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Is that a plank of Dave’s Big Society I hear falling?

Well, it looks as though the fate of Catholic adoption agencies has been definitively sealed, outlawed in the name of ‘equality’, the Charity Commission deciding there is no basis in law for them to remain open, even after a Judge, who ought to know the law rather better, decided that there might well be.

It almost goes without saying that the standard arguments in favour of closing the adoption agencies, or more accurately from not offering an exemption from the comically named ‘equality’ laws, are such manifest nonsense that one gets the impression that even those who dutifully repeat them remain unconvinced, but realise that trotting out something is better than sitting saying nothing. The silence, you see, would expose this for what it really is: ideologically-driven politics.

Indeed, the only even vaguely convincing argument that could be advanced to support the cause is the very one that is very rarely advanced – that, as with the proposals for removing the couples’ penalty from the tax system, these laws are about sending an important symbol about what it is that we value in society today.

Only, such an argument can never, and will never, really be made with any gusto, simply because it would explode those pious platitudes that slide off the tongues of the closure-lobby, who would try and have the outside world believe that this is all about what is ‘best for the children‘. Of course, tactically speaking, the hesitancy to make the symbolism case is entirely understandable, since you can be sure that once those platitudes were exploded, once this whole movement was shown up for being the mean-spirited absolutism that it is, to be pursued even at the expense of children’s welfare and not in the name of it, then not only would there be a leaching of popular support but there would also follow a genuine hardening of opinion against such manifestly malevolent manoeuvres.

The curious thing is that David ‘there is such a thing as society it’s just not the same as the State’ Cameron, has hitherto supported the state-enforced closure of a fairly important plank that big society of his, an organisation that once constituted up to a third of the tertiary sector’s voluntary adoption services. Which means his slogan might need a little editing and would better read as, ‘there is such a thing as society, but it is only legitimate when endorsed by the State’.

And thus one sees the fundamental psychosis of the social liberal, never truly at ease with society since he has already fundamentally rejected it, only able to conceive society as generated, sanctioned, moulded, defined, authorised, regulated and managed by the State. Which is why social liberals are nearly always statists; at least the ones who follow through the logic of their social liberalism. And why Cameron is more Alinskyian Big Society than Burkean little platoons (no capitalisation required).

And so we have David Cameron, apparent Conservative, Big Society enthusiast, advocating the outlawing of voluntary adoption agencies for refusing  to abandon their Christian conscience.

And somewhere, not far away, a man called Syme is frantically re-writing a dictionary.

Anarchy and the internet

One of the nice things about having a spell without the internet is that it puts the professional culture industry out of reach for a little while and replaces it with a whole plethora of opinion-forming events, encounters and meetings that one might not otherwise have had if one sat down behind the computer for a nightly fix of news, comment and opinion. And what becomes more and more noticeable the longer one spends in such wonderful limbo is the fact that the imposing wall of orthodoxy one encounters amidst the professional commentariat loses its claim to universality as soon as one shuts down the t’interweb and speaks instead to people in the pub, or in the pews, or in the marketplace. Partly, it is a matter of priorities, but it is also a matter of genuine difference, and rigorously enforced metropolitan creeds have barely a spark of influence beyond that close-knit cabal who insist on the infallibility of their dogma – indeed, it is frequently contravened, and unashamedly so, and sometimes even cringingly so. All of which can leave a man feeling mildly optimistic about life.

Of course, this is not to say that everything which emanates from within the socio-cultural elite is wrong, and everything that emanates outwith that elite is right – it is merely to point out that the whole herd of hip young things, chanting their banal mantras in impeccable unison, should not interpret the fact that everyone in webland thinks the same as them as evidence that therefore what they think must be self-evidently good. And nor must those on the outside, exasperated with what appears to be the untrammelled dominance of the chattering classes, get too downhearted about the whole thing – they talk only to themselves, and only about themselves, and only for themselves. Fortunately, a great chunk of people outside this virtual Hall of Mirrors see right through the ruse and offer that one diagnosis that can bring the populace of this noisy culture industry into the most indignant of misanthropic rages: ‘all the same , them lot, couldn’t slide a fag paper between them.’

And it’s largely true, however much those who have every interest in maintaining otherwise screech and shout that it ain’t so. Ideologically, philosophically, and culturally there is very little diversity in SW1, nor amongst the commentariat, a body populated by those who not only look and think very much like the people they pass comment on, but also switch places with them quite regularly too. This is not to say that there is never effort to highlight difference, and it is certainly amusing  watching the ferocity with which many manufacture political and ideological minutiae as a means of proclaiming their difference from the other lot – even so, place a trendy Fabian, a ‘progressive’ Conservative and a LibDim in an interview room and quiz them about their beliefs; you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart.

Maybe it was always like this. I don’t know. But as I have blogged before, the other side to the argument that the internet is the anarchists’ paradise is that can also be a fairly effective tool for propagating and rigorously upholding central orthodoxies, much to the exclusion of dissenting voices. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, perhaps the best way to encounter genuine difference and radical diversity is to turn the internet off for a while; all things considered,  the ‘real’ world is far more anarchic.

England – Land of no-Popery

Apologies for the lack of blogging – I have been without t’interweb for the last fortnight and so haven’t had chance to get anything posted. It also means that I’m completely behind on all events political, and so whilst I get myself back up to speed I thought I’d offer this, which I prepared a while back…

With the Papal visit just months away many Brits seem to be slowly working themselves up into a frenzy of anti-Catholic sentiment. For the idle observer this makes intriguing viewing, for it neatly illustrates how even in ‘enlightened’ and ‘rational’ times people can yet churn out the most narrow-minded and illogical twaddle. Yet, Papal visit aside, this upwelling of anti-Catholic rhetoric is instructive of a wider cultural phenomenon that has been part of the very social fabric of our country for centuries – what Phillip Jenkins has termed, in studying the same historical phenomenon amongst our cousins in the United States, as ‘the last acceptable prejudice’.

