The hollow shell of ‘progress’

The stark communist ideology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries promised the world that its faithful implementation would lead the withering away of the state and the arrival of a utopia like man had only ever dreamed of. The modern Marxist now tells us that because those early enthusiasts got some things wrong in their analysis, poor dears, the great project somehow went off the rails and its wrong turning point resulted in some unfortunate consequences – like millions dying across the multiple nations which were brave enough to undertake the Marxist experiment.

Now they tell us they have got it right and all we need to do is follow the ideology of progressivism – which is essentially Marxism by another name, smelling just as foul. Marxism then as now worshiped at the altar of what it called History; then as now it also saw human beings in terms of raw matter, more or less maelable – more so now; all we needed to do was go along with this reading of our nature as soon we would all be enjoying to the full our time-limited sojourn in a Brave New World.

This is the steamroller of History-a-la-Marx now bearing down on us, constantly warning us not to get on the wrong side of the road. We’ve lost count of the number of progressive issues which carry this warning. Join us in our great triumph or get out of our way. Otherwise you will be crushed.

Crushed, like Keith Olbermann who this time last year was exhorting his readers to crush a certain political figure and his supporters – and the public servants who had the temerity to work for him. 

So, let us brace ourselves. The task is two-fold: the terrorist Trump must be defeated, must be destroyed, must be devoured at the ballot box, and then he, and his enablers, and his supporters, and his collaborators, and the Mike Lees and the William Barrs, and Sean Hannitys, and the Mike Pences, and the Rudy Gullianis and the Kyle Rittenhouses and the Amy Coney Barretts must be prosecuted and convicted and removed from our society while we try to rebuild it and to rebuild the world Trump has destroyed by turning it over to a virus.

Remember it, even as we dream for a return to reality and safety and the country for which our forefathers died, that the fight is not just to win the election, but to win it by enough to chasethe maggots off the stage and then try to clean up what they left”

This is the price to be paid now for being on ‘the wrong side of history’.

This reading of history is of course a travesty, just as their reading of literature is a travesty of literature. We are watching a version of progress which is slowly but surely eliminating both history and literature – and indeed everything cultural – from our lives. Critical theory, the current weapon of choice of progressive Marxism, does not read history. It simply molds its weapons of destruction from the fragments of history which it hand picks to suit its purpose. Harvard historian, Jill Lepore, tells us “History is the art of making an argument about the past by telling a story accountable to evidence.” The Marxist progressive turns this on its head and makes history tell us a story about the present, designed to suit its deterministic vision, playing fast and loose with the evidence.

With these people in the driving seat we are in a very dangerous place – and increasingly they are in the driving seat of all our major institutions – political, media and academic. One alone stands effectively against them.

As with the old more primitive form of Marxism, the abiding enemy of this ideology is of course religion. Religion is its enemy for two reasons. The first is that it has called out the ideology for the lies at its heart; the second is that any religion which teaches something of the transcendental truth about our race cannot coexist with an ideology which teaches that we are no more that a collection of cells.

Progressivism in its most vibrant form now dominates the United States and Canada – and their satelite anglophone nations – among whom I number my native Ireland. This progressivism is obliged denigrate and if possible eliminate the Christian religion. The Christian faith has no problem with rational modernity. As its path through history shows it has always sought to live peacebly with Caesar and has ultimately always succeeded in winning Caesar over to the marriage feast of faith and reason – from the Classical world down through the Renaissance and on into the Enlightment. That is why it is progressive Marxism’s Enemy Number One. Cartago delenda est has to be progressivism’s battle-cry.

We are now engaged in a new punic war. The engagement will be troublesome but the outcome will be the triumph of the good. Patrick Deneen in his study of the failure of Liberalism predicted that things would get worse and be more confused before they get better, before viable moral structures are restored on both the left and right. We can only hope that this will not take too long. The only show in town offering a true moral compass to the world is genuine Christianity.

What is the current state of play between the forces in the field just now?

Catholic President Biden was persuaded to leave the word “God” out of his first address to Congress last month. A win for progressives.

Across the Atlantic in Britain, Abby Day, professor of race, faith and culture at Goldsmiths, University of London, reports that less than half of Britons are expected to tick “Christian” in the UK census. In the 2011 census, 59.3% ticked Christianity, a fall from 71.6% a decade earlier. Day says post-war generations regard the church as irrelevant and immoral. Another win for progressivism.

Across the Irish Sea from Britain the Irish government is pummeling the Catholic Church and now the Deputy Prime Minister has declared that all publicly funded schools should adhere to Government policy by including LGBTI+ relationships in all sex education programmes. This is a response to a new sex education programme for Catholic primary schools which stated that the Church’s teaching on marriage between a man and a woman “cannot be omitted”. It’s description that sex was a “gift from God” is a problem for Irish progressives because it implies that as a gift it should be treated with due respect. This might still be a stalemate.

