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5 Covert Conservative Lessons in Downton Abbey

#2 It's a Matter of Taste Rather Than Law

The Granthams dress for dinner every evening, the rules of propriety governing every aspect of the meals, including the topics of conversation. When Lady Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson (played by Shirley MacLaine), arrives from America, she brings her progressive (some would say vulgar) American style to the Crawley table. Mary, newly returned from her honeymoon in the south of France, innocently asks about her mother-in-law Isobel’s recent activities.

"As a matter of fact, I’ve found myself a new occupation," says Isobel. "Cousin Violet doesn’t think it’s quite appropriate.” Indeed, she has been rehabilitating former prostitutes.

Violet, the dowager countess of Grantham, is appalled. “Can we talk about it afterwards?”

Martha seizes on the opportunity to disrupt the stuffy meal: “Are there still forbidden subjects in 1920? I can’t believe this.”

Violet simply says, “I speak of taste rather than law.”

There are two important lessons in Violet’s simple sentence. The first is that we don’t need a law to regulate every matter of taste and opinion. We live in a country (and the Brits are way ahead of us in this) where the language and motive police have an increasing presence in our lives. It began in our universities with speech codes and now the mission creep is spreading into the general culture. We must continue to recognize these oppressive free speech violations and oppose them at every turn.

At the same time, we live in a era of cultural degradation and it seems that nothing is “sacred” anymore. Conservatives should strive to raise the bar in our culture, behaving civilly (and teaching our children to do the same), so that we may enjoy the benefits of civil society. By and large we already do this, but let us make sure the generation that follows us is not ignorant of faith and morality, etiquette, fine art and music, classic literature, and other elements previous generations considered to be essential to the development of every young person in society.

If we raise our children on a steady diet of Jersey Shore, Lil Wayne, and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, we should not be surprised when they imitate these tasteless, vulgar role models in their adult lives. Let us instead aspire to motivate our children to follow in the footsteps of gentlemen like George Washington, who transcribed Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation as a young schoolboy in Virginia. How much better our society would be if we all followed simple rules like:

1. Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body not usually discovered.

3. Show nothing to your friend that may affright him.

4. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming voice, or drum with your fingers or feet.

June and Sugar Bear, for the sake of world peace, PLEASE READ THAT BOOK!