Sarah Wollaston joins Plaid Cymru

Report by Fay Kinuise:

Of her new perch, Sarah Wollaston said:

“After very careful thought, I have come to the conclusion that by joining Plaid Cymru I can best serve the interests of my constituency, Totnes, or ‘Pen-y-Tot’ as it should be called and I understand that I am the party’s first ever MP in Dyfnaint.

I bring a greet deal of experience, as I have seen many political parties in the last few years: I was on both sides in the referendum campaign, I campaigned for Leave then voted Remain, then voted to Leave in Parliament; I have in the course of a few months been in the Conservative Party, then The Independent Group, then Change UK, campaigning for the status quo. I then sat as an independent, and then joined the Liberal Democrats, until they failed to reselect me for Totnes.

I will now campaign for Welsh medium teaching in all Devonian schools, and to avoid a damaging border with Europe, by building one against England. I can assure my new colleagues in Plaid Cymru that I will be steadfast for the party for the whole of the week, or until a prettier party comes along.

Whatever I have said in the past, I am still the Vicar of Bray, sir the MP for Totnes. Britain deserves better.”

Accidental spies; useful idiots

It is how it begins, with a friendly conversation in a quiet corner. The deeper conversations which follow are of a pattern familiar to those who may come knocking on your door earlier than you expect:

“I am pleased to meet you, as you have always understood our country and have tried to correct certain misconceptions voiced by your colleagues in Parliament and outside. As you are a member of the ‘Friends of…’ group, I think I may call you a friend. Goodwill in relations between Britain and our country would be of great advantage to both of our nations and to the world, as you understand.”

“It is frustrating that some even in your own party take a negative view of our country. I have never understood it. It is good to know that we have friends. The concerns of others about certain domestic and foreign policies of ours should not sour what should be a partnership of nations with so much in common, when we should be working together. When you yourself are in government, I hope we will. The current opposition must stem from an unfortunate prejudice as they do not apply the same standards to other countries far further from their ideas. I have long appreciated that you take the wider view.”

“Perhaps you could tell me which of your colleagues opposes our country’s policies: then we could tailor our message better. Talk to them. What are their concerns, and who is briefing them against us?”

“Such a treasure of information you have provided. Perhaps we might engage you in a professional capacity as a consultant? Your contacts in the upper reaches of the government machine may provide information that we, with our limited understanding of British political culture, fail to grasp.”

“Your services have been invaluable, and your skills as a researcher impeccable – you might also though be able to tickle some more information from ministers with a question or two in the House, within your professional role? I have taken the liberty of writing a list of possible subjects…”

Well, sir – you have become a paid intelligence agent of a foreign power.

The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes

The great divide in early modern philosophy is still that which fundamentally divides politics today: what is man in the state of nature, when without state or society? To the romantic imagination it was the noble savage roaming the virgin plains of America without sin or care, but this opposed all experience and Biblical principle. The attraction of the ‘noble savage’ idea is obvious – if only we could cast off all the constraints and expectations of society and be free, then we might find a prelapsarian idyll. The realist and the theologian (which are by no means exclusive terms) will look with pity at the naïvety, while wishing in the dark hours of the soul that they could find the idyll themselves.

The ills of the world, the evils committed and the relentless need to labour without relief for little reward until death have been the realities of life forever, so it is a very attractive idea that all this is the result of oppressive powers and the dead hand of previous generations’ ideas. If that so then there must once have been that wild idyll and it is possible to reach it once again.

The Biblical picture has Adam and Eve living in a garden where all is provided for them until they eat of the fruit of knowledge, after which all is toil and a struggle with inborn sin. This fruit of knowledge is the moment when they became human. The brief prelapsarian age cannot be regained unless we cease to be human.

Hobbes in Leviathan burst the noble savage idea. The natives of America were not sinless dwellers in an idyll, and for man, the state of nature is such that:

they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man . . . Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall.

In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short

This observation naturally upsets all those who believe in the perfectibility of mankind as it overturns the fundamental idea on which such a project must be built, but every experience of human nature proves Hobbes right.

Hobbes did turn to the ‘noble savages’ of America (whom the English settlers in America knew far better than the romantic philosophes of Paris):

For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small Families, the concord whereof dependeth on naturall lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there were no common Power to feare; by the manner of life, which men that have formerly lived under a peacefull government, use to degenerate into, in a civill Warre.

The idea of the noble savage and the inherent goodness of natural man is too attractive to have been lost though. It is strongly held by some today.

Anthony Burgess, in the commentary section of his book 1985, characterises the division of ideas as ‘Pelagian’ and ‘Augustinian’ after the two theologies which battled in the twilight of the Roman Empire; Pelagius claiming that men are good but corrupted by society and Augustine of Hippo asserting that all are born in sin and must seek salvation. He acknowledged the attraction of the Pelagian idea, but who could ever believe in the basic goodness of man after the Holocaust?

The same divide – Augustinian v Pelagian or noble savage v Caliban – echoes in the division of conservative and radical, and specifically socialism. The attraction of the Pelagian idea is what keeps the latter discredited, disproven philosophy alive: the idea that all ills are caused by state and social structures which could be dismantled. Conservatives in contrast see the seething evil lurking in the pit of man’s soul and recognise that only a strong, established society and the apparatus of state can prevent it from bursting out. The two seem irreconcilable.

Burgess wrote in an age when idealists wanted to remake man and honestly believed they could do better than the Creator, and he satirised this more famously in A Clockwork Orange. Other writers have done the same – H G Wells wanted to believe in the scientific perfectibility of man, which he planned out in In The days of The Comet and The Shape of Things to Come, but his own works knew the uselessness of the idea, from The War in the Air, which reaches a Hobbesian conclusion, The Island of Doctor Moreau where a scientist literally tries to make men, and best known of all the bifurcation of the human race in The Time Machine – Wells though sympathised with the useless Eloi who are merely farmed cattle for the Morlocks, a far better representation of humanity. His Pelagian view was comprehensively refuted by a better writer, and his old tutor’s son, Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, where ironically the Savage is noble, as having been brought up not in a state on nature but in a strong, tribal society.

In every age we see proof that natural man is Caliban and in every age are many who convince themselves and others that the prelapsarian idyll can be achieved, and so society and political philosophy can never reach a consensus.


Of the Natural Condition of Mankind …3 – nasty, brutish, and short

Continued from:

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.


Of the Natural Condition of Mankind …2

Again, men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company where there is no power able to overawe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him at the same rate he sets upon himself, and upon all signs of contempt or undervaluing naturally endeavours, as far as he dares (which amongst them that have no common power to keep them in quiet is far enough to make them destroy each other), to extort a greater value from his contemners, by damage; and from others, by the example.

So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.

The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.