Back on the other side of the Atlantic, Republican Senator Tim Scott in his dignified reply to Biden’s Godless address spoke of his hope for a better future. “I am confident that our finest hour is yet to come. Original sin is never the end of the story. Not in our souls and not for our nation. The real story is always redemption.” Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal commented, “Broadcasters missed the meaning, thinking it was just some sweet Christian talk.” It was more. It was a win.

Ross Douthat, in a New York Times column a few days ago reflected on the implications of what he saw as the gradual erosion of Catholic faith in the face of progressivism.

“If you’re a liberal Catholic, especially one whose peers are members of the secular clerisy in Europe and the United States”, he observed, “your position has become much more difficult as progressivism has become more comprehensive in its demands. A small but telling example was offered in a recent essay for The Hedgehog Review, in which a Catholic campus minister wrote about her experience as an impeccably liberal and feminist Catholic working on a contemporary liberal-arts campus. 

“She was startled to find that the new progressivism regarded even liberal Catholics as tainted by their association with something as white or patriarchal or Western as the official Catholic Church. She in turn cited the experience another: ‘It’s taboo to explore Western spirituality, especially in liberal circles. I’m careful who I tell about it.’ She was not alone. Other students asked me not to take photos of Mass and post them on social media. They didn’t want to be ‘outed’ as Catholic.” 

But we must remember that although Rome did destroy Carthage, nevertheless, it arose from the ashes and eventually was the home of St. Augustine who became bishop of neighbouring Hippo and one the greatest champions of the Christian faith the world has ever seen. His work still endures with powerful effect to this day.

Is it not all a question of the vine and the branches? You either reunite with the vine or you wither away. At the root of this whole debacle are misconceptions about human nature – and in our time, family and sexuality in particular. That in its turn however, is rooted in something else. It is rooted in a shriveling up of the life of the spirit and the spirit’s conversation with the God whom Biden chose to ignore. True knowledge of God only comes through that conversation. Tim Scott, in that same address, said:  “Becoming a Christian transformed my life,” He concluded telling us that he was “standing here because my mom has prayed me through some really tough times. I believe our nation has succeeded the same way, because generations of Americans in their own ways have asked for grace, and God has supplied it.”  

The great French novelist Georges Bernanos once wrote an essay on the train wrecks in the history of the Church. He reminded us all that the church is always saved by its saints. It is they who keep the train on the tracks.

‘Every day was a nightmare’ – two horror stories wrapped in one

Members of the Irish parliament have been listening to a very disturbing story. Facebook is a big player in the Irish tech economy but the underbelly of this giant is now being exposed. Within its entrails it is harbouring a monster.

Isabella Plunkett has worked as a Facebook content moderator for just over two years.

She has now told the parliaments’ Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, about her nightmare job as a moderator viewing graphic content up to eight hours a day. The job is so stressful that Facebook has to provide 24/7 counselling support for staff – but clearly what they do is totally inadequate.

There are two horror stories wrapped in one here. The first is the story of Isabella and all her co-workers in this role. This morning the BBC has told this in its searing detail and the nightmare is clearly still raging. Nothing that Facebook is currently doing or promising to do is solving the problem and the burden that it is asking these workers to endure.

Isabella’s job is to review posts on the platform – which can contain graphic violence, exploitation, extremism, abuse and suicide.

But what, we must ask, does it say about us as a society, as a civilisation, that we have allowed a platform to exist in our midst – and willingly, even gratefully cooperate with it – which is facilitating traffic like this across the world – or that can bring itself to ask a young person to expose themselves to such evil. There is a moral principle which tells us that what it is not good to desire it is not good to look at. This is for a reason – and the reason is that by exposing oneself to certain kinds of evil one risks being contaminated by that evil, even against one’s better judgment.

“It’s not like a normal job where you can go to work and go home and forget about it – the stuff you’re seeing is really ingrained in your mind.” Isabella processes around 100 a day – these can be videos, images or text posts on the platform. She said they often contain graphic violence, suicide, exploitation and abuse. “Every day was a nightmare,” she said, adding that the support given was “insufficient.” 

“It’s not enough. I’m now seeing the content I view in work in my dreams. I remember it, I experience it again and it is horrible.

“You never know what is going to come next and you have to watch it the full way through because they might have violators.”

“It would follow me home. I could just be watching TV at home and think back to one of the horrible, really graphic tickets” – the terms for the units she had to watch.

Depressing for all of us is the realisation that corrupted human nature has been capable of generating the volume of evil which this exposure is now revealing. The pain and misery of Isabella Plunkett is heart-rending but the sea of pain and misery which this monstrous alien living and thriving in the body of Facebook is generating must dismay us beyond horror. That it is so persistent decades after its mothership arrived among us is surely evidence that it is nowhere near vanquished.

