Too much zeal?

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“Surtout, pas de zele” is attributed to the French statesman, Talleyrand, who managed in turn to serve the French revolutionaries, Napoleon and the restored Bourbon monarchs; it is little wonder that when he died during a conference on the future of Belgium, the Austrian Chancellor, Metternich, is supposed to have commented: ‘I wonder what he meant by that?’ In many ways this has become the modern political style – and not without reason. If we look at the zealots of the last century we see Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, men who claimed to be inspired by the ‘rights of man’ and the ‘rights of the worker’ and who, in pursuit of their vision, thought nothing of slaughtering millions of their fellow men in order to achieve what they thoughts of as a worthy end. That, of course, is the mark of the zealot – a claim to be acting in a higher cause whilst being willing to ruin the lives of millions – in Lenin’s chilling formulation: ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.”

In our own era, the worst examples of this sort of zealotry come from ISIS, rightly categorised as a death cult, which thinks nothing of killing people and mistreating them in the most vile ways – the name of their ‘Prophet’. I can understand why so many Muslims get upset when others identify them with these people – it’s more or less my reaction when people who know I am a Christian try to blame me for the churches burning each other in the past, or for priests who covered up sex abuse, or for some of the dubious characters who have occupied high positions in the various churches. I doubt not that all these people were filled with righteous zeal for their cause – but I should not care to be ruled by such people, nor will most of us vote for such people.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have their ascetic, zealous wings, occupied by people who think that if someone is enjoying themselves, they are on the road to hell. The Puritans in Britain abolished Christmas, insisting it was a penitential season and should be marked as such; the moment the soldiers stopped enforcing such a rule, it was abandoned. ISIS insist there should be no smoking, dancing, or brightly coloured clothes; the moment their power is broken, people go and do all of those things.

The urge to tell people to behave in a certain way runs strongly in most religions. Jesus had little time for the religious authorities of his day, who seemed to him to be so obsessed with the letter of the Law that they had forgotten its purpose. The same is true of the religious zealots of our time – they imagine that if everyone lives lives of severe penance then somehow all will be well with them; if they got the chance they would try to enforce such a dour regime; they would have to, because no one would be fool enough to vote for it.

The ancient Manichean heresy survives still in such zealots. They instinctively separate the world of the flesh from that of the spirit and imagine that only the last matters, when the mainline Christian churches have, sensibly, emphasized the complementarity of the two; the Word became flesh, and the 40 days in the wilderness apart, was not given to feats of ascetic austerity, We can follow suite.

There has always been a type of personality which wants to exercise control over itself and others by imposing forms of personal austerity. One of the advantages of democracy is that such people never get elected.

We are all oppressed!

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I am oppressed. It is offensive to me that I am oppressed. If you are a political leader you must do something about it; if you are a fellow commentator you must not offend me further by querying my oppressed status. But I am white, you may say, I have ‘white privilege’. True, that means I am not at the hope of the tree here, but let’s face it, I am female, ginger-haired, skinny and single – and I am half-Welsh; whoever keeps the score-card here should surely give me enough victim points to secure me something by way of status. Neo’s post yesterday, and some of the responses to it had a lot of good sense about this sort of thing. If we dissolve the idea of the common good into a set of identity politics objectives, we reach a point where one might legitimately ask why those in power should pay any attention to the voters unless not doing so involves the chance of revolution? We pass, thereby, into a realm where what matters are our concerns and what does not matter are those of others. But if that is so, why should others listen to our concerns? Just because we are claiming victimhood status? Why should anyone care in a world where we are all claiming to be victims.

In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male or female. Why? Because Christ loves each of us for the unique individual we are. He also calls us to follow him, and in doing that we are part of a community of ‘saints’, and we have a common duty to each other; we are called to love one another. That is not to pity each other, or to replace a hierarchy of class or race with one of victimhood, but to love each other because we are all uniquely valuable in God’s eyes. God loves me because I am his daughter, not because I am a good girl (though like all fathers, I know he wants what is best for me and that it is best for me to be a good girl); because he loves me, I love him, and because I think it will please him if I am a good girl, I try to be one; when I grieve him I am sorry. I am sorry not because he is going to do the celestial equivalent of paddling my butt, but because I have let him down; I have grieved him, him who sent his Son to die and rise again for me. How could I?

