Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The War to End a Gentler World

Much of the gentleness of Europe had been dissipated anyway, before the First World War.  Commercialisation, the era of the sophist, the economist and the calculator that Edmund Burke long ago identified had already come about.  It co-existed however with a continuing gentleness of Faith, Monarchy, rural life and homesteads.  Alongside the grime and misery of industrialisation, the older world still lingered – sustained because that was the natural way to live.  A portrait of that world was powerfully painted by Siegfried Sassoon in his book Memoir of a Foxhunting Man.

The Great War was the first industrial and first fully-mechanised war.  Men were no longer bands of brothers, but pawns to be sacrificed.  When the clouds of smoke cleared and the barren landscape remained, that gentler world could no longer survive.  The pressures were building, but the Great War ensured the victory of Modernity. 

The combatants indeed represented different worlds.  Austria-Hungary and Germany placed their faith in the new power of mechanised warfare.  The descendants of the Holy Roman Empire again turned on the remnants of Byzantium, supported by the Ottomans.  In its harassment of the small state of Serbia, Austria-Hungary was only following in the spirit of the Catholic Crusaders who sacked Christian Constantinople in 1204 for gain of its treasure.

The new nation of Germany allied with the Hapsburgs made war on an older Christian culture in its attack on Serbia, bringing Holy Russia into the conflict, in defence of its tiny Orthodox brother.  The mechanised horror of modern warfare the Germanic nations wrought on Russia, brought an end to the Orthodox Monarchy and saw the forces of materialism and modernity Dostoevsky foresaw taking control of Russia.  The Russia of greedy, crass oligarchs that we see today is the result of the triumph of those forces and the Holy Spiritual Russia is still battling to re-emerge.

In England things changed forever.  For many the painful losses of War at least meant the forces of Progress triumphed – women’s suffrage, class distinctions beginning to dissolve and a greater faith in science and the Machine (that force identified with all its dangers by that Anglophobe Anglican R S Thomas).

Yet with those many, many young men who died for us – to protect us from a German-dominated single State of Europe – did not something of England’s spirit die too?  For all our progress, didn’t something intangible yet profound die with our boys on Flanders Field?  Haven’t we been left with an uglier world all round – a world where money does the talking, faith is seen as blind not as vital for our existence and our beautiful countryside is disappearing, subject to the forces of greed and gain?

Edward Thomas died for the land of England more than anything else.  The England his poetry describes, however, seems more like a distant memory.

Yet I would not dare say they died in vain.  For by resisting Germany we did retain our freedom in the West despite all the ugliness of the modern world.  By keeping that freedom – unlike Russia’s fate as it fell under the control of the merciless Bolsheviks - we at least have the power to make the choice to rebuild that gentler world.  Much as consumerism and technology can separate us from trusting in older values, the young men who died protected our freedom to resist the erosion by the forces of modernity of our spiritual inheritance.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

If Mr Cameron’s Easter message was divisive then he has struck the right tone!

There has been some criticism of David Cameron’s assertion that this nation, Christian for over a millennium, remains Christian and that this is a heritage that is to be valued.  Apparently a number of self-appointed intellectuals regard this assertion as divisive.  First and foremost it seems difficult to argue with Mr Cameron in terms of the facts.  We have an established church, our national holidays, such as the recent Easter break, celebrate Christian festivals, not Islamic or Hindu festivals, the largest religious group in the nation remains Christian.  It is true that this current generation is making a hash of handing on this Christian heritage to the next, but that does not mean this inheritance is non-existent.  Perhaps this generation will fail to honour the trust it owes its descendants, but the inheritance will no doubt be rediscovered. 

Just as the monks during the Dark Ages, safeguarded this nation’s Christian culture, for it to be rediscovered by the converted Anglo-Saxon invaders much later, so a small number may keep this inheritance safe through the current tide of secularism, for it to be rediscovered in the future.  The inheritance exists, even if Polly Toynbee and Terry Pratchett are selfishly trying to deprive future generations of their right to it.

The criticism that actually needs to be addressed is not the absurd and laughable suggestion that this is not a Christian country, but the further assertion made by the pseudo-intellectual letter-writers to the Telegraph that it is bad for this nation to be Christian because it is divisive and impedes the progress of the ideology of relativist multi-culturalism.