As indignant as that might make some feel, there is yet little doubt that that is what we are dealing with. The impeccably biased hostility with which the Roman Catholic Church is greeted by the culture industry in particular far outweighs the treatment meted out to any other religion, even those who share the same doctrines and practices for which the Catholic Church is ceaselessly excoriated. Indeed, attacking the Catholic Church and those who would reside in her is not only socially acceptable but is vehemently demanded by a baying crowd for whom the nastier the entertainment the better: the bilge that slides effortlessly off the tongue of some of the Church’s more prominent despisers is greeted with cries of delight from a highly partisan gallery that rarely stops to apply to these pockmarked narratives the same standards of judgment and reason they would insist upon in any other situation. The outcome is often the crude manufacture of an endlessly villainised corporate identity to which a litany of atrocities, however bogus or distorted, are duly assigned (as far as I’m aware, Stephen Fry’s undoubtedly heartfelt apology to the Polish nevertheless failed to disavow the real substance of his claim, aimed at Polish ‘right-wing Catholicism’). One need hardly emphasise that if the kind of ridiculous rhetoric flung around by Caitlin Moran had been directed toward any other collective group of people, alarm bells would ring and the perpetrator would rightly be dismissed as a hate-filled bigot.

Of course some, dimly aware of this fact, choose to change tack, and assure worried bystanders that  the focus of their spittle-flecked ire is not Catholics per se, but ‘just this bigoted Pope.’ Which, apart from demonstrating rather basic ignorance of the Catholic faith, is also deeply disingenuous. For in truth, it is the doctrines of the Church (doctrines not at all unique to Catholicism) with which the anti-Catholic crowd takes violent umbrage, doctrines that both preceded and will long outlive Pope Benedict XVI. In reality this is little more than diversionary piffle; the battle is first and foremost about ideologies, not personalities.

Now, this is not at all to suggest that there aren’t people with heartfelt, sincere and well-informed objections to Catholic teaching and doctrine, people who actually read the documents of the Church, rather than historical novels and internet messageboards, and formulate their objections accordingly. Nor is it to downplay the role the Catholic Church has played in bringing down justified criticism upon her own head, and the behaviour of a minority of its members have been manifestations of evil for which we still offer penance and seek forgiveness. What it is to say is that for all too many, recent tragedies have proved a convenient stick with which to hit a foe already despised, an enemy already routinely denied a decent hearing. Thus we could read George Monbiot, jumping on Geoffrey Robertson’s bandwagon, declaring that incarcerating the Pope would be the manifestation in international law of that old ideal ‘equality before the law’, an ideal apparently best served by interning a man despite there being no creditable legal, factual or evidential case against him (see here and here) – a victim offered up because of who he is, and not what he has done. Whilst this somewhat eccentric account of ‘equality before the law’ might be dismissed as the prejudice driven swill that it is, nonetheless it is instructive of how a hostile crowd can jettison traditional standards – the presumption of innocence, the demand for reliable evidence, respect for legal jurisdiction – armed with nothing more incriminating than some highly emotive slogans and join-the-dots journalism.

And this suspension of those cherished principles of rational reflection, honest assessment and sober judgment occurs time and again when the topic of conversation is the Catholic Church. One need only witness some of the comments left underneath Andrew Brown’s article exploring data on child abuse produced by the John Jay Institute, suggesting that the Catholic Church appears no more guilty of paedophilia (or, more significantly, hebephilia and ephebophilia) than any other institution, nor indeed, one might independently add, any other religious denomination. To even dare explore this empirical data was described by one respected commenter as ‘utterly shameful, ignorant, offensive screed’, and by another as ‘revisionist apologist nonsense’. These reactions are a neat illustration of what Kevin Rooney has recently described as the ‘illiberal, censorious and ignorant’ attacks on Catholicism in the run up to the Pope’s visit, observing that ‘while many of the exponents of this popular new breed of anti-Catholicism would certainly consider themselves liberal, their treatment of the church is anything but.’ Indeed, Brendan O’Neill has picked up on a similar theme, suggesting that the reaction to the child abuse scandals has often been ‘informed more by prejudice and illiberalism than by anything resembling a principled secularism’, something he further connects with the ‘new atheism’ of the liberal establishment that ‘…differs from the atheism of earlier free-thinking humanists in that its main aim is not to enlighten, but to scaremonger about the impact of religion on society. For these thinkers and opinion-formers, the drip-drip of revelations of abuse in Catholic institutions offers an opportunity to demonise the religious as backward and people who possess strong beliefs as suspect.’

What neither Rooney or O’Neill go on to mention is that such wilful demonisation is nothing new, but is rather the latest bout of a long established phenomenon that has reared its ugly head, with varying degrees of intensity, ever since a genocidal King and those whose consciences had been bought by him decided that the only way they could defend their crimes and protect their plunder was to mercilessly demonise their victim. Since then this country has swaddled its young in anti-Catholic propaganda, in pseudo-history and gross caricature, in meticulously cultivated ignorance and unashamed discrimination, a sort of anti-Catholic cultural grammar aimed at vigorously protecting the status-quo against which even the most eloquent and resounding rebuttal is incapable of entirely vanquishing. The malicious representation of the Pope and the Catholic faith peddled by groups such as Protest the Pope is certainly nothing new, and is merely the latest merchandise to appear on the production line of the prodigious ‘no-Popery’ industry. Indeed Cardinal Newman, convert to the Catholic faith and thereby possessed of a unique insight into that which he was describing, attested to precisely this back in 1851, in a lecture series entitled the Present Position of Catholics in England. Twenty-four years later he was to find himself returning to the same subject, responding to the recycled anti-Catholic slurs of one William Ewart Gladstone.

