Friday, June 06, 2008

"Great" Britain No Longer

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Tom Bethell addresses this topic in a recent article for The American Specator. As a British expatriate, he tells us

I go to England fairly often as I have family there -- a brother, two sisters, and my 95-year-old mother. Otherwise I doubt if I would go back.

In particular, he points to socialist-driven economic decline and the related social rot:

The same culture war that is being waged in the United States is already much further advanced in Britain. Over there, the forces of resistance are negligible, so the cultural revolution has almost completely triumphed.... The ruling-class embrace of semi-capitalism has brought about the rise in prosperity, but this has been accompanied by mounting social chaos. One of the main indicators is the rise of family breakdown (or non-formation) and out-of-wedlock childbearing. The key enabler of this change has been the transfer of tens of billions of pounds to fatherless households. Only a society wealthy enough to collect and redistribute revenue on this scale can sustain widespread illegitimacy.

I can contribute some further thoughts: I was told that in the UK people now speak of "Britain," not "Great Britain." I guess it's considered too imperial and anachronistic. But even this small change in usage is revealing. Quite simply, in all the years that I've been to Britain, beginning in the 1980s, I became slowly aware it is no longer the "blessed plot" of Shakespeare. Like most Americans, my vision of a quaint, gentile civilization was derived from old film depictions. For that reason I was an Anglophile, and even now I can't quite shake my love of England (or least the England that once was). I like hot tea with milk, Youngs and Sam Smith stout, and most of my favorite authors are English.

Of course every culture has it downside. When I speak of Britain I am thinking specifically of the English, since they have been its rulers and imparted to it many of its virtues, as well some of its vices. England always had a checkered past: the persecution of Catholics under the Tudors, the ill-treatment of the Irish, the massacres at Culloden, the depredations of the American Revolution, the Boer War concentration camps, to name a few instances. But in general the English have held up pretty well.... at least until the last two or three decades.

I was reading some comments in Orwell about how, in the 1940s, the English even then regarded Americans as purveyors of decadence. But, to take the example of rock music, the American variety wasn't politically subversive. British rock was. But then it came out of a totally different political and economic climate. (One thing I learned in my travels in the UK was that a permanent welfare class need not be relatively new or relatively non-white. In England it goes back to the 1950s, if not earlier, and is traditionally white.)

Elvis was no saint, but his vices were normal and he was as patriotic as the next American. By contrast the music of "British Invasion" was more explicit in its promotion of sexual decadence, drugs and political radicalism. But if hippie scene was bad, the punk rockers of the following decade were overtly nihilistic. It's this punk/skinhead subculture that gradually spread through the UK and into the US. In those years I've seen fringe behavior become mainstream, like body piercing and extensive tattooing, not only of men but women as well. And we got all of this from the UK.

Colin Firth, star of the 1990s version of Pride and Prejudice, said that: "The English people, a lot of them, would not be able to understand a word of spoken Shakespeare. There are people who do and I'm not denying they exist. But it's a far more philistine country than people think." Say what you like, the last great figure in English history was Margaret Thatcher, who embodied all the best qualities of "Britishness." At least she was no philistine.