Well just because something is divisive does not mean it is bad.  I am sure Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a divisive figure for Germans living under the Third Reich.  He, in following his Master, did not balk from divisiveness in his pursuit of what was Right.  Whereas multiculturalism may not seem as monumentally evil as Nazism, it is a sort of insidious nihilism, which eats away at our values.

Evil under multiculturalism is not organised by a tyrannical State, but it is permitted and never condemned, for fear of judging non-indigenous cultural values.  Let us remember that Christianity is supposed to be divisive.  Christ said he did not come to bring peace, but division.  He described Himself as coming into the world as a sword, to set people against one another, even within families.  Well the reaction of the letter writers is evidence that Christianity is divisive.  It is divisive because like a sword it sunders the gold from the dross, the good from the evil.  If Christianity were not true it could be compromised within a mishmash of other cultures in a grey and relativist nihilism.  It is precisely because Christianity is so clear that it is the only way that it will always divide people.  If we as a nation wish to aspire to truth and moral values, then we will inevitably find that some will disagree with us even violently.  That is not to say we have got everything right by any means as a country, but if we hold true to our inheritance of values then we will rightly be called divisive – and that is something to take to our credit.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Curious Case of Western Foreign Policy

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been renowned for its expertise on foreign climes and cultures so it really is mysterious why British foreign policy seems currently to be focused on destabilising areas where its interests require stability.  Perhaps the more pertinent question is why American foreign policy is all about making the world more uncertain, when its interests seem to depend on a certain world.  That must be the more pertinent question because to a large extent British foreign policy is a shadowing of American policy.

Indeed the foreign policy of “Old Europe” when independent from the United States, can be best represented by the Congress of Vienna, where British statesman, Lord Castlereagh, was instrumental in ensuring an agreement that secured the existing political establishment and prevented a major European war for a century.  This was an anti-revolutionary and anti-nationalist treaty, which worked in its goal of achieving peace. 

Today the United States take the lead in Western foreign policy and have adopted policies in recent years that have destabilised the Middle East (particularly through the invasion of Iraq) and thereby allowed Islamist extremism to gain a foothold in the region and also given Iran the opportunity to fill the new vacuum.   It was apparent to the most naïve of foreign-policy observers that remove the strongman Saddam Hussein (hideous as he was) and a factional and internecine power struggle between religious groups would result. 

Despite the example of that consequent bloody civil-war, the United States have recently abandoned their ally Hosni Mubarak to a revolution.  This has sent two messages to the world – that the West does not object to revolution as a means of seizing political power and secondly, that it will not stand by those who take the political risk of allying themselves to the West.

This is not to defend the two dictators, Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak; rather, it is to point out that being rid of brutal strongmen at all costs, even bloody revolution and civil war, is not always right or justifiable.  In Iraq and Egypt, not only were there all the usual risks of revolution – bloody civil war, persecution of minorities, a far worse dictator arising – but, there was also the looming threat of political Islam just waiting for an opportunity, with all its hostility to our interests.

The latest manifestation of the failure of the West to speak out against revolution was the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine.  No doubt the deposed government was especially corrupt and toadied to Russia, but it was elected for a term and there was a mechanism of a general election, when voters would have had the opportunity to throw out the crooks.  Even when there was a possibility of political compromise, the West seemed to pull the rug from under the negotiations.  On the face of it, supporting the Pro-Western revolutionaries seemed more coherent than Middle Eastern policy, but the unintended outcome – a more dominant Russia in the region – shows again that supporting destabilisation is always the high-risk strategy.

This strange foreign policy emanates from the United States and the only explanation (given Western interests have been harmed so much in the Middle East as a result) is a romantic attachment to the idea of revolution.  It is here argued that through a misunderstanding of its own history, perhaps even the “Hollywoodisation” of its own history, in the eyes of a section of America, the revolutionary’s cause is always just.  Well, one only needs to look at real history to see that real revolutions are bloody and destroy custom and morals.  They mean a nation state suffers a sort of ontological violence, because its genesis as a revolutionary state was through violence.  The French Revolution led to the Terror and then to Bonaparte.  The Russian Revolution led to the Bolsheviks and then the terror of Stalinism. Revolution is rarely the way to achieve stable government. 