All of which might help explain, if one were to remain charitable, why certain satirists and professional protesters are rather less limp-wristed when it comes to mocking and deriding the Pope and Catholicism, than they appear to be when it comes to mocking and deriding the principle figures and adherents of certain other mainstream religions. In short, taking on Catholicism is easy, because it has been culturally sanctioned and encouraged for centuries, meaning those ‘independent-thinkers’ who revel in the vulgarity by which they express their opposition are not so much daring or courageous as drearily old hat. They assiduously continue the tradition in which they have been bathed since they were babes:  attacking the Catholic Church, and defending the social, political and ideological status-quo.

Whose ‘freedom’?

This video features over on the OurKingdom website, with resident editor Guy Aitchison asking the Labour leadership candidates about their approach to drug policies, or to use the more inflammatory (yet wrongheaded) language of the website, if they are ‘willing to take drugs out of the hands of criminals and other unregulated capitalists, and bring them under public control.’ Thankfully the Labour candidates all answer in a sensible fashion, but I think the general idea requires a quick response.

Firstly, it’s worth drawing attention to the fact that whenever people call for an injection of ‘evidence and common sense’, they invariably mean an injection of evidence that reinforces their own approach, and common sense that reflects their own prejudices. As I have written before, ‘evidence’, despite all its connotations of balance and objectivity, all too often merely re-affirms the pre-investigative prejudices of those who produce it. As such, the drugs debate often has little to do with objective evidence, and everything to do with rationalising the priorities of those who have the most to gain by adopting it. You’ll notice, for example, that ‘evidence’ rarely extends to include the lived experiences and opinions of those living on the front line of the drugs war, and is usually confined to research conducted by that very body of people who are either supportive of legalisation from the outset, or are far removed from any future consequences when it all goes wrong.

And that is the key – because it is worth noting that it is nearly always middle-class urban trendies who press the case for legalisation, primarily because they’d like to enjoy jolly drug-fuelled jaunts to Stonehenge without the dreadful inconvenience of having to obey the law of the land. Yet in truth, it is precisely this group of society whom the legalisation of drugs will affect the least; that is, it is not the bourgeois young ‘radicals’ who are likely to suffer the sharpest consequences of what it is they claim would be best for everyone. And this is the ugly face of contemporary liberalism; the tendency to rationalise the whims and fancy of the petit-bourgeoisie, appropriating (or misapproriating) slogans and concepts such as ‘freedom’ in order to do it. And it would be churlish to point out that it is a curious definition of ‘freedom’ that thinks it acceptable for citizens not only to remain perpetually addicted to something so destructive, but also that the state should both control and supply that addiction.

As I like to repeat regularly, mostly because it is absolutely true, it was once said that modern broad-mindedness benefits only the rich, and benefits nobody else. It was also maintained that modern broad-mindedness was meant to benefit only the rich, and meant to benefit nobody else. And in this instance, those who may well find it a dreadful chore to have to go to Amsterdam to indulge their hedonistic desires, are not really the ones whose radically self-centred accounts of ‘freedom’ we should be worrying about – rather, it is those who have never been to Amsterdam, and are confined to seeking their thrills on the estates of Airdrie, or Aberdeen, or Accrington.

For if we do live in an unjust two-tier society, as many now contend, and if we accept that this fact is lamentable, regressive, a slur on our credentials as a civilised nation, then the further question has to be asked:  how would the legalisation of drugs help that situation? After all, if collections of young men on council estates up and down the land have taboos surrounding drugs suddenly dismantled, even have their habits funded and supported through legal and governmentally controlled outlets, then are they more or less likely to be successful in life? Are they more or less likely to be taken into polite society, to achieve at school and go to university, to stick their job and support their family, to succeed in the art of living well? Truth is, I don’t actually know, and nobody definitively can, but I have seen enough to have an opinion – and I do know that it is a question that all too rarely passes the lips of those ‘freedom-fighters’ who make the case for legalisation.

Of course, one is almost guaranteed to be confronted with the riposte that the criminalisation approach has been tried, and look where it is has delivered us. Which only goes to show the extent to which the metropolitan trendies not only disregard those who live on drug-riddled council estates, but also have absolutely no idea it is like to live on drug-riddled council estates, either. Because, as anyone who has grown up on those drug-riddled council estates knows all too well, the idea that drugs are effectively criminalised is complete nonsense – such a reality exists only in the mind of the theorists, and nowhere else. In truth, drugs are traded and used openly at the school gates, in the bus shelter, behind the shops, over the park, on the street corner… in essence, there is an almost complete absence of criminalisation, at least if by that one means the reality of there being predictable, swift and severe legal consequences. Indeed, anyone who gets caught can consider themselves damned unlucky; and anyone who gets caught and issued anything more severe than a warning can consider themselves doubly unlucky.

And this is why, despite all the promises of the legalisation-lobby that a more ‘grown-up’ attitude to drugs will solve the problems of crime and addiction and violence almost overnight (there’s ‘evidence’ for that, y’know), there is yet a noticeable absence of any enthusiasm for such a course from amongst those who suffer at the sharp end of drugs culture. For them, justifiably enough, common sense doesn’t dictate that we decriminalise criminal activity in order to better regulate criminality –  rather, the complete opposite is the case. Their common sense is rather more sensible than that: swifter action, more severe penalties, schemes that help people come off drugs completely and not remain forever enslaved by ‘managing their addiction’, and perhaps more importantly than anything else, the promotion of real alternatives to a life on and/or in drugs.

And that is the clincher. Or else, in the name of ‘freedom’, distribute the Soma. And when that happens, our reputation as a ‘civilised’ nation will erode just that little bit more.