The 26-year-old Plunkett says she could not speak to her friends or family about the things she saw at work due to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which she had signed at the beginning of her contract. “It was always clear we couldn’t speak about our job, we couldn’t speak about our job to friends, family… and it’s definitely a workplace with a sense of secrecy.” Well it might be, but there are harmless secrets and there are lethal secrets which should not be secret – like the one the Chinese authorities kept under wraps for too long in Wuhan.

Many of us use Facebook every day. I may also buy my newspaper in a store which peddles unspeakable merchandise on its top shelves. I may consider that this does not compromise me morally. But at what point do I draw the line? These revelations – about the suffering of a young woman and the potential corruption of our society at large – may be forcing us to make a choice we might rather not have to face.

‘The most disturbing day of my life’ – by Jennifer Kehoe

In pandemic times we think and talk a great deal about death. We also mount a massive defence, with the help of our continuously advancing scientific knowledge, to protect ourselves from its earlier than expected arrival in our individual lifetimes.

But Pestilence is only one of the Four Horsemen who constantly threaten and sometimes make incursions from the wings of our narrow stage.

In parallel with that pandemic-battling effort, however, our scientific knowledge is also being put to use in the relentless termination of countless human lives. What is wrong with us? Why can we not see the evil of the destruction of life which our warring, our hatred and our selfishness are perpetrating? We fear death but it seems that we do not fear the the evil in our hearts which makes us the perpetrators or the accomplices of the agents of the deaths of millions of our fellow human beings.

Dying is not a problem, it is not even an evil. Do we not remember the immortal words of the philosophical Irish doorman at Abbey Road studios, recorded for posterity in Pink Floyd’s take on death, ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ track on The Dark Side of the Moon?

And I am not frightened of dying
Any time will do, I don’t mind
Why should I be frightened of dying?
There’s no reason for it, you’ve gotta go sometime
.

On 3 May an Irish mother cried out on Facebook with the following post. Suspicious that a hidden algorithm might eliminate it, I take the liberty of recirculating it under the sheltering shadow of Garvan Hill.

Jennifer Kehoe writes:

I was manning the One Day More* stand at a Midwives conference in Dublin some time ago when a midwife who had returned from U.K. got chatting to me.  She told me that over the years she had routinely advised and signed many forms for pregnant women to undergo tests to detect Down Syndrome. She had worked there for several decades when it dawned on her that she had NEVER even ONCE delivered a child with Down Syndrome.  She realised then that she had somehow been blindly part of an eradication system and decided then and there to return to Ireland where sometimes mothers deliver babies who have Down Syndrome.  

She was a haunted lady and told me as much.

The same day I spoke to the two very pretty, very made-up girls manning the stand promoting the ‘Harmony’ test which detects Down Syndrome with a simple blood test at an early stage of pregnancy (9 weeks).  I asked the very pretty girl with a Killarney accent how she felt about the reality that the test she was promoting leads to an almost blanket eradication of people with Down Syndrome and not actually the condition.  She replied that it’s science. I asked her if she thought that abortion was ok for DS and she very sincerely replied that definitely not, it wasn’t.  She said that humanly it’s completely wrong but that scientifically it’s ok.

The same day a very very well dressed American lady came to talk to me.  She told me about a book she has written about pregnancy loss and she was in Ireland speaking to universities to promote it.  She told me about her favourite chapter which was about Fetal Reduction Abortion.  That is, in cases of twin, triplet or more babies the mother chooses to reduce the number to whichever is her preference (very prevalent in U.K.). She was brimming with pride about this chapter.

I asked her how the babies are chosen to abort and was it just based on position in the womb and she replied that yes that’s right.  I then remarked that it must be awful for the surviving children to realise that their sibling was killed because she was hiding behind her brother or sister.  She agreed that that’s true but went on to say how sad and loving it is for a mother to see one, two, three babies hearts being stopped on ultrasound and how she’d be able to have the just number of babies she wanted.  One mother she mentioned had said goodbye personally to each child (7 conceived, 5 aborted) as they chose and killed it. Unbelievable.

The only thing I could think of saying is ‘I think that’s absolutely terrible’.  

The look on her face made me realise that she had likely never heard that said before, she was completely taken aback.

It was the most disturbing day of my life.  I truly believe I had glimpsed the cold yet beautifully presented face of evil. Why would evil sell itself with red eyes and cloven feet? We’d run a mile.  When evil presents with Lancôme and designer clothes and whitened smiles it lulls and attracts us.  Real evil tells us that something unthinkable is good.  

I’ll tell you, I hugged my children that evening just to seep in their goodness.  The only antidote to evil is goodness.