Dominant American thought imagines their own creation as a state and concludes that throwing aside of custom, law and convention leads to a sort of secular freedom.  Well, there was not an “American Revolution”, there was only an American War of Independence.  That is why the United States emerged as stable and democratic.  The American, slave-owning establishment broke away from the rule of an island across an ocean, but it took with it a political and legal heritage – representative democracy (as opposed to direct democracy) and the common law.  It continued as a functioning state after a war of independence.  There was no one to terrorise as the remote oppressors were the other side of the ocean.  The American establishment continued with the reins of power, but independent of that remote, previous rule.

Indeed where American politics breaks down, such as in the gridlock between President and Congress, is down to those elements of the constitution based upon abstract, French theory of separation of powers, rather than reliance on inherited precedent.

Where the United States are weak is not through their relative newness as a state, but through the fact that they came into existence at just the time when Europe was smashing its table of values.  It therefore took on board the new enlightenment secularism, writing a constitution that set in stone a valueless or neutral society.  Perhaps it is these origins that explain why the United States continue with an apparently overly-optimistic and simplistic view of other cultures, despite the experience of their own bloody civil war. 

This is not to suggest American people (as opposed to the Washington establishment) are in any way naïve.  Many on the American Right recognise the danger of existing under a secular or neutral constitution.  That is why there are campaigns for the Ten Commandments to be placed in schools, despite the historic exclusion of religion from the public square.  Meanwhile in Europe, with our heritage of values that have shaped our own constitutions, we are far more complacent and arrogant than many Americans about the encroaching of secularism. 

It was an American, T S Eliot who warned of the dangers of a neutral society and made the positive case for a Christian society.  It is American Catholics today who are campaigning for one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest Christian apologists, G K Chesterton, to be canonised. 

It is of course difficult to fully understand the history of another state, but it is easier for us as British to understand the United States because they were once legally connected with this polity and they adapted this nation’s institutions and laws to a new continent.  If it is accepted that the United States have misunderstood their own genesis, this would explain its seemingly irrational belief that revolution will lead to pro-Western democracies, as opposed to extremist states bent on hostility to its and our interests.  One can only hope American schools start to teach their children about the War of Independence instead of the American Revolution and that we will see a different, more historically aware foreign policy from a future generation.   

Friday, 21 March 2014

Twenty-first Century Bear-baiting

The bear has a sore head and it is on the loose, out of its pit.  Anyone who doubts bear baiting is cruel only has to see the suffering of Mr. Putin through his torment at the hands of Western powers.  NATO has crept up to Mother Russia’s borders, the West arbitrarily pushed for Kosovan independence, through which it broke from Serbia – Russia’s ally.  The United States invaded the sovereign state of Iraq (ruled by a brutal psychopath), ignoring Russian opposition.  The West encouraged a crony capitalism to rise from the ruins of the Soviet Empire, allowing the hated oligarchs to prosper.  Russia is smarting and now it is flexing its muscles.  The Crimean crisis is of course about protecting a Naval base and pipelines, it is about extending its sphere of influence, it is about protecting Russian speakers in the Crimea, but it is also about Russian pride, even Russian hurt pride. 

This outlook may seem like Russian paranoia to those of us in the West, but it could still be a genuinely-held world-view and it seems this is perhaps how the world does look and feel to Putin and his allies.  I am sure there are many liberal Russians who would not see things this way.  It does seem the case though that the rising tensions between the West and Russia are at root to do with a failure to understand each other.

It also seems difficult for the West to understand why the Crimean people should vote in a referendum to join Russia (having arbitrarily been given away to the Ukraine by Krushchev) and thereby avoid closer links with the apparently morally-good European Union.  However, looked at dispassionately, the West might have offered material wealth, but it also offers spiritual poverty. The conservative society of Eastern and Southern Ukraine is presented with a liberal-individualist culture in Wetern Europe manifested through abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, secularism and materialism – is that really such an appealing culture to join?