Here what matters is not my status. Being a woman, a ginger or a singleton are not important. What is important is I am loved for who I am. That makes me look at myself and think. ‘goodness gracious woman, get your act together and at least make a fist of being worth that sort of love. I know I can’t ever be worthy, but that’s not a reason for not, in love, trying to be the best child I can be. Yes, I want to win my father’s favour. I do that not by claiming I am oppressed and virtue-signalling, but by being repentant and contrite and doing my best to heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Oppressed? Moi? No, I am a child of the living God and what could be better?

The ‘Gay’ vote

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The Democrats, like most leftist political groups, like to think collectively, and in an age of identity of politics we have ‘the black vote’, the ‘hispanic’ vote, the ‘latino’ vote, the ‘women’s vote’ and the ‘gay vote’. You’ll note we don’t have the ‘men’s vote’ – not even the Left is silly enough to imagine men can be categorised as voters by their gender. That doesn’t stop it thinking of the other groups as ‘brands’ whose loyalty can be secured by offering concessions. As Neo was saying the other day, the assumption is that the ‘gay vote’ is mainly Democrat. Historically there is good reason for that, as it was the political Left which was in favour of lifting the various legal discriminations from which gay people suffered. Want to get married to another woman? The Right said ‘no’. Some part of the Right were quite nice about it, large parts weren’t, and no one really likes those who call them ‘dykes’ or ‘faggots’, it isn’t nice. So when it comes to voting, hey, vote Democrat or Labour.

In the UK our last PM, David Cameron, annoyed the heck out of some of his supporters by allowing gay people to get married; but he detoxified the Tory party for gay people. Because under that label, most people whose sexual preference is for someone of their own sex are just as diverse as straights. There is no intrinsic reason why a gay woman or man would instinctively vote for a party that wanted high taxation and more state interference – once the discrimination stuff is gone, gay people are free to vote the way their own instincts and political preference leads them – and many will favour free-market economics and the chance to make a buck or two.

This is hard for the Right, at least the Religious Right, as the Bible is quite clear on homosexuality. But the Bible is pretty clear on lending at interest, divorce and a whole set of things the political Right has managed to absorb and get past. As it does so on this issue, so it frees up people to vote according to their interests. A person who identifies as gay is always liable to put their civil rights at the top of the list, and if, in the past, that meant voting Labour of Democrat whilst holding your nose at the rest of the programme, so be it. Once that ceases to be so, as it now is in the UK, then all those other interests, and identities, come into play. A politics which makes people identify by their sexual preference or skin colour, is a crude politics which works for the crude only when most voters are of one skin colour and one sexual preference. In our pluralistic societies, this is no longer a vote-winner. Trump, who is nothing if not a pragmatist, gets it, and I hope others will too.

All those ‘interest groups’ that the Left targets are part of a wider society, and they can easily be disaggregated by political groupings who do the simple thing of appealing to the common public good. If that means that people of colour get the same rights as white people, well, frankly, great, and not before time; the same is true of the other groups, including gay people. As the slogan goes, some people are gay, get over it. Of course, in church, it is different, but here we’re discussing the political sphere.

‘Mad as hell’?

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There is a palpable anger in our politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Here in the UK, one Labour MP was shot recently, and others have been threatened. This verbal violence is happening in the Labour Party, which preaches equality and social justice. It did not happen under Miliband, Brown and Blair, but it does under Corbyn, who, of course denounces it, but seems incurious about why it is happening on his watch, and quite unable to stop it. One of the problems with being a social justice warrior seems to be that the end justifies the means; demonise your opponents, and then you can treat them as demons; it is not a good way to do politics. There were some ugly scenes and the RNC last week, and there will be at the DNC this week. Meanwhile across the Channel, there have been attacks in Nice, Munich and other places, and the authorities, presumably trying not to stir things up, play down any religious motive in them, which, alas, simply makes ordinary people even more suspicious about what is going on. All of this increases the sense many ordinary people have that politics has become a place where the elites enrich themselves at our expense – and to steal a phrase, it makes many ‘mad as hell’ and they ‘don’t want to take it’.

