|Conquered Without a Shot||A mainstream journalist traces the degeneration of a former world power. John Tyndall reviews|
The Abolition of Britain by Peter Hitchens; Quartet Books, £15.00.
One of the very encouraging developments of recent times is the emergence of a school of writers in the 'establishment' newspapers prepared to take up the cudgels against many, if not yet all, of the fashionable liberal pieties of the post-1945 world. One of these is Peter Hitchens, whose Monday column in The Express contains many sentiments which would not be out of place in Spearhead. Therefore, when it was heard that Mr. Hitchens had brought out a book with the above-named title, curiosity won out, and an order was placed. In view of the author's high-profile position in the world of journalism, expectations were not too high. In consequence, far from being disappointing, the book gave much ground for satisfaction.
On the back of the jacket of the book, it is stated that...
The final words of this paragraph evoke images of rhetoric used by full-blooded racial nationalists, but I did not expect Mr. Hitchens to say anything that would place him in such 'dangerous' company. Where he touches on the racial question, he does so weakly and in the tradition of Tebbit-style Toryism, talking of coloured immigrants and their offspring as authentic 'British' whom we should endeavour to assimilate rather than treat as special and separate people with 'rights' that are not accorded to the rest of the population. One particularly ridiculous passage occurs in a mostly well-argued section on history teaching, where the author attempts to refute the idea that British history should be rewritten to accommodate the new minorities, saying of the wave of post-war immigration:-
In rebuttal, it might be said that the new 'educationalists', notwithstanding their harmful intentions, were rather closer to the real world than is Mr. Hitchens, recognising as they did that history for children of various national and ethnic backgrounds could not possibly mean the same thing. Why, in a book full of much good sense, does the writer have to descend to these inanities? I cannot claim to read Mr. Hitchens' mind, but certain realities need to be understood. He is a professional journalist with a column in a mass-circulation newspaper with a vast readership. His book stands to obtain an immeasurably greater circulation than samizdat works like my own The Eleventh Hour. Would the ideological 'purists' prefer that voices of sanity (on most subjects) like that of Hitchens be totally blackballed from the establishment media and political correctness allowed a complete monopoly over public opinion? Politics is the art of the possible, and Mr. Hitchens, whatever his motives, is doing something that is possible while at the same time mostly beneficial. Horses for courses, as they say.
All this having been said, peeping through the mandatory phrases on the race issue are little shafts of light that can be seen as doing no harm to the cause of ethnic awakening - if one acquires the habit of reading between the lines. Throughout the book, 'racism' and 'racist' are referred to, as here, in the inverted commas that suggest derision at the habitual users of these words. A politically correct professor of English is lampooned by quoting his own words, thus: "What kind of English curriculum can prepare children to be productively intercultural and polycultural in the society of tomorrow...?" And in reference to another such Don there is the statement that, to him, "the desire for a national culture is seen as damagingly conservative, often 'racist'..."
It becomes clear before one has progressed far through The Abolition of Britain that the author's fixation is not so much with the more obvious political symptoms of our decline as a nation as with the cultural revolution that has acted as midwife to them. Whether Mr. Hitchens has ever heard of Marcuse and Adorno and their theory of the "Long march through the institutions," what he clearly recognises is that the overturning of a nation's core values, is the first prerequisite of its political destruction. Of the British, he addresses intelligently and forthrightly, and in his own words, the question: "How did we get like this?" Of Tony Blair's electoral victory in 1997, he says in the Introduction to the book:-
This is correct in its broad generality but very faulty in its detail. The main reason why Labour won the election was that the Tories had placed themselves in a position in which they were deservedly certain to lose it. The collapse of British confidence did not 'follow' the 1950s decay of which Hitchens speaks; it preceded it and gave birth to it. The 'concerns' which the Tories tried to drag into the election campaign were not basically different from those addressed by their opponents, geared as these were to materialistic values and individual selfishness and greed - standard agendas for a democratic popularity contest; it is just that public perception of the Tory record in these respects was so abysmal, and the Tory leader such a proven duffer, that the result was a foregone conclusion. Blair had to win because he was not Major.
Also, Mr. Hitchens would better have moved the timetable of Britain's decline at least two or three decades further backwards, and spread the guilt far more evenly across the political, cultural and intellectual spectrum. But, notwithstanding these criticisms, in his pinpointing of the causes of our national plight he scores many bulls-eyes.