The Slavic world has not done well out of contact with the West.  Before the Napoleonic Wars, Russia was an agrarian society based around the institutions of Monarchy and Church.  Invasion by France woke Russia up to its technological backwardness.  It therefore embarked upon a programme of modernisation and industrialisation, with all the ugliness and brutalisation that industrialisation brings.  We know in the West that industrialisation can lead to the loss of something precious – one only needs to think of Ruskin, Carlyle, the Romantic poets and the Distributists to hear the literary mourning for a lost world.  There is a constant theme in our men of letters that a better world has been cast away for riches.  Yes we have an easier life physically in the industrialised West, but are we not poorer emotionally and spiritually?  Church attendance is down, marriages are fewer and break more often, teenage-pregnancy rates are high, employees often suffer mentally (stress, nervous breakdowns) from the demands made of them by corporate employers.  What we have cast aside - the hard work of a traditional, agrarian life - might even have been the praxis leading to virtue.  The Russians would understand that.

Hyper-modernisation in Russia went hand-in-hand with a sort of hyper-Enlightenment.  Bolshevism reared its ugly head, throwing off the Church and tradition by taking the ideas of the Enlightenment to their inevitable conclusion – political violence and atheist values.  Thus, while the West preserved the Church and its political institutions, Russia took the pseudo-science of Enlightenment theory seriously and plunged into bloody revolution, followed by brutal oppression by an atheist regime.

Russia as the Soviet Union oppressed its own people and its subject peoples brutally.  People disappeared to the Gulag for opposing a regime that can only be regarded as evil, particularly under Joseph Stalin.  Whole peoples were moved to different locations, as a means of undermining the concept of nation that binds us together.  The West remained as a beacon of hope for many in that dark time. 

The Cold War saw the West win, not only because of its economic strength, but because there was still virtue residing in its culture, handed down by its heritage – a heritage Russia had violently forsaken.  However, during the latter part of the Twentieth Century the West became more and more detached from its own cultural values and developed a liberal-individualist anti-culture.  Liberal individualism would not have defeated Nazism and neither did it win the Cold War.

A financially and morally bankrupt Russian Empire disintegrated in the 1990s.  The West did not think it necessary to offer its heritage of political tradition and cultural values; rather, it introduced Russia to capitalism unlimited by values and cultural norms that still applied (however diminished) in the West.   The hated Russian oligarchs prospered.  Once again Russia was brought into contact with the worst aspects of Western culture.  Selfishness and materialism, not tradition and religion, were seen as the alternative to Socialism. 

The West might see itself as a bastion of the rule of law and political freedom.  To Russians it probably looks like the preacher of selfishness, licentiousness and materialism.  Western Europe was once built upon Church and Monarchy, now it appears to have subsided into moral turpitude.  The only value that matters is individual freedom or rather selfish licence unconstrained by values or taboos.  That at least is probably how we look to the Slavic world.

Of course it is difficult really to imagine how we look to others, if not impossible.  Notwithstanding that, we must at least feel some unease at simply proselytising the post-Soviet world into value-less liberal-individualism.  It really is a rather corrosive world-view and the Slavs, with their own traumatic history of destructive atheism and an all-powerful, oppressive State can probably see that.

Yet in the West we still presume that our earlier moral integrity means that even today, what we do is right because we are the ones doing it.  Thus, invading Iraq or supporting the breaking away of Kosovo is the morally right thing to do, but for Russia to annex Crimea or for the Crimeans to choose to leave the Ukraine is wrong.  Well perhaps it is wrong and certainly Russia is signed up to respect the Ukraine’s borders as part of the deal on nuclear weapons.  The West is therefore on relatively firm legal ground in opposing the annexation and it is right to be concerned about the fate of the minority Tartar people.  However, now that the modern West has descended into a value-less liberalism it is not in a position to preach to others.  So perhaps it would be less hypocritical to see this international crisis as a battle to extend spheres of influence on the part of the West as much as the East, rather than trying to claim the moral high ground.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Putting things right

As another hunting season draws to a close (one much disrupted by the weather), it is worth considering the position of one of our great cultural traditions.  Despite the Conservative Party’s pledge to hold a free vote on the ban, despite Tony Blair, the man who as Prime Minister who used the Parliament Act to force the ban through the House of Lords unconstitutionally, admitting he was wrong and despite a clear impact on farms such as sheep farms on the Fells hanging on by their fingertips, hunting for political reasons alone remains banned.