Propaganda and history

With the Papal visit just months away many Brits, particularly the ‘cultured’ sort, seem to be slowly working themselves up into a frenzy of anti-Catholic sentiment. For the observer this is mildly humorous, not least because it shows that even in ‘enlightened’ and ‘rational’ times people can yet churn out the most narrow-minded and illogical propaganda. Of course, one mustn’t be too surprised, since many have been bathed in pseudo-history since they were babes, and even the most eloquent debunking is incapable of convincing those so utterly determined to remain hostile.

As a result, the issue that consistently remains neglected is that of why such propaganda was ever needed in the first place. And if it were finally addressed, there can be little doubt that even the most ardent of contemporary apparatchiks would find themselves blushing at the cause they were passionately upholding. For the truth is, these pockmarked histories were manufactured primarily to protect a genocidal King and, later on, those whose consciences had been bought by him. That is not to say that this is a uniquely modern phenomenon, and common folk have been taught to misrepresent history ever since it became clear that history must be written by the winners, not least because those winners were also the ones who literally had the most to lose.

Thus, the folk on the ground passionately screaming silly slogans became the useful idiots that defended the very specimens that had dispossessed them, and who were to continue dispossessing them, over and over, for several hundred years. As such, if one ever wants to know why the Pope was depicted as a foreign enemy assaulting national sovereignty, or why clerical celibacy was denounced as inhumane, or why the Head of State had necessarily to become the Head of the Church, or why shrines were desecrated and pilgrimages condemned, or why veneration of the saints (and of Mary) was denounced as idolatrous, or why the monasteries were depicted as parasitic and regressive insitutitons, or why churches were stripped naked in the name of helping the impoverished, or why Tradition was denied in the name of sola scriptura and sola fide – if you want to know the answer to any of these things, then one need at the outset grasp this simple, central fact: that it best benefitted the desires and fortunes of those who had the most to gain by saying so.

Thus, for the sake of a man who wanted to divorce his Queen, and the honourable refusal of a Church to abandon a lady to the changeable lusts of a tyrant, even at the price of losing one of its most precious jewels – for the sake of this did the plunder commence. And the plunder was shared out among those whose consciences were valued at thirty pieces of silver, bringing with it the creation of a rapacious and institutionally anti-clerical petit-bourgeoisie, whose most distinguishing feature throughout history has been the depths to which it will descend to defend and protect its ill-gotten purse. And so, for those who would understand British history, or at least the past 500 or so years of it, one must keep this in mind: that those in power could only justify their crimes by demonising their victim. The absurd historical revisionism, the numerous character assassinations, the bloody persecution of non-conformists, the depiction of Catholics as traitors, the emergence of whiggism, the embrace of so-called ‘Parliamentary democracy’, the ‘Glorious Revolution’, the recusancy laws, the barbarous treatment of the Irish, and much much more besides; all these things were at root instituted in the name of, and to the benefit of, our alleged ‘liberators’ from the manacles of the Catholic Church.

An acknowledgment of the reality of this history often precedes conversion to the Faith, as several high-profile Anglicans have demonstrated throughout history. And since his name is topical, one might also turn to Cardinal Newman for confirmation of just this. One can read Newman’s thoughts directly here, or alternatively take at face value a neat analysis provided by the author of the blogpost, who writes;

Newman was also a historian. He showed how the historical claims and myths underlying “anti-Catholicism” of his time were inaccurate, false and unjustified. But it is interesting that the same set of myths are still used today to justify many anti-Catholic rants despite their historical inaccuracy. He described such a version of the historical record as “Fables” or Myths. He showed them to be logically inconsistent and grounded in prejudice, sustained by tradition and by many institutions of the British State. People who held to such “fables” required ignorance of the Catholic view as a protection for their own position‘ [my emphasis].

Newman diagnosed then what remains true now, and if anything is becoming ever more acute. But the central fact remains that the Fables are grounded in fantasy, not reality. Or, in the pithy words of Newman: ‘To be deep in history is to cease to be protestant.’

Banning the face veil

French MPs have finally taken steps to ban the full veil meaning that, in the name of defending the Republican principles of ‘secularism’ and ‘equality’, the state should determine how certain Muslim females shall dress.

One justification that the French have given, and it is a reasoning that seems to be rapidly gaining common currency, is that the face-veil ‘is the symbol of the repression of women, and… of extremist fundamentalism’.

But I wonder if that is a little simplistic.

To start with, it is important to dispense with two myths. Firstly that the wearing of a veil is a uniquely Muslim phenomena. It’s not. It has its place in the Christian religion, and I dare say other religions too. For example, one thing I notice more and more in my own Church is the rising numbers of (usually young) women who are electing to wear the mantilla to Mass. Partly, this is because there is a long established tradition of doing so, but also it is because (I suspect) more and more young women wish to make a statement of some kind; be it on their devotion to faith, or against the liberalisation of the Church they are in, or indeed against the society in which they reside. Whereas, admittedly, this veiling is within the context of worship, nonetheless I think Madeleine Bunting gets it right when she rejects the possibility that all women who wear the face-veil are necessarily victims of patriarchy, and concludes instead that some ‘young women are choosing to wear the full veil, seeing it as a powerful statement of identity’ (there is also an argument one could get into about where worship ends and ‘normal’ life begins – but I won’t).

The second myth is that such practice is chracteristic of Middle-Eastern, and not Western, culture. Which is perhaps true on the very superficial level of this particular kind of veiling, but the act of veiling oneself per se is not at all alien, be it in public places or religious. Visit a Cathedral or monastery in France or Spain or pretty much any country in Europe, and one would be expected to ‘dress modestly’ (this often includes the covering of legs and arms – ie/ no shorts or t-shirts, and it is not at all unusual for monasteries to insist that women wear a veil). Indeed, to bring it closer to home, I remember at my confirmation listening to two elderly ladies loudly horrified (they thought they were whispering) at the state of dress (or undress) of some confirmants, and unwittingly informing the whole Church that in their day it would never have been allowed and that ‘Father would have had us marched out the Church and sent right back home to put some clothes on’. Equally, calls for modesty have not always been confined to designated religious spaces; the public space also historically demanded certain minimum standards of modesty, and even if those standards appear to be increasingly redundant it is still not true to say they do not still exist, or that they never existed in the first place.