In the UK the opinion formers and the media were confident that ‘Remain’, their side, would win, and as a ‘Remainer’ I hoped it would. But they ran an ugly and negative campaign, mainly around economics, warning us of the consequences of failing to vote the right way. What they failed to understand was that millions already feel penalised by the system, so they didn’t really see it getting much worse for them personally; the alienated, the simply fed up and grumpy, and the ardent ‘leavers’ were sufficient to overturn conventional wisdom and the predictions of the pollsters, and so the ‘Remain’ side lost.

This time last year we were confidently being told Trump would not survive the summer; then it was the autumn he wouldn’t survive; then it was ‘Super Tuesday’ that would bury him; then it was an agreement among his challengers which would finish him off; then he became the nominee. The media don’t ‘get it’. He does not follow the Clinton playbook. We shall see, with Hillary whether that one still works, but it does not work with the millions who are sick to their back teeth of self-serving, venal and lying politicians. Sure, Trump’s a load mouth, sure he’s rich, but the Americans have never minded rich men, it is politicians enriching themselves to which objection is taken; Trump’s riches mean he can’t be bought; if Hillary were a listed company she’d have a who board of directors running her.

Here in the UK, the new PM, Theresa May, came in talking of her sense of public duty and acknowledging that many people felt they were being left behind; these are good words, but they need to be followed by delivery. There is a palpable sense that the anger currently felt begins to threaten the system itself. The political system is not an end in itself, but it seems to have become one for the politicians and the lobbyists; unless it begins to fulfil the ends for which it exists – the public good  – the public may decide to end it – and if that happens, it won’t be pretty. We need to rediscover a sense of duty and morality in public life – we have gone on too long as though those were mere words – well words alone no longer suffice.

5 years on Neo

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The blogging world is, as Neo and I have often had occasion to comment, an odd one. Posts on which one has laboured hard go down poorly, ones where less perspiration has been expended, go down a bomb, and anything controversial will get comments. But inspiration sometimes flags, and when I look back to who was active then and now, one notes with some sadness that some good blogs have come and gone, and with pleasure, new ones arrive, and flourish. But I think 5 years in the blogosphere, not least for what is essentially a one-man (and occasionally his moll) blog, is an achievement worth noting and a milestone worth celebrating.

And what a five years! Back then ISIS was an ancient Egyptian goddess, Donald Trump a reality-TV host and property mogul, and ‘Brexit’ a word no one had heard of. There were hopes that after four years of Obama, the Republicans might get their act together and take back the White House – but they didn’t. Now there are hopes they will and stop Bill Clinton’s third terms by proxy; no one s holding their breath.

Across the world the conservative and Christian values this blog has always stood for continue to be under attack. Sometimes directly from Islamists, sometimes indirectly from pressure groups and lawyers in the West. Our politicians seem keener to pay homage to religious minorities than to our Christian heritage, and the shared culture which once underpinned our society is less and less shared. Relativism is all. If you say you are a woman you’re a woman, and the entire social media world will attack you with Twitterforks if you dare dissent. Freedom of speech is at a discount.

That’s where, for me, blogs like this and others play an important role. They are not afraid to challenge the dominant media narrative, nor are they afraid to tell it like it is. It is like the militias in colonial America – small battalions of citizens who will continue to arm themselves (with knowledge) to challenge the powers that be in the name of freedom. Freedom comes with the price of eternal vigilance. It is not free, neither is it easy, and a quiet life can be had on the teat of the State. But America was not founded on such values or by such people. It is a rough, tough and sometimes quarrelsome place, where clamant voices struggle against each other; it’s called freedom of speech. Increasingly we are trammelled, told we can’t say this, that, and especially the other – and then the media classes wonder why Trump gets votes; which part of ‘we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any longer?’ do they not get?