Just as it was once useful for Mr Blair to allow frequent free votes on hunting to keep his more prejudiced backbenchers happy, so for the current Government hunting can be a useful political football.  It is all very well to launch a review into the impact on farming of restricting the despatch of foxes to one couple of hounds, but repeal of this aspect of the ban could be achieved by statutory instrument, with no need for a Parliamentary vote.

It feels more as though the review is to send a message of sympathy to hunting people without actually acting.  Yet even Tony Blair now admits the hunting ban was a mistake.  There are few who would argue the ban was about animal welfare.  It was as Tony Banks said “totemic” – it was a deliberate attack on a certain way of life and an imaginary, stereotypical foxhunter, who bares little resemblance to the majority of keen hunt supporters - The people that in Tony Banks’ bitter mind represented the class enemy.  Because this was about a visceral hatred and class resentment, no argument would ever have won around a man like Tony Banks.

So what is to be done?  Hunting has shown its determination to survive within the law, despite that law being unjust and unclear.  It faces the threat of animal-rights extremism, increasing urbanisation taking away country, an ambiguous and draconian law and this season, as so many others have also suffered, the impact of the flooding.

Hunting has rightly been defended on animal welfare grounds.  Most people of sound mind understand that hunting an animal is more natural and humane than trapping, poisoning or shooting.  Most realise that fox numbers have to be controlled.  The real misunderstanding seems to be that urban people assume that people enjoy hunting because they enjoy killing.  This is a complete misunderstanding and comes from ignorance, so perhaps it is time to talk about what is so enjoyable about hunting.

If hunting is only justified on the very valid argument of pest control the debate is narrowed to a question of whether foxhunting is cruel or not.  While that argument can be clearly won, the urban mind still does not comprehend what is enjoyable.  So they then ask: Why don’t you just treat it like pest control?

The answer to that is surely that hunting has grown organically throughout the centuries as part of rural English culture.  It is therefore multi-faceted.  Nobody sat down one day and planned hunting as the means to control foxes.  Rather, it has arisen naturally through tradition.  So the enjoyable things about hunting (which previously did a vital job in wildlife management) are the community, the tradition and pageantry, the thrill of riding across country and jumping fences and most importantly of all working with animals – horses and hounds.  Anyone who truly loves animals cannot fail but be absorbed by hounds working.

We know hunting did a vital job before the ban, but just because it did that vital job, does not mean that it should not be enjoyable or rich in community and traditions.  So rather than the hunting rules and rituals being unnecessary, they are precisely what make hunting so rewarding.  This is perhaps why hunting is surviving all that the Government throws at it. 

However, the question must be asked:  What about the fox?  For as long as there are so many restrictions on how a fox can be legally hunted, other less humane methods have to be resorted to by others (trapping or shooting).  The landowner will need to be rid of the fox, whatever the intentions of Labour MPs when they voted for the ban.  So really anyone who cares about animal welfare should be pressing for the ancestral duty of hunting to be restored to it.  Hunts across the land are fighting hard to sustain a way of life handed down to us, but for as long as hunts can only go through the motions, the fox must be controlled in more brutal ways by others.

Our ancestors handed us a method of fox control that respected the law of nature – often the sick and the diseased despatched naturally through hunting, rather than more indiscriminate means of culling.  The fox was given a clean chance of either complete escape or instant demise, with minimal suffering.  Hunting has survived under the ban because it is multi-faceted and is sustained by the commitment of hunt staff and masters and the rich tradition and the closeness to animals and nature it offers supporters.  Nature would be better served however if hunting were given back its historic role of humanely controlling the fox.  

Friday, 21 February 2014

Bishops against Tories

 A hundred years ago it would have seemed an absurd political division.  The Church of England was the Conservative Party at prayer.  In recent times there are constant clashes between the Bishops and leading Conservatives.  Currently the news is not only focused on the letter from the Anglican Bishops to the Government on welfare policy, but criticism from that even more conservative institution, the Roman Catholic Church, in the form of comments in a newspaper interview by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster.  Why has Conservatism, the guardian of our institutions, fallen out so badly so often with our culturally most important institution over the last millennium, the Church?