A step back in time
Sticking to his theme of a thirty-odd-year subversion of British institutions, Hitchens begins his study by highlighting the immense changes occurring in the country between the funerals of Sir Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales, as seen by an imaginary young woman of today transported as if in a dream back to the mid-1960s. She would, the author says, find much that was unrecognisable, beginning with the farewell to the wartime leader himself: a dignified, stiff-upper-lip occasion with a strong flavour of military pageantry and tradition - by contrast with the hysterical, 'let-it-all-hang-out' weeping and wailing as the 'People's Princess' was laid to rest. But this contrast had its opposite. What might those who recalled the Churchill burial think of the Diana circus? Speaking for many of them, Hitchens refers contemptuously to "this dictatorship of grief, wielded by a powerful media élite..." Such was the pressure on everyone to join in the nationwide opera of sobbing and shrieking and other sundry unBritish behaviour, to desist almost seemed irreverent, not to say callous. In this cameo was encapsulated a much wider betrayal of national character and tradition.
The media, of course, by Di's time had become the vanguard of a movement that had changed Britain utterly. They had in fact become the new establishment, but their self-portrait required always that they appear the opposite. Says Hitchens:-
Reality of decline
But how had this high ground been stormed so easily? Britain was without question a much more agreeable country to live in before the 'sixties revolution, largely bogus that that revolution was. There were still ample symbols of national identity and causes for national pride. But behind these there was the reality of decline. Here and there, Hitchens shows a recognition of this, and his portrayal of the gravely weakened but complacent country that we inhabited in the two decades following 1945 is uncomfortably close to the truth. Young and old, he says...
Left-wing iconoclasm set out to puncture Britain's proud image of itself, and by the 1990s it had succeeded appallingly. The trouble was that this image had long ago been an illusory one which only too easily lent itself to demolition when exposed to the facts of the modern world. A patriotic concept of Britain founded on the reality of genuine national strength, power and efficiency would have fought a much sterner battle against subversion.
For all this, however, every patriotism rests on a degree of myth, on a vision of a grand and heroic past that does not correspond 100 per cent to fact. It is right occasionally to hold this vision up to scrutiny and question its more doubtful legends; but when it is demolished in its entirety it leaves a total void. Says Hitchens:-
Absolutely true! But, as suggested previously, love of country can turn into a self-satisfied belief in its perfection. Hitchens warns that...
There follows a condemnation of would-be 'world reformers' of an earlier generation who objected to young British boys being imbued with pride in their nation's military achievements lest this may arose their 'primitive instincts'. This paragraph ends with one of the best passages in the book, where the author states that: "... it is impossible to invent anything so ludicrous that liberals will not eventually make it come true."
Dislike of nationalism
We are now, as might be gleaned, into a vigorous debate on modern 'education', which forms the main theme of the second chapter, and it is here that Hitchens excels. Here he cites statements by a selection of trendy educators, of which one of the best examples comes from E.H. Dance, described as having "a passionate dislike of nationalist versions of the British past." Dance, writing in 1971, called for...
By this time, one has visions of gentlemen in white coats trying to beckon Mr. Dance down as he clings to the chandelier. But we should not laugh too readily, for his ravings have become almost the standard orthodoxy in scholastic establishments as we begin a new century. Another excellent paradigm of liberal boobyism at its worst was to be found in the writings of Hamish Macdonald, whose pet theme was that of continual 'progress' with the passing of time. To Macdonald, everything old was bad and everything new, by comparison, good. It went without saying that modern times were much more enlightened than times past, and a sample was given in the primitive living conditions endured at sea by Nelson's sailors - "tall masts, rope ladders, wet weather (don't we still have it?), high winds (ditto), danger of falling to deck or overboard, and the way of life below decks 'no privacy, very crowded, no proper furniture', as compared to the Admiral's cabin, which is 'private, light and spacious, comfortably furnished'." Says Hitchens:-
But of course, the trendy educationalists, confronted at the end of the end of the 20th century with the wreckage and shambles that their theories have produced, are not ready to admit they have been mistaken. As with the 'new history', so with child-centred learning and the abolition of corporal punishment they remain convinced that the only problem is that the rest of us do not yet understand them; we must be patient in waiting for the coming of the world that will enable their systems to work. Says Hitchens:-
The rot in the Church
After an incursion into environmental matters, Hitchens, under the heading of 'Hell freezes over', comes to an analysis of the rot in the established Church. Those of no set religious affiliation may feel tempted to skip over this chapter on the grounds that it has no relevance to them. They should not, for it contains some gems of wisdom that transcend denomination, even Christianity itself. The best of these lies in an assertion concerning the eternal nature of certain religious truths, where the author says:-
Cranmer, of course, would have given short shrift to those who claim that the passing of time somehow has a bearing on questions of what is right and what is wrong, that Victorian moral attitudes must today be rejected not because they were wrong but merely because they were Victorian. Except in the limited context of technology, an idea that is right for its time is in fact right for any time. Yet today the received wisdom is that somehow right and wrong are adjustable concepts depending on the century you are in - which in reality just means depending on fashion.