The reason I wrote this testimony is to show that abortion damages EVERYBODY who crosses it’s path.  It dehumanises, brutalises, hardens and breaks EVERYBODY.  It has clearly damaged those people I met, it damages the doctors and everybody even remotely involved in the trade, it damages millions of women across this so beautiful world every year, it damages the people who don’t abort but were mistreated because of not aborting, it has damaged the people canvassing for repeal, made them vulgar and rude and coarse, it has damaged the person who smeared chewed gum on my car before Ireland’s referendum  and wrote ‘vote yes’ all over it in the dust because they spotted some LoveBoth* leaflets on the seat.  Most of all it damages the little ones who lose their lives like leaves falling from a tree. Abortion is a rotten business, it has NO redeeming characteristics.  The sooner mankind is rid of this plague the sooner we can start to rebuild the shambles we’ve made of the world.

* Pro Life organisations.

Darkness descending – again?

When you read a column in The Sunday Times (London) which introduces itself to you with this cri de coeur,  “I’ve found a way to sidestep cancel culture: I’ll tell you everything I’m not thinking instead”, you can’t help feeling you are in some kind of enemy territory. When someone as outspoken as the larger-than-life Jeremy Clarkson is reduced to a strategy like this you cannot but think, I better keep quiet.

Clarkson’s editors were afraid to print something he had written the previous week because it might offend the safetyniks. They deleted what he had said and substituted it with a new clarksonesque paragraph “expressing an opinion which I don’t have”. So the next week, feeling that letting them do his work for him was selfish, he sat down and “wrote something that I’m not thinking instead”.

We cannot but feel that the cultural surveillance which provokes this state of affairs must end soon. The lunatics may take over the asylum for a period but it’s hardly reasonable to expect that the situation will continue indefinitely, or even for an extended period. Or is it?

A very sobering read which might make you question any naive expectations that sanity might return to our culture anytime soon is Arthur Koestler’s seminal novel, Darkness at Noon.

Koestler wrote this book over the years 1939/40. It is a fictional chronicle of an interrogation of an old Bolshevik who becomes a target and eventually a victim of Stalin’s terror apparatus. It features several such victims who by just not managing to say the right thing, or appear not to be thinking the right thoughts, or are fool enough to suggest the simplest deviation from the “correct” path, end up with bullets in the backs of their heads.

Reading Darkness at Noon will set off all sorts of  unpleasant bells ringing in your head as you find yourself wandering through the labyrinth of a political culture which had determined that human nature was not something that was fixed but was something that a flawed inherited culture had constructed – or mis-constructed – and had to be put right. For this new culture it became an absolute principle that in the name of progress, justice and equality, former ways of thinking had to be replaced by a new order.

There are enough stories appearing in and on our media every day to make it unnecessary to spell out in detail why Koestler’s novel is likely to set off those chimes in your head. Just today, Sunday 18 April, Ben Lawrence writes

in London’s Daily Telegraph:

I nearly didn’t write this piece. I realise that as a white, middle-class, middle-aged man wading into the identity-politics debate, I may as well just find the nearest pack of wolves and throw myself in their path. But something needs to be said about the regressive idiocy that is threatening the creative spirit and the sheer enjoyment which the worlds of arts and entertainment bring to millions of people.

There are enough regular reports of people being required to grovel to make our minds hearken back worryingly to the show trials of 1930s Russia. Like those targeted then, those now in the cross-hairs of ‘woke’ warriors are not only required to grovel but are  being obliged to say that they are very grateful to be made grovel.

In the mental battle of minds which ensued in Darkness at Noon between the interrogator Gletkin and his victim, Rubashov,  we can see the gradual disintegration of truth before the relentless machine which was moulding its own version of “truth”. 

Without becoming aware of it, they had got accustomed to these rules for their game, and neither of them distinguished any longer between actions which Rubashov had committed in fact and those which he merely should have committed as a consequence of his  opinions; they had gradually lost the sense of appearance and reality, logical fiction and fact.

Rubashov occasionally found himself clutching at straws of real truth in the midst of this battle because he was a man who had known truth, who had a history which still lived in him. His interrogator had none. He was the “new man”, the creation of the system. He was a new Neanderthal, fresh out of the mists, whose most conspicuous trait, as Rubashov sees it, “was its absolute humourlessness or, more exactly, its lack of frivolity.”

These are the traits of those in our own time who cannot see beauty, humour, or who cannot value any kind of creativity without passing it through the sterile filter of their own tortured “correct” cultural framework – and then call on those who fail their tests to apologise and disappear. 

