Thursday, January 06, 2011

Is Britain Civilized?

When the great British bulldog was laid to rest on 31 January 1965, the crowds (more than 300,000) who queued up to see him lying in state were typically British: loyal, proud, sentimental, yet self controlled. During the darkest days of the war, when England was on the precipice of surrender, Winston Churchill had been the indispensable man. The British people were a proud family honoring their father figure, sure that British institutions were the best in the world. Thus it came as something of a surprise when the newly elected Labour government set about to “reform” British culture.

In 1965 the youthful Roy Jenkins was appointed to head the Home Office. Jenkins had made a name for him-self with the publication of a manifesto called “Is Britain Civilized?” in which he attacked Britain's "archaic" laws on abortion, censorship, homosexuality, and divorce, as well as arguing for the abolition of capital punishment. His reform of the criminal justice system was designed to make it as “civilized” to the criminal as possible. Jenkins and his Labour co-conspirators believed that a more permissive society would be a more civilized society.

One of the greatest blows was to the stability of family life. In his 1967 Reith lectures, Edmund Leach actually blamed the traditional family for most of society’s problems. In 1965 British society was one of the most stable, decent and law-abiding in the world. By the turn of the century, English society had been radicalized.

In his book “Our Culture, What’s left of It” the British ex-pat Theodore Dalrymple documents the destruction of English character: rampant alcoholism and drug use; increasing illegitimacy; children raised without any form of parental supervision or guidance; the destruction of traditional mores and respect for law.

And what happened to the family? Labour MP Jon Cruddas, a staunch liberal, said recently that the “biggest calamity facing society is the relentless disintegration of the family and the profoundly dangerous consequential element of a lack of male role models.”

Neil Clark summarized the damage in the 2003 Opinion-Telegraph: “The damaging impact of Jenkins's reforms on the society we live in is all too clear to see. One marriage in three now ends in divorce. Almost 40 per cent of children are now born out of wedlock, the highest figure in Europe. Since the 1967 Abortion Act, more than six million unborn children have been aborted. The legalization of homosexuality has not been the end of the chapter, but merely the beginning, with an aggressive ‘gay rights’ lobby demanding more and more concessions. The policy of early release of prisoners has had a catastrophic effect on the safety of the general public: 14 per cent of violent criminals freed early are convicted of fresh violence within two years of their release.”

Liberalizing political reforms made a mess of British society turning England into perhaps the “most libertine -- and frankly immoral -- country in Europe.” You may think these judgments are rather harsh, perhaps exaggerated. Well by the late 1970s the damage was already so severe that English novelist Kingsley Amis wrote a withering satire on the decay of the national culture. In “Russian Hide and Seek” Amis suggests that the trashing of English culture could only have been achieved by a ruthless foreign invader.

At the same time the churches in England were undergoing their own reforms and contributing to the destruction of English character. In his scathing critique of British social life --“The Abolition of Britain”-- Peter Hitchens notes that “Hell was abolished around the same time that abortion was legalized and the death penalty was done away with.” Anglican bishops, headed by John Robinson, began to admit that they were “not sure about the existence of God or the truths of their religion’s central beliefs.” The Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins (another Jenkins!) spoke of the resurrection as “conjuring tricks with bones.”

Lacking the “faith once given,” English churches decided to become relevant and post-modern. Traditional forms and the most cherished beliefs were jettisoned. Scripture was increasingly replaced by social theology, suited to the new social democracy, in which “Christian charity was expressed through political action rather than in your own conduct.” The churches became booster clubs for the political reforms imposed on the working class people by Roy Jenkins and his crew. And the churches became increasingly empty.

Some Anglican pastors described in “The Rise and fall of the Nine o’Clock Service” tried to entice the lost parishioners with pseudo-Christian services: “Druidic white-robed figures around an alter resembling a crescent moon… hundreds of black-clad figures peer out of the darkness, swaying to swirling, strangely ethereal breaths of ambient techno.” Very clearly, it could no longer be said that the Anglican Church was the “Tory party at prayer.” It did not work.

Amis describes a church service after the Russians have purified England. A young woman reciting the Creed wonders what it is all about: “The whole catalogue was very odd – remote and fanciful. It made sense to believe in keeping oneself to oneself, in a hot-water bottle on a cold night. But what difference could it make to think the Holy Ghost advisable, to be in favor of the life everlasting.”

So what do you think? Is Britain still civilized? Do you see any parallels in America?


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