouses). It was also the first war in which journalists and photographers staged images, many of the gory post-battle shots being altered, with snappers moving bodies around to make it look more dramatic.
But as well as being militarily significant it was also politically so. I remember long ago reading a Spectator book review (which turned out to be by none other than my colleague Daniel Hannan) about the historical links between the English Civil War, American War of Independence and American Civil War. He wrote:
The English civil war, the American Revolution and the American civil war were three engagements in a single continuing struggle. One side, victorious in all three episodes, was made up of radicals, Puritans and entrepreneurs, the other of High Church Anglicans, conservatives and landowners. It was the triumph of the Protestant and revolutionary party which ushered in the English-speaking golden age which we are now privileged to inhabit.
His story begins in New England, which was largely peopled by East Anglians. Arriving in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the Puritan settlers recreated the wooden houses and long public greens of home, naming their towns Boston and Braintree, Ipswich and Norwich, Chelmsford and Billerica. The counties of the Eastern Association were, of course, to become the Roundhead heartland in England. What is less well known is that, by the time shots were fired at Edgehill, hundreds of New Englanders were streaming back to fight alongside their cousins.
These restless, entrepreneurial people, who were to become known as Yankees, went on to lead the colonies in their bid for independence. When the fighting began in 1775, familiar battle-lines re-emerged. Ranged alongside the New England Congregationalists were the Scotch-Irish of Pennsylvania and the bulk of the artisan classes.
The loyalists who opposed them were often old allies of the Stuarts: settlers from the Scottish Highlands, High Church Anglicans and descendants of the Southern gentry who had recognised Charles II as king in 1649.
Certainly there are comparisons to be made between the Parliamentarians and the North on the one hand, and the Royalists and the South on the other; the former right but repulsive, the latter wrong but romantic. And the Confederates certainly were romantic, even though they were partly fighting to preserve a barbaric institution. The beautiful English found in the American South, perhaps the most archaic form around and the closest thing to Shakespeare’s English, adds to the attraction.
Kevin Phillips’s book probably owes much to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed (perhaps the most entertaining academic book I’ve read), which traces America’s cultural folkways – New England, the South, the Middle states and the Appalachians – back to different cultural and religious areas of Britain. The Yankees who triumphed in 1865 have their cultural and biological origins in just eight eastern counties of England, from Lincolnshire to Kent, the hotbeds of Puritanism during the 17th century, from where the Puritan Great Migration came.
Fischer even traced the divide between Puritan East Anglia and Anglican Royalist southern and western England back to older divisions, the Puritan heartlands centred around the ancient Kingdom of East Anglia and the Viking-controlled Danelaw, and on the other hand the High Anglicans in the old Kingdom of Wessex, which never fell under Scandinavian control (curiously later developments in genetic archaeology do suggest there are differences. Englishmen from Norfolk are genetically between 30 and 70 per cent Anglo-Saxon or Viking in origin, compared to those from modern-day Wessex who are less than 10 per cent Germanic).
Fischer’s book is fascinating, not the least for the curious anecdotes (I especially liked the story of the Tennessee woman who shot three escaped German POWs in World War 2, and who upon being reprimanded by the local sheriff, “ma’am, you shouldn’t have shot those Germans”, replied “Germans? I thought they was Yankees!”). And although disputed by some academics, it illustrates nonetheless the success of a group of 20,000 East Anglians who left England during the reign of Charles I, and who established the world’s greatest superpower. Today at least 15 million Americans trace their ancestry to those Puritans, including Barack Obama, George W Bush (whose direct male ancestor came from Essex) and Abraham Lincoln, whose people originally came from Norfolk. During the war Lincoln introduced Thanksgiving to give the East Anglian Puritan Yankees cultural precedence over the Southern settlers, even though the Wessexmen actually got there first.
And that’s how East Anglians ended up controlling the world.