Hitchens' other major point in this chapter is his reminder that the revolution in the Church, carried out on the pretext of refilling empty pews, has signally failed to do anything of the kind. He says:-
Good question! And it provides perhaps the only hint in the book of a 'hidden agenda' at work - in other words, of conspiracy. Are the transparently insane developments - in the Church, in education, in social mores and in so much else - that have changed Britain out of all recognition part of a deliberate strategy of destruction, masterminded by brains far more astute than those of the airheads who shout most loudly for them? Here we are into extremely 'sensitive' areas of discussion, invariably out of bounds to newspaper columnists and authors who want to get their books sold through the established distribution networks. Let us hope that those ten closing words by Mr. Hitchens on the subject will awaken curiosity and enquiry, for these are certainly overdue. In real life, the inmates just do not take over the asylum by their own cleverness and resourcefulness; they have to have certain other forces working for them for that to be possible.
Evils of TV
No analysis of what has gone wrong with Britain would be complete without an enquiry into television, and Mr. Hitchens gives the best part of a chapter to this subject. A little disappointingly, he does not focus on the blatant left-wing brainwashing flavour of TV programmes but only on the mind-numbing effect of silver-screen addiction itself. In other words, television - or at least the volume of it now available - is bad for us, quite regardless of the content. A letter to The Times from T.S. Eliot in December 1950 is quoted to make the point. Eliot could not at that time have had the faintest idea of the ideological content of programmes to be broadcast half a century later. What he was then concerned about was what he called "the social effects of this pastime, and especially its effect (mentally, morally and physically) upon small children." He cited the experiences of people he knew in his native U.S.A., where viewing was then much more widespread than in this country. Of these, he said:-
Hitchens obviously shares these concerns, and with the hindsight of a further fifty years' experience not available to Eliot at the time of his letter. TV, he claims, has reduced a large portion of the population to the state of virtual zombiedom, lacking in any capacity for independent judgement, social communicativeness, self-sufficiency of cultural appreciation or ability to function as integral citizens of any kind of community.
Of course, the question which Hitchens does not tackle is that of how, now that this zombie-creating medium has become so thoroughly institutionalised, we are going to rid ourselves of it - at least in its present form - without some revolutionary change in the nature of the political authority that makes such decisions. That is a question perhaps best avoided for the time being.
Hitchens is undoubtedly correct in believing that left-wing satire, exercised primarily through the TV medium, has done much to undermine British institutions. He devotes a chapter to the well-established 'sneer industry', focusing especially on the play Beyond the Fringe, which back in 1961 made the knocking of tradition fashionable. However, in defending that which has been knocked he does a bit of unjustified knocking himself. Beyond the Fringe portrayed pre-war Tories as advocates of 'appeasement' - which was assumed to be to their discredit. This was an unjust slur, says Mr. Hitchens. Well, unjust it may have been, and inaccurate it certainly was. But a slur? This presumes that 'appeasement' was dishonourable, which in the context of 1930s politics it most certainly was not. The so-called 'appeasers' consisted of two elements: in the one case there were those who believed that a war against Germany served no British interest and would end in disaster for Britain, whoever won; in the other case there were the people who maintained that, given that it was necessary to oppose Hitler, we were not then ready to do so effectively and therefore had to buy time. We should not get too deeply into these arguments here, but neither should we, in order to refute the propaganda of the left, fall in with its assumption that the war party of the 1930s was right.
The fact of the matter is that, while left-wing satire of Britain in the pre-war and wartime period had its own axes to grind, there was nevertheless much about those periods, and the people presiding over them, that deserved to be satirised. Hitchens shows a blind spot here. Speaking of the pre-war and wartime establishment, he says:-
Did they really? Here Mr. Hitchens' grasp of history, firm for much of the time, seems to have slackened. He has himself reminded us earlier that the tank clashes at Kursk may have had something to do with the outcome of the war against Hitler; in fact never less than three quarters of Germany's wartime forces were deployed in the Eastern sector. As for this class peacefully governing much of the world, my memory is that a very few years later it abjectly surrendered most of what it had.