Rubashov reflects that he and his fellow victim, Ivanov – whose first appearance in the story is as Rubashov’s interrogator – came from  a world which had vanished. “One can deny one’s childhood,” he observes, “but not erase it. Ivanov had trailed his past after him to the end; that was what gave everything he said that undertone of frivolous melancholy; that was why Gletkin had called him a cynic. The Gletkins had nothing to erase; they need not deny their past, because they had none. They were born without umbilical cords,  without frivolity, without melancholy.” Ivanov’s fate has another parallel in our own time in the fate of those like that one-time progressive, J.K. Rowling.  The guardians of the progressive ideology turned their guns on her when she dared question the latest addition to their ever expanding canon of what is correct and what is not.

Today’s progressive generation has set out to cancel the culture which is our inheritance. This relentless urge, more bewildering every day, stems from this frightening truth: they may know facts but they know nothing of history, of the real past, the living past. Erasing is easy for them because what they are erasing is meaningless to them. Their great evil is so-called privilege but they have no understanding of privilege. They see only a privilege which has a root in some injustice. They condemn all privilege, failing to see that most privilege has its roots in the exercise of human virtues – hard work, love and more. Rather than seek the cultivation of those virtues and the curtailing of the vices which blemish privilege, they tear down structures which offer to all the riches associated with privilege.

The absurdity of it all is laid before us by Jeremy Clarkson when he tells us what he’s not thinking:

You need to be constantly aware of your privilege so that you are aware of the challenges faced by people who lack that privilege. And you need to understand, once you’ve spotted someone without your privilege, that you should give them your Bentley. Then the next day, when they see you waiting for the bus, they should give it back. How refreshing that would be. Sharing everything and chatting in the day-long queue for bread with people who are just the same as you are. And thinking the same thoughts about everything as well.

It worked with climate change. There was a time when the subject could be debated, but then the BBC announced that there was no debate and that anyone who thought man might not be involved was a climate-change “denier”. Suddenly everyone was on side. Like we are today on meat, the royal family, trans issues, mental health and colour. It’s so much easier that way.”

The final dialogue of Rubashov with his interrogator echoes into our contemporary cultural landscape.

He put on his pince-nez, blinked helplessly past the  lamp, and ended in a tired, hoarse voice: 

“After all, the name N. S. Rubashov is itself a piece of  Party history. By dragging it in dirt, you besmirch the history of the Revolution.”  

To which Gletkin responds: 

“To that I can also reply with a citation from your own writings. You wrote: ‘It is necessary to hammer every sentence into the masses by repetition and simplification. What is presented as right must shine like gold; what is presented as wrong must be black as pitch. For consumption by the masses, the political processes must be coloured like ginger—bread figures at a fair.’ 

Rubashov was silent. Then he said; 

So that is what you are aiming at: I am to play the Devil in your Punch and Judy show——howl, grind my teeth and put out my tongue——and voluntarily, too. Danton and his friends were spared that, at least.” 

Gletkin shut the cover of the dossier. He bent forward a bit and settled his cuffs: 

“Your testimony at the trial will be the last service you can do to the Party.”

Darkness at Noon is read by many as an exposure of the fundamental philosophical contradictions of Stalinism. If it is, it offers another parallel with our time. The infuriating illogicality of the progressivism to which we are now being subjected is confronting us every day as Stalinism did when Arthur Koestler wrote his revealing work of political fiction.

Rubashov summed up its inherent contradictions like this:

The Party denied the free will of the individual—and at  the same time it exacted his willing self-sacrifice. It denied his capacity to choose between two alternatives—and at the same time it demanded that he should constantly choose the right one. It denied his power to distinguish good and evil—and at the same time it spoke pathetically of guilt and treachery. The individual stood under the sign of economic fatality, a wheel in a clockwork which had been wound up for all eternity and could not be stopped or influenced—and the Party demanded that the wheel should revolt against the clockwork and change its course. There was somewhere an error in the calculation; the equation did not work out.

Neither does that of the crazy political philosophy of our time.

Darkness at Noon makes grim but salutary reading. This era must never be forgotten – because its clones are still with us, and will probably always be threatening us. They are with us now in equally virulent forms – China today –  but also in embryonic forms like the ‘woke’ plague just now in gestation. Cancellation then might have been literal and lethal but the poisonous spirit is still the same in the daily cancellations of our time.

Christianity and the political order

The world before Christ – and indeed for centuries after his advent – was a very savage place indeed. The ancient world, embodied in cultures which we identify as civilisations, and in doing so tend to soften the reality which they present to us, was a very cruel and unforgiving one. In this world, despite the benign and wise voices of people like Akenaten, Zoroaster, Socrates, Cicero and others, places like Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome, placed very little value on individual human lives or on many of the values by which we live and govern ourselves today. 

Tom Holland’s Dominion and Professor Mary Beard’s S.P.Q.R. – to name but two relatively recent representations of that world – illustrate very well the great divide between the values of pre-Christian civilisation and that set in train by the advent of Christianity. 