This is not an irrelevant matter.  Anyone who believes in a Burkean form of Conservatism or gives some credence to the idea of the Big Society, must surely recognise the Church as part of our social fabric, independent of the bureaucratic state.  The criticism of Government policy on welfare has not so much come from an ideological standpoint, based upon obscure theological doctrine, as from an empirical reaction to the facts on the ground, in the parishes.

Anglicanism is often dismissed by those on the Liberal Right as a sort of soft-Socialism led by pink Bishops.  When the blogger worked at Church House however he discovered a far more sincere conservatism on issues like Lords reform and same-sex marriage than that put forward by some ostensibly Right wing politicians.

It is the contention of this blog that since Durkheim, the Left has annexed the concept of organic society from the Right and twisted it to forward its own ends.  The Right has meekly accepted this annexation and has been left on the paltry soil of the reductionist doctrine of liberal individualism.  And yet it is very difficult to articulate a conservative position from a liberal individualist perspective.  So we end up in the absurd position of a Conservative Prime Minister leading an attack on marriage to further a concept of individualism and freedom of choice through same-sex marriage legislation.

Of course the idea of a conservative and organic society that emphasises the importance of the church, the monarchy and the family can be traced back to the French conservative thinker Louis Gabriele Ambroise, Vicomte de Bonald.  For de Bonald liberal individualism was the error behind the French Revolution.  Our social institutions are of divine origin and precede the individual.  It was his outlook that Durkheim relied on for his own Left wing agenda.  Surely the Right needs to start emphasising again the importance of institutions and abandon some of its socially Darwinist attitudes.  In that way, we can answer the Left’s accusations of heartlessness towards the poor in a way that gives a greater role to the institution and not the bureaucratic approach of targets and means testing.  When our spiritual leaders are speaking out against our morally-driven policies then there needs to be reflection. Surely respect for the wisdom of an institution should come naturally to the Right. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Punch and Judy Politics – that’s the way to do it!

The British Parliament is fairly unique in Europe with its tradition, ritual and adversarial debates.  As disillusionment with the political class has grown, the party loyalties have broken down in the nation and people no longer see the point in the tribalism of Parliamentary events such as Prime Minister’s Question Time.

The Speaker of the House, who has little respect for tradition but a great deal for himself, has asked the three leaders of the political parties to consider ways to change the atmosphere of PMQs.  And yet really this misses the point, because the tribal politics of Parliament worked when people were engaged with the system and trusted their politicians.  The sometimes raucous atmosphere was described by Ang San Suu Chi during her address to both Houses as “the sound of democracy”.  We ought to consider why she said that and imagine how controlled the parliaments of authoritarian regimes must be.  A powerful political class likes a quiet Parliament.

The new dislike of Prime Minster’s Questions is due to a twofold and interlinked cause.  First politicians have become more careerist and political conviction and ideology have diminished.  This means that there is less conviction to the adversarial approach.  The new type of politician has aggravated the public, not through his opinions but through who he is – the slippery careerist only interested in the greasy pole, who treats politics as a path to high office.  Therefore the public also no longer believe in the adversarial clashes in Parliament.  It seems empty and meaningless.  So, on the one hand the politicians no longer believe in it and on the other, the public no longer believes in the politicians taking part.

If a primary concern of the voters is immigration but a primary concern of our politicians is same-sex marriage, then there is a disconnection between the public and their political representatives.  Not only that, but as a rule, most politicians take one view on Europe, immigration and the family and the public tend to take another view.  So people no longer feel represented in Westminster.  It may be because of this break in a connection between the political class and the voters that the Nationalists in Scotland have gained some traction (rather than a rejection of our common history by the Scots being the primary cause of nationalism).

Interestingly John Bercow is in many ways the incarnation of much of what voters distrust about politics.  A man whose views changed as the electoral fortunes of his party diminished:  A man who has dispensed with tradition by declining to wear the wig, thereby taking attention away from the office and increasing the focus on himself and a man who seems to have an aversion to the aspects of Parliament that depend on conviction to function effectively.  For example, if PMQs was still a way of addressing the breaches in our own nation then the adversarial nature of it would strike a chord.  It is when the people going through the motions all seem to share a liberal, metropolitan outlook that the clashes in Parliament seem rather to be about going through the motions than sincere debate.

