on 9 May 2010
If you are of the view that UK is in moral decline or at least expect that this may be the case and if you are searching for explanations, then this books is for you. I came to this land nearly 20 years ago and since then I have come to love many aspects of it: the English Cathedral Towns, the politeness of many folk, the beautiful landscape, Evensong in an Anglican Cathedral and the sense that one is in an ancient and great civilisation. At the same time as I have been growing to love this great land, I have also realised that the things which I love about this land are in terminal decline. I have been particularly sensitive to this decline since 1997 and the election of New Labour. Since then, in my view, the decline has accelerated, particularly in terms of the standards in public life, politics and the media being the key ones. A long with that, the false idea of freedom, namely that freedom is enabling everyone to do what they please, regardless of the good for them or for the common good, has been pursued relentlessly by Government and has been legislated for. I am of course referring to the many laws which have been introduced which limit the conscious rights of persons with religious or philosophical beliefs which are contrary to this new ethic of freedom.
What is interesting about this book is that the author explicitly states that he is not a believer and yet his views would be shared by many believers in this country. This is not surprising because Dalrymple believes in such old fashioned things as self control and fostering virtue and ultimately be believes that there is such a thing as right or wrong. The author notes that the British have changed in their character, with sturdy independence being replaced by "Passivity, querulousness or even, at the lower reaches of society, a sullen resentment that not enough has been done for them". The Author sees this change being consequential on the change in the relationship between citizens and the state (yes, I know subjects and the Queen): the author sees an infantalisation at work where people's real choices concern only sex and shopping.
Anyway what we get in this book is a scathing attack of the intelligentsia (he is spot on when he says: "I suspect that intellectual error is at the root of most evil") in our society along with an assessment of the disastrous consequences of their policies on key areas such as the welfare state, schooling (including language tuition and grammar and the policy of appeasement which is being followed), crime and punishment, particularly drugs and diversity and multiculturalism. The changes in attitude to criminals and criminality (prisons as place for therapy rather than punishment) he lays at the feet of criminologists from the 60s.
But before he tackles these particular issues, he sets the scene by telling us why we got this state:
"A cultural gestalt-switch has taken place in the meantime: old virtues such as fortitude were not considered vices, or at least self-betrayal, and self-control a form of emotional blockage. The result has been a society in which people demand the right to do anything they choose, but to be protected, as of right, from the consequences of their own choice"
He then analyses how this has had practical effect and selects the personas of Jonathan Ross, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. These Chapters should be read carefully.
His analysis of what has happened in our schools and in our prisons is particularly scathing, poking fun at those who say Britain has too many prisoners: "as if there were an ideal number of prisoners derived from a purely abstract principle, at which, independent of the number of crimes committed, we should aim". Against those who favour legalising drugs, he has this to say against those who banally say that we should change the law because we are losing the war anyway: "And if the war against drugs is lost, then so are the wars against theft, speeding, incest, fraud, rape, murder, arson and illegal parking. Few if any such wars are winnable"
His chapter devoted to the new atheists is also worth a read, particularly as he himself has no axe to grind, not being a believer himself. He basically finds the exponents to be somewhat adolescent in their attitude but I think really his main problem with them is one of manners - they have not got any respect for the views of others. He wisely notes that in world without purpose, there is no reason to be grateful and "gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency".
All in all this is an excellent book and I commend it to anyone who is trying to understand what has gone wrong with Britain. The problem is one fears that things are going to get worse before they get better. What is most disappointing is that none of the mainstream political parties seem to see the problem - indeed, they often are part of the problem!