In a sentence, Her Majesty defines us

Endless pages of studies, papers and propaganda, and no one came up with a definition of what it is to be British until yesterday.

the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.

Schools across the land are drumming into tender minds a set, defined list of “fundamental British values” but they are wrong. The listed ‘values’ (democracy, the rule of law, mutual respect and tolerance of etc etc) were always the limp product of a committee. They are ideals of a particular class of the commentariat, reflecting dully some aspects of British identity but mainly written to drive forward an agenda which most of us do not share. They are not values. They are not even particularly British, which is unsurprising from a class of nowhere people frightened of being British.

Democracy is some form or other has been a British trait for centuries and we taught the world, and the rule of law is fundamental to a free society, but those are the mechanisms, not the values – these committee ideas leave no room for the actual values which shape the nation, such as freedom, defiance, humour, innovation, brilliance and modesty. The committees would have been shocked to be asked to write those in, but they would better reflect who we are. Their key idea, namely “mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith” is nonsense if put forward as an idea of some value we all hold, and they knew it. They knew it and yet they still wrote it.

You cannot be arrested, yet, for speaking against those allegedly fundamental values, but they inform the ‘Prevent’ system and may inform the enforcement of those ill-defined “hate speech” laws. They skew the adoption system – dissenters may not adopt children – and may catch us in many subtle ways. The list may look like a charter for tolerance, but it is a weapon in the hands of those who have the power to use it.

I recall reading of one Twitter exchange where a parent complained (as is her right) of some fault in the school only for the head teacher to accuse her of breaching fundamental British values of tolerance. I am not sure that tolerance of incompetence was meant, but this “tolerance” is a fine stick for a bully to use to beat his victims.

That said, some characterisation was needed to say what it is to be British in a multicultural milieu that has lost that shared common culture the land once had. You cannot have a nation which does not share some bond, and if multi-culture means no culture, there is no such bond. It is just that culture is a ground-up thing and cannot be invented by a committee, imposed by decree.

In then steps The Queen, one who better than anyone understands what it is to be British through the best part of a century of changes. It is in “self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling” that we recognise ourselves. No one has put it better.

Every so often some researcher will talk to people in the street or focus groups to find out what typifies some group f the population. Proud results come back from the north of what are particularly Scottish characteristics, and they turn out to be identical to those which their neighbours said were particularly English characteristics, and particularly Irish characteristics indeed. There are still things we share and which are not the same in less fortunate nations.

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Don’t make us resent this

Being kicked out of Tesco is a low point. One person per trolley and then my wife has to walk six paces behind me, which is positively mediaeval. The police have been dispatched in places to stop people going for walks even though we are encouraged to walk for exercise. These are fine days for bullies: an excuse to tell people what to do and make loud tutting noises at those who fail to match their own hypocritical standards.

One thing we have heard is of the authorities in Caernarfonshire and Derbyshire descending to close car parks in case anyone dares to breathe fresh air, just in case we walk too close to someone else on an empty, wind-scoured fell.

Genuinely people are afraid. It is not just stepping aside on the path but women have frozen in horror twenty feet from me and one threw a scarf tight around her face (which is not the normal female reaction to me).

Personal reactions are understandable. The authorities, at every level, are another matter. They must watch their own conduct. There are exceptional rules, but they must be exercised in a manner that accords with reason and principle. The rules are there for a reason, not for themselves. That reason must be the guiding principle behind every action. The new powers are extraordinary, repulsive to normal principle, and temporary. They must be temporary and brief before they become so widely flouted that they are worse then useless.

This was recognised from the beginning in the Chief Medical Officer’s analysis – stringency has its limits and to keep the population behaving in a way that moderates the spread, it must be regulation that is itself moderate. Tweaking the nose too much brings forth blood.

The rules may be released when the NHS will cope, as we have to reach that peak at some time, and best when the weather is clear. We have been squashing that sombrero, but as the days wear on our patience is wearing thin, and we who thrive on our freedom will break.

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Competitive panicking

There is no other explanation for the cycle of shutdowns. It has grown into a peaceful form of mass-hysteria: typical mass-hysteria involves uncontrolled weeping and wailing, maybe breaking into violence, but today we have mass resignation or perhaps a mass flop. It is but the result of those giving advice and warnings.

It is competitive panicking. Each overreaction creates its own bubble of new normality on which the next feeds and steps up to exceed it in an endless cycle. It seems like a form of virtue-signalling: panic signalling perhaps. It has made the nation fall silent and stifled all other thought. A pall lies over the land.

It would be tedious to recite all the ideas and scares thrown into the air about the current epidemic. It is a regrettable characteristic of our media-led public culture that many commentators, whether they understand the topic or not, have a need to make themselves heard, and they will say whatever is needed to achieve publicity. It is not for the public benefit but for their own. It is a form of what Hobbes called a “generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death.”

You may contrast the meek, almost reluctant mien of the Chief Medical Officer as he stepped unwontedly before the cameras.

Into this then step the politicians, rather unwillingly at first as no one wants to be closely associated with a deadly disease. (It is a curse of the National Health Service that as the government has taken responsibility for the health of every citizen, they can be blamed for every cough and sneeze, or in this case for an epidemic. That is a little harsh – most of the nation are not as daft as all that – but when the system strains and buckles, the blame is not far behind.)

These last weeks we have seen society transformed in the twinkling of an eye. The streets and workplaces are emptied and events big and small are cancelled, whether there is risk or reason or none. In addition, the whole breadth of the commentariat is so concentrated on this one circumstance, the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic, a feeling like a fog is over the nation. It is hard to equal. When Brexit dominated every political discussion, the streets were not emptied and the nation did not stay away from work and talk of nothing outside that context. The very dominance of this apparent threat has placed a stop on normal life.