Prime Minister’s Questions should work well by allowing political divisions in society to be brought out and aired with the passion and confrontational nature that means people can go about their lives, knowing their own grievances, passionate beliefs, fears and concerns are being fought out in Parliament, not on the streets.  Instead, parties outside the system are growing to cater for the voicelessness that the public is experiencing.

There is something slightly self-important about MPs fearing that they look ridiculous.  The best thing about the adversarial nature of politics is that it puts the ordinary voter in the position of being the reasonable judge, weighing up both sides. 

Just as in the criminal court, everyone expects prosecution and defence to push their case as far as they can, because the person who is trusted to make the reasonable decision is the juror; so with PMQs the voter can observe with a detached air and cast himself in the role of the reasonable man looking at two caricatures. 

Politicians’ concerns about how PMQs make them look are not just about vanity though, changing PMQs would also be a power grab by the political class.  If parliamentary debate moves towards a more consensual tone, it becomes politicians patting each other on the back, not putting their opponents under scrutiny and pressure, but instead looking at the demands of the voters as an unreasonable force to be mitigated and addressed.  The whole political process would be turned on its head, with the political class becoming more incestuous, more self-regarding and less respectful of the voter, who would no longer be regarded as the reasonable judge of their arguments, but an unreasonable agitator whose anger must be assuaged by politicians working together.

It is no accident that a Speaker who cannot see the importance of the wig, cannot see the importance of adversarial and tribal politics.  A consensual form of politics would suit the political careerists rather than the conviction politician.  Change the atmosphere of politics and we will see yet more of the more slippery sort of politician prospering – the sort of politician who prefers to cast aside tradition and swagger in the empty openness of classical architecture, rather than understand he is only a part of a thousand years of history when surrounded by the Gothic of Pugin.  Such politicians are of course already there, but they must not be allowed to reshape Parliament in their own image.

Parliamentary tradition is there for a reason.  Politicians should stop worrying so much about how they look and worry more about whether the current parties are representing the country at large or just metropolitan London.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Bring back the age of chivalry!

When a gentleman acts courteously towards ladies, he may often receive the welcome comment that “The age of chivalry is not dead after all!”  Of course the age of chivalry was about much more than behaving as a gentleman towards ladies, but it was certainly an integral part of it.  Etymologically the word comes from the French for horse and was the code of honourable and Christian behaviour for the Knights of Western Europe. 

Back to Troy
G K Chesterton saw the roots of chivalry as going back to pagan times and being embodied by the character of Hector, whose epithet in Homer’s Iliad is “the tamer of horses”.  Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man:

“Hector grows greater as the ages pass; and it is his name that is the name of the Knight of the Round Table and his sword that legend puts into the hand of Roland, laying about him with the weapon of the defeated Hector in the last ruin and splendour of his own defeat.  The name anticipates all the defeats through which our race and religion were to pass; that survival of a hundred defeats that is its triumph.”

Hector does seem in many ways to prefigure the Christian Knight – he is a type, albeit from a pagan world.  Hector of course was loyal and loving to his wife, but is primarily remembered for giving his life for his brother’s sins inasmuch as he died for his City to protect it from Greek vengeance against Paris.  Chesterton went on:

“And as with the city [Troy] so with the hero [Hector]; traced in the archaic lines in that primeval twilight is found the first figure of the Knight.  There is the prophetic coincidence in his title; we have spoken of the word chivalry and how it seems to mingle the horseman with the horse.  It is almost anticipated ages before in the thunder of the Homeric hexameter, and that long leaping word with which the Iliad ends.  It is that very unity for which we can find no name but the holy centaur of chivalry.”