As such, the question of the veil is as much one of degree as anything else, and indeed the extent to which offers a very vocal rejection of the society in which it is situated (read Raedwald’s take on the powerful statement made by covering the face, here). And I think this is the key. Not only is the covering of the face a deeply anti-social act, it also constitutes a very visible rejection of the society in which the wearer resides. Just as wearing the mantilla has come, in my mind, to have both positive expressions (expressing a particular devotion) and negative expressions (establishing an identity over and against overriding trends), so the same is true of the face-veil; an expression which attracts all the more ire because it rejects contact with precisely that society that offered those wearers, at some point or another, a place they could call home.

Which is where I come to the novel position of agreeing with Mehdi Hasan, who quotes Fareena Alam in saying that ‘the controversy over the veil “has more to do with Europe’s own identity crisis than with the presence of some ‘dangerous other’. At a time when post-communist, secular, democratic Europe was supposed to have been ascendant, playing its decisive role at the end of history, Islam came and spoiled the party.” Now I disagree with the air of triumphalism, because Islam hasn’t at all spoiled the party; rather, Europe has sought for centuries to spoil its own party, and is looking for someone to point the finger at now that it needs someone to blame. But the central point is surely accurate – Europe has spent so long dismantling its own roots that it no longer knows who or what it is, and lies prostrate before a religious community very sure of who and what it is. In its defence, it must resort to the only weapon left in its armoury, one that it has become increasingly dependent on; the awesome power of the long idolised state.

Which leads to the bizarre position of a French government making it illegal to wear too many clothes, rather than (as has been more customary throughout the ages) the wearing of too little. For the French, the bogus principle of secularism is the shield behind which the attack on the face-veil has been advanced, even when the alternative they enforce, a secular space and culture marked by hedonism and immodesty, is precisely what the face-veil fundamentally seeks to reject. As such, the French follow a dangerous path, drifting toward proscription of that which defies or denies secularity and/or the character of the secular public space, even when some might feel such defiance and denial to be wholly justified. This is dangerous because is risks criminalising friend as well as foe: if secularism becomes seriously ill and is in need of medicine, then one would be ill-advised to criminalise the chap who might just bring it medicine.

I am not a fan of the face-veil, and think it is alien to our culture and history. But then I am not a fan of the path down which contemporary society is walking, either. And I think it unlikely that any state power that felt compelled to outlaw the face-veil would stop at just the face-veil; it would very soon find other dissenting voices, too.

Lefties and Monarchy

‘What is truth?’ asked Pilate, before sacrificing Him as a King, complete with crown of thorns, under the words ‘Jesus, King of the Jews’. Pilate questioned Truth, and without waiting for an answer positioned himself above it, the Roman governor with the temporal power to crucify an innocent man for the sake of a baying crowd of perjurers. Christ, crucified as King, because earthly power chose to believe in the absoluteness of only itself.

Something of a theological beginning, and for such anti-social manoeuvres I hereby apologise most wholeheartedly. Now, before I go on, I ought to say that I am absolutely not arguing that the Bible suggests one particular form of government or social ordering is any better than any other. I’m not saying it doesn’t, either; more that I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough to pronounce one way or the other. Rather, I think that passage in the Bible speaks about power in a way that still resonates today, that in a society reconciled with relativisms the only response to the question ‘What is truth?’, will be one similar to Pilate’s; ‘whatever the powerful decide it to be.’

And now, to jump off at a tangent, the relevance of which will (I hope) become clear, I’ve been thinking more and more just recently about monarchy, and lefties, and whether the two can peacefully co-exist. And in truth, I’ve still not decided on an answer, primarily because I can’t quite decide on what might be understood by the term ‘leftie’, even if I have a small idea what I might mean when I say ‘monarchy’. I suppose the question then becomes, ‘is there any argument that can be made, from within the broad context of a leftist account of the social sphere, that might be comfortable with the idea of monarchy?’ And I think there is – which the following disjointed mumblings will hopefully begin to show.

The reason I ask the question at all is because Labour, now in the absurd position of having to ask itself what it means by terms such as ‘national identity’ and ‘Englishness’ (largely because it is widely perceived as being constitutionally opposed to both), is churning through the standard student-radicalisms which, nearly always, end in unthinking appeals for republicanism as if it is self-evidently a required tenet of any authentically left-wing thought. I’m not quite sure why left-wing thought ought to be any more fertile ground for republican sentiments than right-wing thought, and I suspect that the answer has more to do with our unique social history than anything else, but it nonetheless seems to be – and I don’t think it need be.

Having said that, the cause célèbre on all sides of the increasingly whiggish House seems to be constitutional vandalism for the sake of… well, constitutional vandalism. A crooked Commons increasingly urges ‘reform’ of a rather less crooked House of Lords, and an even less crooked Monarchy, for the sake of making the system less crooked. Thus will the ideologues strain at gnats whilst swallowing camels; and all in the name of making the gnats look more like camels.

Yet, there are a variety of reasons why this is problematic, and the most potent of them in modern society is to do with power, the possession of it and, much more importantly, the limitation of it. This is only one side of the argument that can be made, another being that old chestnut ‘virtue’ (and ‘truth’), and yet another being plurality as expressed through inter-linking hierarchies. And, though to some extent all inter-connect with one another, it is only the ‘power’ element that I will talk about here (I have written elsewhere how social liberalism has been embraced because it re-enforces the status-quo, founded upon a relativism that it is to the benefit of the already powerful).

