Saturday, August 19, 2006

"It’s about us"

Mark Steyn in Australia.

But it comes down to this: we are the issue. It’s about us. We don’t understand that the world we’ve lived in since 1945 is very precious, very unusual, and very rare and is at odds with most of human history. And if we want our world to continue, if we want our children to grow up in the kind of society we’ve lived in this last half-century, then we have to understand the blessings we enjoy are not an accident. If we don’t value it, we won’t have it.

This hits the nail exactly in a British context. Lefties and Guardianistas seem to think the post-1945 settlement is the natural state of things.

Let's scan the last 2,000 years of British history in five paragraphs. Up until the late Victorian era, the default mode was uncertainty about this years crop and whether you would have enough to eat. For the first 1200 or so years (longer in Scotland and Ireland) there was also the risk of strangers descending to kill or enslave you. Or perhaps you were doing the killing, if you were Saxon, Scot, Dane, Norman, Viking. Life expectancy was short and medicine primitive. Your wife could die in childbirth, your children in infancy. Unsurprisingly, this was a religious era. Nothing concentrates the mind like personal acquaintance with death - not on a six-month tour of duty, but in your home and everyday life.

The basic instincts needed regulating too. Copulation meant children, and of the two available models (monogamy or winner-takes-all), Christian Britain went heavily for the first, with a leavening of the second for princes and mighty lords.

Over on the mainland, the risk of the descending stranger continued on a large scale up to 1945 - and to pretty much this day in Kosovo and Bosnia. But isolated by the sea, with her Navy key to keeping the descending stranger at bay, the nations of Britain developed a culture, Christian, scientific, patriotic, mercantile, which reached its full flowering in the Victorian era and was still very much alive in 1945. To be born British was to have won first prize in the lottery of life.

Some things changed in the hundred years before 1945. Technology had expanded life expectancy, infant mortality was slashed, there was enough to eat. We had again - twice - beaten off the descending stranger.

The generation growing to maturity after WW2 - the Sixties children - grew up in a world where the possibility of sudden death existed (nuclear attack) but somehow never seemed relevant to everyday life. What could one do about it ? Otherwise they were safe - safer than any generation in history had ever been. They felt able to forget the Christian culture that had brought them thus far - indeed to begin the forty-year task of dismantling it. The invention of reliable contraception, enabled a base instinct (I'm not knocking it, btw) to be satisfied without worrying about children being born. And if they were, another new invention, the Welfare State, would care for the child. Christianity began its long decline, hastened by a host of cultural revolutionaries who are now growing old. To a lesser extent this process happened in all of Europe.

Now it could be that what we have now - a state, secular in all but name, prosperous and secure (although not as secure as in, say, 1970) - is the future. From now on it'll always be like this.

I beg to differ. The people of 1945 - of the Labour landslide - knew who they were and how they got there.

One of the greatest problems of the Welfare State is that it was designed to serve the Britons of 1947, with all the cultural baggage that implies.

The Britons of 2006 are quite a different thing. I don't believe they do know who they are. Steyn again :

"Now I have a great sympathy for Muslims that face demands that they assimilate; it’s on the front pages of all the newspapers in London this weekend. Even if you wanted to, even if you wanted to, how would you assimilate with say, Canadian national identity ? You can’t assimilate with a nullity, which is what the modern multicultural state boils down to. It’s much easier to dismantle a society than put anything new and lasting in it place. And across much of the developed world, that’s what’s going on right now."


Anonymous said...

It seems that Britain just can't seem to find a place for itself in the world. Even Tony Blair is caught between Atlanticist and European instincts.

Our history will play a large part in finding British identity in the 21st Century. As Simon Schama said, "It's out cultural bloodstream, the secret of who we are ... it teaches us to let go of the past even as we honour it."

Anonymous said...

Britain does not need to choose between America or Europe, and indeed I'd say we need to be a fully independant nation.

I don't think 'our' history will count for much in a few years if the demographic projections follow the expected path. (Although I doubt they will cause the war is coming.)
Throughout history conquered people had their history replaced by that of the invaders only giving a cursory mention to the previous occupants of the land.