Sunday, September 14, 2008

A letter to the Spectator

I am constitutionally a sceptic ( a term which, like "humanist", has been degraded to mean simply atheist, a sense I don't intend), but not being cocksure either way, I think civilised life depends on a benevolent forbearance that is being eroded by Puritans of all stripes.

I've submitted the following letter to the Speccie in response to this by Rod Liddle, but like as not it will not be published, so you may as well have a preview.


In typically flippant manner, Rod Liddle (13 September) mocks the alleged stupidity and cowardice of would-be Islamic martyrs. It’s true that there is an adolescent power-seeking element: I was confronted by a serious-faced posse of 15-year-olds in a school corridor on 13 September 2001, and the spokesman said, “Sir, what happened on Tuesday: good, innit?” With that, leaving their kaffir teacher satisfyingly speechless, the delegation walked off.

But the self-appointed leader was far from stupid, as I knew: he could probably have got his inflatable A* in GCSE English a year early. And teenagers mind-manacled by a few simple ideas can be very brave, which is why armies everywhere have been glad to use them.

Moreover, this is not a Children’s Crusade, but a war of ideas. We had our own a generation ago: “Smash the System”, Ho Chi Minh’s lantern fizzog stencilled on Oxford college walls, etc. If Liddle wishes for an answer, it is to be found in the article immediately after his own, where Harry Mount quotes Philip Larkin: “A hunger ... to be more serious.” Wiffy-woffy liberal democracy is under attack from both domestic Left and alien religious Right. The politico-religious settlement that was the Church of England is crumbling.

In a Gramscian campaign, the means of cultural transmission (the educational curriculum, the broadcast media, even some of the clergy) have been captured and turned against what used to unite us. Recently, we have gone from the martyrs’ certainty of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer to the confusing fast-talk of Bishop David Jenkins, the slapstick clerical comedy of Dawn French and the nihilistic assertiveness of that scruffy peacock Richard Dawkins. When, a year or two ago, the BBC transmitted “Any Questions?” from a church at Christmas, the panel inevitably included a smug young atheist exhorting the faithful to “embrace the dark.”

The real Delusion is that we can cut down the ancient forests of our history and expect a lovely garden to spring up among the stumps. As Robert Bolt’s More says, “Do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?” The seriousness for which people hunger is not found in the drunken debauchery alternately promoted and lamented in Parliament and the newspapers, and that which is being destroyed will find its replacement.


James Higham said...

I think civilised life depends on a benevolent forbearance that is being eroded by Puritans of all stripes.

That's what true Christianity is, as distinct from what swe see out there now.


Hi, James, you are most welcome, as ever. New avatar picture, I see.

dearieme said...

What this country has needed for years is rule by robust liberals ("liberal" in the old sense), else we end up with rule by hyphenated fascists, New Labour-fascists being just the beginning.

I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
Mon Repos les Deux Eglise,
East Angular.


Les Deux Eglises? Isn't that where old Kepi Bignose is buried?

dearieme said...

How decent of you to correct my spelling silently.

Deb Acle said...

How lovely! A rich, erudite, lyrical letter which conveys strength and disgust with grace.

How many people are sufficiently educated to be able to understand the nuanced profound references, how many would have the patience - between snorts of intoxicants! - to seek out the meaning?

And, I agree with every word!


Pedantry is my profession, DM. Bad manners, really - sorry!

Deb: how kind! You can't lay it on too thick for me.

James Higham said...

Kepi Bignose - yes, we used to ahve a pint together back in the old days.

dearieme said...

I always enjoy references to "Robert Bolt’s More" but can never resist pointing out that the real More liked torturing Protestants in the comfort of his own home. His comfort, not theirs.


Don't have any more, Mr More, eh?

Wolfie said...

Rod is very witty but very often quite wrong. You also provide a convincing and eloquent argument but I respectfully petition that you are slightly wide of the mark by placing so much emphasis on religion and by doing so you confuse cause, vector and effect.

Yesterday whilst out and about a man I had only just met interjected into a conversation I was having with someone else that he welcomed the extinction of the white European people from the Earth and this man was no Muslim nor nihilist. Needless to say I eviscerated his feeble argument but harmed not a hair on his head.

We have a lot more problems than a few crap terrorists.


Hi, Wolfie. Was your interlocutor, by any chance, a self-hating white Leftie?

As to the religion bit, it reflects Liddle's focus; as I wrote to my brother, in the absence of a Constitution, Britain is held together by culture, custom, history, myth and illusion and so is particularly vulnerable to a Gramscian onslaught.

I agree that Islamic terrorists are, on average, less of a threat than local yobs or drunken drivers; but there is real danger in the constant unpicking of the thousand threads that hold down the giant Gulliver of social disorder. Read the story of the Roman general Sertorius:

... Before his assembled army he had two horses led out, one weak and old, the other strong and big, with a large tail. A small man stood by the big horse, and a tall, burly man stood by the weak horse.

"You two men," said Sertorius, "are each to pull out the tail of the horse you stand by."

The big man tugged at the little horse's tail with all his might, but could do nothing, and the crowd of warriors shrieked with laughter.

Meanwhile the small man was quietly picking out the tail of the big horse, one hair at a time, till the tail was all gone! Then Sertorius spoke:

"My friends, you who dash madly into battle, without heed and without sense, are like the big fellow who tugs and tugs and gains nothing. The other man has used less force of muscle, but he has used more intelligence; he has thought out a wise plan, and stuck to it till it succeeded."

disco dancer said...

Sacks - I think your needle just got stuck.


Hi, DD. It's not my needle. There's an agenda being pursued here, I'm merely reacting to it. Call me a reactionary if you like: it's the new cool.


... oh, I see - presumably you're pointing out that my previous comment got posted twice!