In the UK we have seen this robust Anglo-Saxon spirit reject the EU and the scare stories of the media and the establishment. People had had enough of being told what to do and what was good for them and how it was, not least by unelected legislators whom they could not throw out – so they threw out the bathwater (and the baby too perhaps) because that was the only thing they had a choice of doing: in or out, said the establishment, with many threats about what would happen if we voted ‘out’. Well, Neo could have told them it isn’t a good idea to threaten a stubborn people of Anglo-Saxon stock. Our favourite poet, Kipling, knew this and put it best in the words of the Norman baron to his son:

The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

And that is Neo’s creed. In the words of the great Duke, John Wayne:

“I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”

So – happy anniversary Neo – and we’re glad you’re here.

The politics of disaffection

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Satire is usually a form of controlled anger, and underlying my satirical post yesterday was something of that feeling. Here there seems little doubt that the vote to leave the EU was, in large part, a vote against the political establishment – even if it is going to take members of that establishment to negotiate our way out of the EU. A spasm of anger is fine, even cathartic, but it is not very constructive, and it seems clear that a large part of the Brexit vote wanted to give the politicians a good kicking. That’s a great way, not doubt, of expressing anger; but what next? When the red mist clears and the person you have hit is lying on the floor, what then? Perhaps it was their fault for provoking you? Perhaps they will be OK? Perhaps you shouldn’t have lashed out? But you did, and they are lying there – what now?

If that is the UK, then you have the same phenomenon in the USA. Mr Trump is a great lightning-rod for the disaffected. Quite how a billionaire businessman who has profited from globalisation and cheap labour gets to be the champion of the disaffected is, itself, an interesting topic for Pol Sci 101, but that is undoubtedly the case. Here, as in the US, there are many of us who, reading what Director Comey said, can’t join up the dots and understand why Mrs Clinton isn’t being indicted; we kind of think if she’s be someone else, say General Petraeus, she would have been. That’s the kind of thing which makes people disaffected – one law for them and one for us. That feeling lies behind the ‘black lives matter’ phenomenon; no point saying its is being utilised by activists, of course it is, but it is the fact they have something to agitate that should concern us all.

It occurs to me that to a large extent this is the fault of the politicians themselves. They have encouraged us to think they have the answer to all our ills, and some of us, at least, have fallen for that. Old-fashioned conservatism isn’t very popular or an easy sell. It says things we don’t want to hear such as ‘you are responsible for your own actions’, and ‘politics is simply a human activity engaged in by flawed humans, so don’t expect utopia’. Modern liberalism is so much more fun, with its uplifting talk about ‘hope’ and slogans such as ‘can we do it?’ (To which the only real answer is ‘probably not’). It gives you a great adrenaline rush, makes you feel good and even virtuous. Yes, we can do it, we can make people virtuous by legislation – we can force people to be free. What’s not to like if you are a Social Justice Warrior? What’s not to like is the coming down after the high. Reality is stubbornly resistant to liberal idealism. People are people, flawed, broken, messy, not easily managed, and prone to resentment, anger and disillusionment if they are promised lots of new toys and they don’t get them – a bit like kids really.

We want a Good Society, but as a society we can no longer agree on the morality of what ‘good’ might mean. When we are offered 70+ ‘gender identities’ on social media, and that most basic of consensuses – that we are male or female – is contested, it is little wonder that our politics lacks consensus. But who is going to be honest and say to us ‘look guys, there really isn’t too much we can do, but we’ll give it a go’, when the opposition is blathering on about ‘hope’ and a brave new world? No one, for obvious reasons. So, sadly, however disaffected we are, our own tendency to believe the rubbish the politicians are saying, contributes to the problem. Horrid thought though it is – what if we really do get the politicians we deserve?

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