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Ed Driscoll

Nobody Mention the Culture War

August 22nd, 2011 - 12:15 pm

At the Guardian (where else?) Tony Blair weighs in on the England he helped to create. His headline and subhead is a case of “one of these things is not like the other:”

Blaming a moral decline for the riots makes good headlines but bad policy

Talk of a general malaise is misguided. The country’s problems stem from too many dysfunctional households

But what makes “too many dysfunctional households” — or at the very least, helps to make more of them than would have existed otherwise?  Janet Daley of the London Telegraph knows. “The Left-liberal camp is in overdrive in its campaign to rewrite history (or, in its own vocabulary, to alter consciousness),” Daley writes, and you can include the equivocation by Tony Blair or the Guardian’s copy editor to the list, “you did not see thousands of jubilant thugs rampaging through the streets, destroying livelihoods and property for the sheer exultant joy of it.”

In contrast, Daley adds, “What real people know – and have known for quite a long time – is that the great tacit agreement which once held civic life together has been deliberately blown apart:”

There was a time within living memory when all reasonable grown-ups were considered to be on the same side. Parents, teachers, police, judges, politicians – decent citizens of every station and calling – formed an unspoken confederacy to uphold standards of behaviour within their own communities. But their shared values and expectations about human conduct were systematically undermined by a post-Sixties political ideology that preached wholesale disrespect for authority, and legitimised anti-social activity in the name of protest.

What real people saw on their television screens this fateful summer seemed to them to be the final vindication of their instinctive judgment: they may have been shocked but, on some level at least, they were not surprised that it had come to this. What else were these terrible events but the definitive disproof of a doctrine that had subverted adult authority in all its official and unofficial forms?

That doctrine goes back a long way. In fact, the politics of the Sixties were just a late incarnation of an 18th-century philosophy. We have Jean-Jacques Rousseau to thank for the basic principle that men are born good and will only behave badly if they are corrupted by authority and repressive institutions: that we need only liberate them from those false limitations and their natural moral instincts will come to the fore.

So hugely influential was this view in education and social policy that it almost succeeded in extinguishing the truths that arise from experience: people (especially young ones) will behave badly just because they can, because no one is stopping them, or has ever inculcated in them the conscientious discipline that would make them stop themselves.

The capacity for self-control, and the willingness to suppress one’s innate selfishness or cruelty, is something that adults must consciously instil in children and reinforce in other adults by their attitudes to them. The indispensable tools of social stigma and moral judgment that communities used to have at their disposal for this purpose have been stripped away, and the result – the fearless defiance of helpless authority – is what we saw in its terrifying logical conclusion on the streets. That is what real people know: that they were right all along.

When Mark Steyn’s new book came out, I described its literary stylings and doomsday forecast as a combination of Oswald Spengler*, the author of the influential Weimar-era tome, The Decline of the West mated to the riffing of the pioneering wordplay-obsessed comedian Mort Sahl. Tony Blair seems to want to get into the comedy game himself by adding John Cleese and a slight paraphrase of a classic episode of Fawlty Towers to the equation: nobody mention the culture war.

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