Murder of the British family
These words, which begin a chapter on the permissive revolution - with particular regard to its consequences of illegitimacy and family break-up - are some of the best I have ever read on the subject. Their message could be conveyed far beyond the immediate issue to which they are addressed. Is it not the lack of recognition that cruelty is sometimes necessary in the cause of kindness that lies at the back of a whole catalogue of national and social catastrophes inflicted upon us by liberal 'bleeding hearts'? For instance, we are afraid of the cruelty that might be involved in repatriation of Britain's ethnic minorities, so we opt for the far greater cruelties - greater because permanent - that visit us as a consequence of the multiracial society: riots, rocketing crime, educational backwardness, irreconcilable social divisions. We choose to lavish aid on the Third World because we cannot stand nature's cruelty as endured by starving African children and their like elsewhere, but all we do is make certain that there will be much more cruelty in the same areas of the world in times to come - through the uncontrolled breeding that this aid encourages. Hitchens does not touch on these latter issues; he probably dare not. But he does a service by pinpointing the disasters, in one sector after another, that result when a society surrenders itself to an unthinking and sloppy humanitarianism.
But however admirable the author's forays against the liberal consensus may be, he leaves notable omissions. One chapter of twenty pages is titled 'The pill that cured morality'. In all these pages, devoted as they are to the harmful effects of sexual promiscuity as encouraged by birth-control practices, there is not a word about what is probably the worst consequence of all: the fact that today the white races, in Britain and elsewhere, are not reproducing sufficiently to maintain a healthy balance between young and old, between working and retired people - the ultimate scenario of which is a nation resembling one vast geriatric ward, where there is no provision for the future because there is no future.
The two closing chapters of The Abolition of Britain (albeit that one is referred to not as a chapter but as a 'conclusion') amount to a kind of summary of all that has gone before, with greater emphasis than previously on the actual political consequences of all the cultural change. If there is an overriding message in them it is expressed in the image of Tony Blair representing Lenin in disguise, a would-be dictator and destroyer made acceptable by the face of a grinning pop idol and the voice and manner of a rather camp student. The culmination of the nation-destroying process of the past decades is the entry into Federal Europe. The tone is apocalyptic - at once a virtue and a fault. The virtue lies in the sense of urgency imparted, the fault in the aura of finality hanging over the action. If it occurs, says Hitchens, there is no possibility that, should Britain wish to regain her independence, she will be able to do so. This, of course, is nonsense. There is not a single political act, once done, that cannot be undone - something which, throughout the book, the writer seems not to recognise as he describes one after another disastrous national development as if it were permanent and irreversible.
Where is the resistance?
Certain serious omissions in The Abolition of Britain stand out. At every stage of the cultural revolution described, so often admirably, by the author, insufficient enquiry is made into how it rode roughshod so easily over every bastion of would-be resistance. The question is alluded to, but never with adequate thoroughness or depth. Why did the forces of tradition and patriotism not make a stronger fight of it? It is acknowledged often enough that they did not, but nowhere is it properly asked why they did not. Certain excuses are offered but they suffice to explain only the passivity of the general mass of decent people; they are lacking in reasons why, out of that mass, there did not emerge, at least in any apparent sense, leadership with the full perception of what was happening and the force of character to oppose it with the same single-minded determination s was displayed by its promoters.
Of course, this constitutes a sensitive area for a writer like Hitchens. His parameters are restricted. They may only encompass resistance within 'approved' circles of culture and politics. They may not embrace people and groups on the margins, least of all ideologies far outside the accepted orthodoxy.
Of course, as we know, there have been pockets of determined resistance and fight-back, but up to now they have been deliberately denied the facilities to make their case heard. Real dissent - as opposed to the half-baked dissent of right-wing Tories and traditionalist clerics and writers - has been suppressed by a hidden totalitarianism which has differed only in kind, but not in degree, from that of Soviet tyranny. A full exposure of that totalitarianism would take an author like Mr. Hitchens into areas of study well outside permitted limits.
But at least one thing may be said for the Hitchens analysis. It rejects both the 'Iron Lady' and most of her works, saying near the end of the book:-
These words constitute one of the most valuable messages in a book in which the good outweighs the bad in a ratio of about three to one. I recommend it to readers not because the author really gets close to telling us where Britain needs to go but because it contains a lot of very useful data on the faulty route along which it has come - data that can be explored and quoted in future debate, written and verbal.
The Abolition of Britain is irritating in one or two small ways. For a writer who deplores the decline in standards of English, Mr. Hitchens has a very lazy attitude towards the use of commas, inserting them where they don't belong and omitting them where they do. Even more annoying in a book about Britain is the resort to American forms of spelling. There is even a case where the excruciating use of an apostrophe is made between a year and its plural 's', so as to make '1960's' - good for a slap with a ruler at my old school but apparently permissible to a professional journalist in the closing days of the 20th century!
The book runs to 351 pages and its front cover is illustrated by a Union Jack at half-mast - curiously enough, a symbolism used in this magazine in a leader article saying good-bye to 1999 and the era which, we must hope, it brought to an end.