But if Rome was not built in a day, neither was Christendom. Professor Peter Heather’s Fall of the Roman Empire, or the story of St. Columbanus and his missionaries in the turbulent Europe of the 6th and  7th centuries, show us how long it took to root the values we take for granted today in the soil of that still residually pagan world. Even into the 12th and 13th centuries, the flowering which we see in the lives of St. Francis, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas, took place side by side with a brutality underwritten by an utterly confused and confusing political morality, exemplified by The Hundred Years War, blundering Crusaders and the disedifying struggles between the Empire and the Papacy. 

The path to the civilisation we consider ourselves privileged to live in today, great as its deficiencies may still be, was a long and arduous one. It was not only long but it was also faltering, faltering so badly at times that it seemed, as it did so at least twice in the last century, to be even threatened with extinction. What was the common denominator of most if not all the regressions experienced by what we used to call Christian civilisation but now coyly call Western civilisation? It was the abandonment of the principles of life and living which the followers of Christ have derived from the teaching of a Man who claimed to be, and proved to their satisfaction that he is, the Son of God.

Mark Hamilton’s new book looks at our world today and at the dominant political mechanism by which we seek to organise and govern it. He finds it in grave danger of catastrophic collapse. Of his book he writes:

The book stems from an awareness that the secular state cannot adequately  protect its citizens and that as time progresses such failure may prove  catastrophic for democracy itself. Democracy without Christianity is fundamentally incomplete — it is like a tree which has lost the roots which anchor and feed it. 

Hamilton argues that the decline in democracy can only be reversed if the secular state rediscovers its Christian roots. For this to happen, he says, Christians need to understand the challenges, immerse themselves in political life, and take the opportunities presented to restore the democratic process to a condition where it ceases to be hypocritical.

The book is a calm piece of didacticism rather than a polemic raging against the failures of secularism, the flawed pedigree of relativism or the apathy of supposedly committed Christians. It logically explores the political landscape and encouragingly points to a way forward to restore the damaged fabric of democracy on the basis of the Christian values on which, he argues, it is based.

His arguments will make great sense to some. They will not be easily accepted by others, but one suspects that their counter-arguments will seldom rise above the level of superficial knee-jerk reactions – like the lazy confusing of misguided christian zeal with what is of the essence of Christianity. If superficiality could be avoided one might see the book provoking a valuable and intelligent exploration of a very real problem – the growing sense of deficit which is building up around our democratic institutions.

Dr. George Huxley, classicist, mathematician and archaeologist – to mention but three of the disciplines in which he is distinguished – is emeritus Professor of Classics at Queen’s University Belfast. In a lecture given in University College Dublin some years ago he defended Aristotle’s right still to be considered a wise man. Huxley said:

We speak much of democracy because we have elections and a wide franchise for women and men. But an ancient Greek democrat would with reason question our assumption that we are democrats. We emphasize elections, but we take too little thought for the quality of our elected rulers. Unlike the Athenians of the fifth and fourth centuries BC, we do not subject office holders to adequate scrutiny. 

While, he admits, some effective scrutiny is to be seen in the activities of Congressional Enquiries in the United States he describes House of Commons committees as toothless instruments by comparison and finds little evidence of scrutiny of European Commissioners. In judicial enquiries were necessary because elected representatives failed to police themselves, and for the most part were tardy, cumbersome, expensive, and inconclusive. 

Huxley suggests that we are deceiving ourselves. Perhaps it is this self-deception that is getting to us and disillusioning us about our ‘democracy’? Modern governments, he thinks, are not democratic but oligarchic. The oligarchic establishment of the self—describing ‘great and good’ knows how to use the law to defend itself. An Athenian, therefore, would question our democratic credentials and Aristotle, who yet had grave doubts about radical democracy, would have agreed with him: the millions. of dollars required to secure election to the Presidency of the United States, or the close connexion between British politicians of all parties and business interests, or the ability of powerful persons here in the Ansbacher polity to circumvent the law, are all oligarchic features. 

For an ancient Greek, he said, there were two important questions:  are the laws good and are they obeyed? If they are not good, they can be changed, but they must not be circumvented. How then would an ancient Greek, having read Aristotle’s Politics, classify most Western polities? He or she would not call them democracies. They are, rather, oligarchies interrupted by elections with low turnouts.

So, is it the case that in our readiness to live a lie about our political institutions we do not even reach the standard of the pre-Christian Greeks? Honesty, integrity and a sense of justice are human virtues attainable by all humans. But the element of Grace which is the gift devoutly to be wished for by all Christians is the most powerful of all the agents which reinforce these and the other virtues which keep us civilised. It is in recognising this that Hamilton is correct in seeing Christianity as the true guardian of the common good in the world. What makes a christian Christian is Grace and not self-description. A Christian’s  understanding of his or her identity is that to be truly human they are so because of their Grace-enabled identification with the perfect Man, Jesus Christ – who is also God. 