Panic feeds more panic. The schools were not meant to be closed, but commentators craving publicity demanded it for so long that it seemed inevitable and I started hearing “when”, not “if”. Ultimately it was not that which closed the schools but mass staff absence – but why would half the teachers in a school disappear when the known numbers infected nationwide is about 300 in total out of 60 million? That is mass, irrational panic.

London started emptying before the government suggested working at home. Now thankfully office workers have the tools to be able to work from home, but others cannot, and gig-economy workers, the ones who make modern life possible, cannot feed their children, and all for an infection which has barely brushed this land yet.

Events and meetings are cancelled across the board – I am surprised when I find them still on. An email came today that all Parkruns are cancelled – but of all things, this is an event in the open air attended only by fit people with no lung problems – can there be an event with less of a risk? Cancelling runs harms health.

The hope I have heard expressed from organisers of all sorts of events is that this will not last, and that into the spring we will be back to normal. No, the epidemic will not have gone then and might just be starting to roar. Perhaps though by then we will all have got fed up with it and be going back to normal life, taking it on the chin and dispelling the panic because it cannot be allowed to let us starve.

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Family, faith, flag, freedom

It is a quiet civil war within political parties; less quiet in the nation as a whole. I have to ask though how far apart the sides actually are. It is a yawning chasm between the extremes, but for most it is a matter of priorities. Extremists have no hierarchy of priorities as normal people have.

Were the Kulturkrieg just a time of new opinions being aired and thriving or withering in time, that would be interesting, discomforting for the conservative-minded, but a natural thing for any age. Instead, we find threats and actual careers ended, families impoverished, as a heap of unelected opinion formers try to bang in their own rickety Overton Windows without debate.

I do not want to write, yet again, of the ‘Woke’ idea in this consideration: they are not liberal in any logical sense. They might think they are, but their essence is prescriptive, censorious, regimented, and their prescription is strict laws against freedom. They are extreme conservatives, just for a different conservative philosophy, and with such a departure from sense and reality that those ideas are unworthy of serious philosophical consideration. No: the liberal-conservative divide lies elsewhere.

One aspect on the battlefield is the push-of-pike between socially conservative and socially liberal. The general thrust is characterised on both sides as a fight for freedom. On the liberal side that seems to ring truest, as the essence of the philosophy is that individuals will find their own path without interference from the norms of society, which norms must give way to allow free expression of lifestyle. That is a powerful message, especially to the young finding their feet in the world, wanting to spread their wings.

From a socially conservative viewpoint however, a free, liberal society can only thrive if there is society in the first place. Otherwise freedom is illusion. We need not descend as far as ‘Warre Of Every One Against Every One‘ to see that complete liberty becomes no liberty at all: our security to build and thrive depends on having a structure within which to build and thrive. Fundamental to that are family, faith and nation.

The radical liberal idea speaks to the desire of all to breath free and to be what we can be, without being defined by other’s requirements, or in Hobbesian terms “a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power”.

It sounds all very well until you see those cast aside by others’ freedom weeping in the dark corners; children abandoned and falling into neglect or crime; women with no more hope passing from abuser to abuser; the lost cultural understandings; the feral individuals becoming Caliban; the neglect of poor communities because they are no longer communities.

The late Roger Scruton provided a philosophical basis for social conservatism. It was said that he set his face against the economic liberalism of the Thatcher era, but in fact his objection was to treating that economic idea above all, as if free economics would solve every social issue too. It cannot, and there we have a more accurate division between the wings of conservative thought. In that characterisation the two sides, of economic liberalism and social conservatism, are not in opposition to each other in any principle; only in emphasis.

Difference of emphasis is how Jordan Peterson has characterised the psychological conservative-liberal split, and he notes that the two are not so much in opposition as in a necessary symbiotic tension, and by implication that society will ossify or collapse unless both character types and their ideas and are present.

Where we are then in the genuine liberal-conservative divide is not such a division as it may seem. If it is characterised as freedom against restriction, it misses the complexity of positions. Socially conservative Conservatives are most often supporters of free enterprise, free trade and free commercial innovation. It is the social field where paths divide, but even there it is in individual areas. Social conservatism is unpopular in the opinion-forming media, which according to the Peterson thesis is inevitably the domain of creative, liberal types, but it is necessary to defend family, faith and flag for the stability of society on which all else is built.

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Some social conservative organisations:

Groups promoting aspects of socially conservative ideas seem to come and go with the tide, either becoming so mainstream as to vanish in redundancy or becoming the-place-not-to-be-seen, or just evaporating as the momentum is lost. Some remain however.

Books

Never again.

No jolly banter today. No cheap political point-scoring. No penny-philosophy. Just ‘Never again’.

In a camp seventy-five years ago today men had waded through blood and burnt villages to reach that spot broke down and wept, and that was just one camp. I can write no more about it as many others have written more and better and with better understanding.

We can blame a disembodied evil for it, or conjure the Devil into the midst, but these were the deliberate actions of men, and the causes are in the elemental heart of man. It is the fundamental duty of society, which is to say of every man and woman whose multitude of interconnected relationships make up that intangible web that we call society, to ensure those social bonds work for the good, for we have seen how easy it is to deploy the irresistible strength of society to destruction.

From time to time the papers titillate us with displays of the everyday propaganda used by the Nazis to normalise race-hatred across their society, and we grimace or maybe think it too crude for anyone to take seriously. Then as someone speaks to me he spits out the latest conspiracy he has heard and thinks it modern, but my heart is chilled because it is very familiar, very old. It all emphasises that we must learn to speak up to challenge the re-normalisation of these ideas and say with no lessening vigour ‘Never again.’

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