And it is that ‘limitation of power’ bit that is increasingly important. On the most basic level, I think this is why working-class communities tend, generally speaking, to have great sympathy for the monarchy, and the Queen in particular. To many, the Queen is somehow above the Machiavellian machinations of the power-hungry political classes, representative of something greater than the crudeness of the Commons, a (sometimes failing) paragon of virtue that represents to the world all that we hope is best about ourselves. The Queen, unlike those who nominally serve her, is never deemed to be ‘in it for herself’, and her reign is characterised as dutiful more than megalomaniacal. Thus do her subjects line the avenues on the great occasions, wave their flags and sing their anthems, all to the vociferous irritation of the displaced Guardianistas, who rather conceitedly think  that meritocratic society ought rightfully to be honouring them instead.

As such Labour, when it proposes republicanism as the antidote to institutional inequality is primarily giving voice to a largely middle-class chippiness, resentful of the fact that there could be an institutional and ideological barrier to its own (imagined) upward mobility. It doesn’t like the idea that, in a society largely tilted toward its own interests, there yet exists a level to which it cannot ultimately ascend. Bourgeois sensibilities bristle at the thought, and so under such comically misused terms as ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ they continue to vandalise those very structures that level the playing field and act as a constraint on the accumulation of power by an otherwise all-consuming oligarchy.

I think republican thinking is as much a sign of the gentrification of left-wing thought as anything else. Accordingly, the left that in the name of ‘freedom’ once rallied against the capitalist system, now seeks merely to lessen the effects of that system upon its victims, and construes ‘equality’ instead along lines that best reflect its own priorities and prejudices. The ordinary worker has been cast aside, bribed to keep his counsel, whilst the chippy bourgeoisie sharpen their knives in search of that much less insidious enemy to ‘equality’ (and indeed potential ally of the commoner), that being the monarch.

And that’s just the point. The monarch can legitimately be seen as the last line of defence against an all-out victory of the plutocracy, one of the few possessions of the people that the rich man cannot buy precisely because the position is forever beyond his private ownership (unless it is stolen in the interests of the oligarchical elite as in 1688 – from whence some would situate the now dying battle against capitalistic ideology). In that sense, the monarch is an embodiment of the commonality that the left should comfortably embrace – she both belongs exclusively to, and thereby attracts the loyalty of, her people. In a world in which the rich are the powerful and can possess all they desire, the position of monarch they do not and cannot: it would be a cowardly act of surrender to offer up to the plutocracy the very thing they cannot possess, for no other reason than we no longer see any need to uphold the existence of things they cannot possess.

Now of course, the new metropolitan left, the ‘liberal-left’ won’t see things in these terms, having become drunk on a doctrine that exists primarily to dismantle all opposition to their own advancement. But those at the bottom needn’t confuse friend with foe just because their uppity ‘comrades’ tell them to. The reality is that the common man does still need to react against unwarranted and unwarrantable power interests; but those interests do not reside in the position of the monarch. The tables that have been tilted have certainly not been tilted by the monarch, they have not been designed and constructed from within the debating chambers of Buckingham Palace. Rather they increasingly reside and emanate from within precisely that circle that shouts so vociferously for, amongst various other self-interested things, the disestablishment of monarchy. And it is the restraint of these that should concentrate the mind.

In that sense, the monarch can be viewed a genuine friend and ally, an albeit increasingly anachronistic stick in the mud that nonetheless cannot succumb to the will and whims of a rapacious petit-bourgeoisie. And a monarch who realises this central ethic of service, who knows his or her role in defending the people from those that would seek ultimate control, whose very power consists in the limitation of power  – it is this vision of monarchy that lefties can surely share common ground with (on that score, the post-Hanoverian preference for dispensing monies on Maundy is a less authentic reflection of the call to service that was demonstrated in the pre-Hanoverian tradition of the washing of feet on Maundy).

In short it comes down to this; if left-wing thinking at its most basic level includes the defence of the vulnerable against the powerful, then the focus of ire certainly should not be the monarch, who at any rate could without much difficulty be understood as a defence against precisely this domination. Because in truth, it is not the Queen that dispossess and dispossessed, but her tribunes.

As such, it is a strange leftie that has given up the fight against capitalism but has taken up arms against the monarch; it seems to me that either their sense is deficient or else their sight. Whichever one it is, it certainly wouldn’t be wise to follow them; one might end up walking off a cliff.

N.B. Not all lefties necessarily think like this…

RE in schools – evangelise or secularise?

As of this September I shall be training to become an RE teacher at a Catholic school in Cumbria. This has lead, as one would expect, to a heightened interest in all things RE, but more particularly an interest in the way in which it is perceived more widely through contemporary society. I don’t mean so much its standing amongst those children who have to study it – I’m well aware that RE can be remarkably unpopular (it was for me!), especially to young adolescents feeling their logical certainties assaulted by the mysteries and paradoxes of faith. Rather, I’m more interested in how the subject is regarded within the education sector as a whole, and amongst our cultural and political elites in particular.

And the impression one comes across time after time, in document after document, proposal after proposal, research study after research study, is a fundamental lack of certainty about what Religious Education is actually for, and what it should look like.

At one end, of course, there are those who maintain all religious education should have no place in state schools, as if denying children such knowledge is somehow better for their education and development. At the other end, one still very occasionally comes across those who believe Religious Education should largely be a matter of catechetical instruction, as defined by the denomination or tradition in which that particular schools rests, with only the odd foray into contrasting religions and beliefs. And somewhere in between, though much closer to the former than the latter, there are those who maintain that RE is an important part of a decent education, but that it should be strictly confined to disinterested academic pursuit, the teaching of sociological features, historical fact and cultural quirk.

And it is this latter view that seems to have been raised into unthinking orthodoxy, certainly amongst those (usually academics and educational advisers) whose job it is to construct a consensus upon what role RE should play in the life of a school and how it should be taught within the curriculum (although it does remain non-statutory – which, theoretically at least, allows a certain flexibility).