Democracy is a ground-upward system of defining and governing society. The character and identity of what that ground is composed of is the crucial issue. This brings us to the one haunting question posed implicitly by Hamilton’s book but not really addressed – perhaps because he feels it is not the context in which to address it. That is, where are the Christians who will transform this self-deceiving world? Democracy is not an ideology. It is a process through which a community gives expression to a vision. If that community is as dazed and confused as ours now is then democracy will do no more than create the chaos begotten by that confusion. By all means Christians should engage in the democratic process but perhaps their first responsibility and their first desire should be to speak their faith loudly and clearly, live by and help many others to live by the truths and values which their faith embodies. Then, perhaps slowly, as they did at the dawn of Christianity, but certainly surely, they will transform the society in which they live.

Myers would like to know what is really going on…and so would we all

In his blog Kevin Myers lays before us some unsettling observations on what is going on in our country at the moment, suggesting at the same time that most of us have been fast asleep while our poor nation is being sent floating down the Swanee by a cadre of politicians who are either stark raving mad or just not up to the job.

I don’t want to write about this, mostly because you probably won’t want to read another bloody word about Covid, which is not exactly why I go to the trouble of… et cetera. But what precisely is going on when the only resistance to the insane rules now governing us come from the sort of people for whom the old padded-cells at Grangegorman should be re-opened and Albert Pierrepoint given his job back? Where is the voice of reason? Where is the “conversation” – and just when did that word acquire its slightly creepy note of bogus civility? –  that should accompany the major transformations which have occurred in Irish society?

For the past year, the government has, effectively, being gift-wrapping the entire Irish retail sector and handing it over, lock, stock and barrel, to Jeff Bezos. Maybe some small specialist outlets – boutiques specialising in double-D cup bras for obese fourteen-year-old boys – might emerge amidst the post-nuclear rubble of our high streets and our shopping centres. But Ireland’s towns and cities probably have no commercial future. The original meaning of the word ‘shop’ – a place where things happen, as in workshop or bookshop – has been transliterated into its very opposite with that term ‘shopping-on-line’. A shop is not a location anymore but a meaningless meme circling like Pluto in the outer space of the Bezos mind.

How could so many bizarre and counter-logical rules have been accepted without challenge? How is suspending cancer-scans prolonging life? How is closing down childhood good for children? How is borrowing from tomorrow good for the day after tomorrow?

If it is illegal to travel more than 5km from your home, how can CIE still be running buses and trains between towns hundreds of kilometres apart? How is it possible that our airports are still functioning? Has Michael O’Leary devised a business model with an airline client-base that lives in tents at the end of runway Number One? And just why did the government make it illegal to go rough-shooting or play golf in the open air?

Across the world, beaches have been shut down, yet Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh recently told the House of Commons that not a single transmission of the virus could be attributed to people mingling in such places. Moreover, as the great Lord Sumption has observed, general rules that were devised for coping with the virus have been transmuted into iron laws, to be enforced by the courts, with prison sentences and criminal records for the “guilty”.

Read his full challenge here.

Another rare morsel of common sense

Suzanne Moore talking common sense to a mad and maddening world again: The only wrong way to be a woman these days is to stand up for women’s rights.

The right way to react to this ridiculous mantra is surely to feel murderous. What is this slogan for? Who is it for? These endless attempts at inclusivity mean that being a woman can now even be a feeling in a man’s head. Eddie Izzard, I saw the other day, had been voted the best female comedian. Sorry, but I am not laughing. 

There is no wrong way to be a woman.” Are they serious? Let me list the ways. I and many women live with them every single day.

Read the full column here.

Faulty signposts at this intersection

Margaret Hickey writes in MercatorNet:

Margaret Hickey writes in MercatorNet:

Under the Biden Administration, we are going to be hearing a lot about “intersectionality” as an ineluctable dimension of social justice and the American Dream.

Intersectionality is a refinement of identity politics. It is not as complex as it might sound. For instance, being black or female or gay in America is regarded as a distinct identity that implies disadvantage or at least challenges on the path to equality. If someone ticks two or more of those boxes they have an intersectional identity. This means that their challenges and disadvantages are greatly compounded.  

So, intersectionality identifies the overlapping prejudices that people face because of their ethnicity, race, sex, sexuality, disability, etc. In the victim stakes the person with the thickest overlap wins. The more prejudice, the more moral prestige, the greater the claim to affirmative support.

This is going to be important over the next four years, so let’s see how it’s working out.

American Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, who read her poem, The Hill we Climb, at the inauguration of President Biden is a good example of the moral prestige of intersectionality. Amanda spoke of herself as “the skinny black girl, descended from slaves, raised by a single mother” who is now free to dream of becoming President. In those few well-chosen words, she bedded herself securely within the pie chart of intersectional disadvantage.