Before he retired, the Bishop of Lancaster (now Bishop Emeritus) issued a report entitled Fit for Mission?, part of which concentrated specifically on schools. The document is bold and important, and was well received by many within the Church – which means, almost inevitably, that it was poorly received by many outwith the Church (more, the Bishop was pretty shoddily attacked at a parliamentary committee by a variety of mediocrities who appeared little more than thirsty for religious, or more particularly Catholic, blood – the video appears to be unavailable, but Douglas Carswell indirectly rebuked his colleagues by asking the Bishop if he thought he would have been treated with such hostility had he been a Muslim cleric – read a report here).

Anyway, one part of the document that struck me, particularly in light of recent events, was the passage,

‘Our Catholic schools and colleges must become powerhouses of evangelisation and catechesis. Again, I must stress that evangelisation is not proselytism, which is a coercive pressure to go against one’s conscientious beliefs. Evangelisation is an invitation to freely consider and experience the truth of the Catholic faith.

I am concerned that a failure to appreciate this clear distinction between proselytism and evangelisation has led some schools and colleges to be inhibited about proclaiming the full truth of the Catholic faith, due to the presence of non-Catholic pupils.’

Whilst the very first sentence of that passage will no doubt horrify some, nonetheless the Bishop is right to draw out the distinction between evangelisation and proselytism, one that must be upheld lest religious schools merely capitulate in the face of secularising forces that wish to erode the religious character of schools on the basis of an unthinking muddle of these two very different things. As such, there is a perfectly rational and robust defence to be made here – a Catholic school should be at liberty to be, well, Catholic, and if parents freely choose to send their children to a particular school because it is Catholic, or knowing that it is Catholic, then there is no reason for that school to cease to be Catholic, nor to cease inviting its students to share in that community of faith.

Perhaps this is partly the old English habit of striving to avoid giving offence when, in fact, no offence was ever likely to be taken. What seems to be the greater factor, however, is the apparent triumph amongst many of our educational elites of the view that only objective neutrality can guarantee profitable discourse and learning (which is nonsense) and that only secularism is both objective and neutral (which is nonsense). And so it is that ‘secularism’ has become the banner under which a motley collection of ‘anti-religionists’ increasingly march, the intellectual illusion through which religious education is constantly assaulted by precisely those relativisms and nihilisms that it should, more properly, seek to counter.

Accordingly, there was little surprise when news arose recently of an Ofsted report that claimed the teaching of Christianity in our schools is of a worryingly poor standard, and increasingly transgresses even the law of the land as to the minimum legal requirement demanded of all schools in the state sector (a report that, remarkably, never featured in the pages of the Guardian – proving the paper is less about delivering news and more about peddling ideological idiocies). Christianity, it is becoming clear, is not only regarded as just one eccentricity amongst others, but is even underplayed and under-taught in relation to various other religions. This is consistent with the prejudices of a wider cultural assault committed primarily by the liberal-left – an unflinching and destructive commitment to relativism more generally, and multi-culturalism more specifically.

Or, in the words of Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, ”What is happening in schools perhaps reflects what has happened in society generally regarding the importance and practice of Christianity… I think certainly in the last decade inspectors have wanted to see examples of multiculturalism, diversity and the promotion of community cohesion in RE, so that is what schools have shown them’

Which leaves us in a pickle, and gives prospective RE teachers something of a minefield to navigate. And it might not be as easy as just keeping in mind the essential difference between evangelisation and proselytism, and sticking rigorously to the former – because it seems that something much more fundamental is at stake; the right to evangelise at all, or at least to evangelise the Christian faith, be it a religious school or not.

Where has the Broken Society gone?

I was reading this rather snazzy looking document entitled Labour’s Legacy over on the Conservative website. It concerns itself entirely with the state of the economy, and lists a few of the things Conservatives clearly feel are important enough for them to reiterate whenever the opportunity presents itself. Which is fair enough. After all, if the Tories are to push through their plans to pay down the deficit, possibly damaging their (somewhat limited) popularity in the process, then the best way of providing the necessary covering fire for doing so is by highlighting just how dire the finances allegedly are, and how irresponsible Labour were for having let things get so bad in the first place.

But the document is far more interesting for what it doesn’t say, than what it does.

When the Tories were flying high in the opinion polls, they had a popular and coherent narrative about a Broken Society. They hadn’t, at that particular time, settled on any kind of cure, but their diagnosis, however much some thought it unfair or inaccurate, nonetheless resonated with a large chunk of the electorate who waited eagerly to hear what solutions the Tories proposed. The recession changed all that, and blew the Tories away from their Broken Society narrative and into the realm of budgetary cuts and the (still raw) memories of the Thatcher years. The polls narrowed and the Tories lost the unlosable election – though the reason for that loss is something that will keep political obsessives debating for years to come. And now, as with this document, one barely hears the phrase at all. All political talk is about reducing the deficit, generating growth, paying off debt, and avoiding falling into the same trap again in the future.

Which is wholly understandable, but not wholly necessary. Put simply, the economic agenda needn’t be cut from the social vision that once distinguished the Tories from their political opponents, not least because it is patently obvious that the two things are very much two sides of the same coin. The broken ideology that has guided our approach to the markets is much the same as the broken ideology that has guided our approach to the state, and both of them are the broken ideologies that have guided our approach to society. Debt, state power, tax, the markets, growth – all of these things form a small part of that scattered jigsaw puzzle that the Tories were once bold enough to address.

So why the apparent abandonment of the project? Why limit the scope merely to our economic poverty, and not our increasing social poverty?

Well, I think it’s three things. Firstly, David Cameron is and always has been a committed social liberal, instinctively opposed to socially conservative policies (as his wobble on marriage tax support initially illustrated, and his eagerness to ditch it post-election merely confirmed). In fact, he openly derides social conservatism. This meant that his talk of the Broken Society always seemed to come with a caveat, a clarification, or an escape clause, and this cost him in the credibility stakes.

Secondly, the coalition has meant that the LibDems, who are essentially socially liberal but split between fiscal conservatives and fiscal lefties, have been able to neuter the social conservatism that underpinned much of the Broken Society narrative.

And thirdly, many Conservatives are modern day disciples of Thatcher, meaning they care much more about the fiscal wealth than they do about ‘social wealth’ – indeed, some even think that the former is the prime generator of the latter. Additionally, even when evidence is produced to underscore the economic benefits of promoting certain socially conservative policies, their commitment to an emaciated account of ‘freedom’ precludes them from supporting such moves. In short, they conflate their conservatism with libertarianism, and in doing find social liberals to be affable bedfellows.

Which means that the Conservatives run the very real risk of confining their vision to the economic and in so doing simply resurrecting all those caricatures that they have tried so hard to shed. Worse, there is every danger that such a narrow approach may well exacerbate that very social breakdown that they have previously claimed to be so pernicious, a consequence that remains the prime accusation levelled against Thatcher – if this happens, after such forthright talk of the Broken Society and, latterly, the Big Society, then the Conservatives will come, in a very short space of time, to be every bit as despised as Labour were towards the end of their own, in the end inglorious reign.

Balls and St. George

I remember a while back I attended a lecture by Terry Eagleton, a rather dull sermon on… well goodness knows, some pseudo-Marxist bluster no doubt. Even so, despite the overwhelming boredom that is my principal memory of the event, one thing Eagleton mentioned did in fact stick with me, and it was when he started talking about the morality of grammar, before bringing forth some examples of medieval dissertations, with one of them entitled something along the lines of ‘the morality of the semi-colon in [poem/thesis/argument]’.

Now of course, in itself this is wholly unremarkable – grammatology and sociolinguistics have long been the fetish of the loony-left, that bourgeois clique of daintily middle-class Marxists fighting culture wars from their dreamy humanities-habitats in universities up and down the land. Either way, the comment stuck with me, not because of any great insight it offered into the reality of things, nor because it whet my nostalgist appetites with its reference to medieval manuscripts, but simply because it offered an alternative perspective into something else that had increasingly come to my attention at that point in time.

For you see, there was a particular lefty lecturer at this university who, when sending e-mails, would never use any capital letters nor use any formal mode of address when writing. He would just launch into what he wanted to talk about, devoid of all but the most necessary grammatical restraints (usually the full-stop, which in a punctuation desert suddenly becomes really quite brutal), and leave it there, occasionally with an odd attempt to sign the message off in some sort of formal fashion. In so doing this lecturer was clearly trying to make some kind of passive-aggressive statement – or, if my presumption of extreme revolutionary fervour is unjustified, then he was certainly trying, by consciously contravening established norms, to make some kind of statement, whatever it might actually be.

I was thinking about that episode again today when I read this blog by Toque, which reproduces  a response from Ed Balls to a question regarding the public funding of St George’s Day celebrations. The letter was courteous, and engaged with the topic thoughtfully, but it contained the following passage;

Thank you for your recent email asking for my views on St. Georges Day, and for your kind words of support. I apologise for the short delay in responding. You ask if I am in favour of state funding for an official St. Georges Day celebration and making St. Georges Day a public holiday in England.

I think it is right to recognise the importance of St. Georges Day, what it means to the history of England, and for the values that England represents [etc.]

Now it is of course entirely possible, and even probable, that the expensively educated Edward Michael Balls, Shadow Secretary of State for Education and former Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, simply does not know how to use an apostrophe. And it could be theoretically possible, although this might be pushing it a little far, that Ed Balls is wholly ignorant of the St. George story and therefore thinks that April 23rd is dedicated to a whole collection of people, all called St. George, though it is not their possession, thereby rendering the apostrophe redundant.

Either way, it seems unlikely that Ed Balls is being linguistically seditious, at least not in the same way that that university lecturer was trying to be. Even so, by omitting the apostrophe one subliminally denies the connection between that particular day and that particular saint, the singular St. George, patron saint of our nation and dragon-slayer extraordinaire. The association is sundered, rendered generic and meaningless, stripped of the history, tradition and legend that gives the dedication (and our adoption of St. George as patron saint) any meaning whatsoever.

And who can really deny that our sense of national identity suffers from precisely this sort of sterilisation of our historical and cultural consciousness, of our ‘island story’.  In the inevitable vacuum we keep creating for ourselves, it is those who prefer to destroy than to build up that increasingly emerge triumphant; those who boldly denounce having any patron saint as simply pointless, an irrelevant anachronism, a silly tradition from our less civilised past that no longer merits inclusion in our enlightened present.

The tragedy is that, increasingly, they may well be right. If people hold on to customs and practices whilst simultaneously stripping away the very social, cultural, historical and, dare one say it, religious language (and grammar) within which they have meaning, then one is merely dressing up a mummy in modern clothes and make-up the better to pretend that it is still alive. As soon as someone points out that, all things considered, the mummy seems to be dead, then the illusion is finished – and so is the mummy.

Am I taking this grammatical slip too seriously? Undoubtedly I am. But I don’t apologise for it. Because it is a small sign of a greater cultural sterility that has stripped society of those foundational pillars that once fashioned some sort of shared identity. In essence, it is this – our society has lost a shared sense of sacramentality; with regards to national identity, this ranges from the gradual erosion of our Christian heritage, to the mock and derision of our public institutions, to the haughty disdain of our historical establishments, to the general distaste for the once honoured place of tradition and custom, to sheer indifference to all of the above. But without that shared sacramentality, that transcending cultural apparatus, society will fragment. Because if a society casts off all sacramentality, then nothing is sacred. And when nothing is sacred, everything can be destroyed.

Grammar is important. And April 23rd is St. George’s Day.