Read Margaret Hickey’s full article here.

Words, words, words and the good life

Many years ago a responsible figure in the world of Irish education had occasion to issue a strong but measured and carefully worded address on a controversial topic of the day. It was duly reported in a tabloid evening paper. But there was nothing measured or careful about the headline on the story. It went something like this: PROFESSOR SLAMS MINISTER AT CONGRESS.

The professor was amused but not entirely displeased with the attention his mild-mannered words received as a result. He reflected to me afterwards that he was happy to have been able to give The Herald an opportunity to use SLAM again, seemingly its favourite word.

That was then and that was a tabloid paper. Language like that was rarely found – in fact sub-editors would have been merciless with language like that – in what was once called “the quality press”. This is now and evidence of that kind of chronic intemperate language can be found in any number of news media in which we could formerly have hoped to be served with an account of what is happening in the world around us, couched in reasoned language without a topping of exaggerated emotions.

In little more than the space of a few days recently, we were served up the following by respectable news organisations:

– Government plans to reopen schools for pupils with special needs are in chaos amidst a backlash from teachers

– A row broke out over whether the UK had approved the vaccine first because of the freedoms created by Brexit

– Patel slams ‘do-gooding’ celebs for Windrush comparison

– European politicians have mocked Britain’s celebration of its status as the first nation to roll out a vaccine against coronavirus

– Ministers break pledge by slashing £1bn from rail budget

– a backlash from the right is brewing

And so it goes. What an unpleasant world they seem to want us to think we live – in which the only way we can relate to each other is through aggressive behaviour? 

OK, they are only words. Is it that important? Yes it is. Words and the way we use them are important. They both define and help refine our cultural life, our civilisation. They do so because they reflect in some way the virtues by which we conduct our lives – temperance, yes, but also our love of truth, justice and charity. Undermine those things in our culture and we are on a short road to a very bad place.

In the context of our current woes, it is also important. Many are beset with temptations to discouragement, despondency  and even despair. The negativity and pessimism generated by what has been too readily accepted as a media principle of operation, that good news is no news, is simply destructive of the inner peace now in such short supply.

Underlining this, a  cri de coeur  went out recently from Janet Daley writing in The Daily Telegraph complaining that the excessive use of distressing films from the frontline is terrifying already frightened people.

“I had to turn off the television news half a dozen times last week”, she wrote, adding, “which, for a journalist who is obliged to stay on top of events, is quite something. I took this uncharacteristic step because I could not bear to watch, over and over again, the same film reports of appalling distress from hospital intensive care wards, some of them featuring interviews with patients who died after being filmed.

“Presumably, the managers of broadcast news believe that this intrusive, emotionally manipulative programming is serving the national interest. By displaying the reality of the Covid epidemic and its consequences for the NHS, they are convincing those who doubt the seriousness of the situation – or who treat lockdown restrictions with contempt – that they are being criminally irresponsible.

“I am sorry to have to tell all of you who are doing this in good conscience – the producers and the film crews, touring hospitals to make sensational film packages from the front line, perhaps with the encouragement of Government ministers – that the delinquents who organise illegal raves and the indifferent who host big parties ARE NOT WATCHING. They detached themselves long ago from this phenomenon which, for various reasons, they feel has nothing to do with them.”

Every journalist’s perennial ethical challenge is not to succumb to the temptation to gild the lilies in their stories to grab more attention or to steal a march on rival media; not to use the fig leaf of the public’s right to know as a pretext for sensationalising what the public has a right to be informed of; not to shock on the doubtful pretext that shock is needed to get attention. That way lies a kind of addiction to sensation and all addictions are paths to a place beyond reality. If our media take us there they are perpetrating a betrayal of trust beyond falsehood.

Can we not think a little more about virtue? The four virtues to which one would like to see all truth-tellers committed and which should be the hinges on which the work which goes into all media might turn are surely as cardinal for good journalism as they are for the Good Life itself – Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.

A call to arms to resist the counterrevolution

Brendan O’Neill writes in SPIKED:

The internet revolution held so much promise for humankind. This technology made even the birth of the printing press – that revolution in thinking and dissent – seem small in comparison. For with the spread of the world wide web people had, for the first time in history, the liberty to express themselves unfettered. No priest or prince or state could stop us. We didn’t even need the approval of editors or publishers. We just needed a computer, or a phone, and something to say. With our thumbs we can do something that generations before us would never have thought possible – speak to the world (or at least to however many followers we have). Now this is under threat. The web is being bound in woke tape. Silicon Valley billionaires, backed by states and cheered by political elites, are cleansing the web of ‘undesirable’ voices and switching off sites and social-media outlets they disapprove of. A fightback is needed, and urgently. The struggle for internet freedom will be one of the most important battles of 2021.

Where do we begin?