The Origins of the Knight
Mediaeval knights emerged from the chaos of the end of the Carolingian Empire, when Christians fought Christians.  The Church and the Knights themselves felt that there was something profoundly anti-Christian about brethren of the faith killing one another.  The chivalric code therefore grew up to control these mounted warriors and initially dealt with how they should deal with their defeated opponents.  Ransoming your defeated opponent replaced the pagan approach of killing prisoners.  So the Church attempted to restrain Christians in war.  Later with the crusades in response to calls for help from the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, Pope Urban II tried to employ Saint Augustine’s much earlier concept of the Just War, which became part of chivalry in the fight to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslim invaders.  Further crusades such as those to drive the Muslims from Catholic Spain led to the just war becoming a positive duty for the Knight.

Courtly Love and Hunting with Hounds
Later the code of courtly love became part of chivalry.  The knight began to serve the lady and the Christian idea of defending and venerating the weaker sex, particularly linked to the veneration of the Virgin Mary, became integral to chivalry.  This is where our idea of behaving as a gentleman towards ladies can be traced.  It is a uniquely Christian cultural approach, where the woman is honoured rather than oppressed.  The lady goes first through the door, not walking behind her man.

One aspect of modern culture where chivalry survives is in hunting with its codes of behaviour.  Hunting was another integral part of being a knight.  The poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a key example of this, where the moral of marital fidelity is combined with long pieces on hunting with hounds.

The Modern Attacks on the Chivalric Code
Today in the modern world there are many forces arrayed against chivalry.  Feminism attacks the gentleness of the gentleman towards the lady as a form of oppression.  Islamist extremists burn poppies when the modern day soldier returns from defending Afghans from the oppression of the Taliban (our armed forces are surely the strongest example of the chivalric code today).  And the anti-hunting movement seems to be motivated not by concern for animal welfare (hunting clearly being the most humane way to control the fox) but through an atavistic loathing of the symbol of the mounted hunter, which can be traced back to the Knights of Christendom.

Of course, even when chivalry was the dominant code there was hypocrisy and a failure to live up to the ideal.  Abuses took place and prisoners were slaughtered.  Because of this, the opponents of all that chivalry represents attack the concept itself, rather than concede flawed humanity will always fail to live up to the ideal.  Does this really mean the knights should have abandoned their code not to kill prisoners because sometimes it was violated?  It is beyond the blogger why the fact individuals fail to live up to a good code should mean the code is wrong.  This seems to be flawed logic.  Let us keep the ideals of chivalry and the gentleman, because those ideals can only be a force for good, raising us up from our flawed nature, however infrequently and fleetingly.

The Moral of Camelot
One is reminded of the story of Camelot.  Of course Camelot failed in the end and part of that failing was Sir Lancelot’s and Guinevere’s adultery.  And yet Malory is clear that the true fault lies with Mordred who exposes Lancelot and thereby brings the whole kingdom down.  Yes Lancelot failed as a human, yet he was still the “noblest knight”.  The real sin was Mordred’s, as revealed at the end of the tale.

Is this not a metaphor for all those who would pull down our inherited moral codes because they detect individual failure.  The exposure of hypocrisy is enough justification to pull down the whole edifice we have inherited from our ancestors.

Living in Ugly Modernity
Returning to Hector, for those of us who believe in that moral code of the knight that evolved into the idea of the gentleman, are we not living in a strange world today?  All that is good and symbolic of that code is disparaged and attacked.  So that like Hector’s widow, Andromache, we find ourselves in a foreign and strange country.  To quote Charles Baudelaire as he bemoaned the loss of traditional Paris:

“Andromache I think of you – this meagre stream,
This melancholy mirror where had once shone forth
The giant majesty of all you widowhood,
This fraudulent Simois, fed by bitter tears,

Has quickened suddenly my fertile memory
As I walked through the modern Carrousel.
The old Paris is gone (the form a city takes
More quickly shifts, alas, than does the mortal heart).” 

Friday, 7 February 2014

Man’s Management Role in Nature

 The current floods are clearly causing much distress, damage to property and physical and economic hardship.  Many of us are affected in one way or another by these floods and this constant rain but our hearts go out to those who have seen their homes, businesses and farms flooded.  This has been a very depressing winter for our island.

It has brought to the fore many attitudes and unthinking assumptions and the mistakes they lead towards:  For example, the long hiatus in the dredging of rivers.  The Environment Agency appears to have a policy not to dredge rivers.  The suspicion is that this is all part of a misanthropic ideology whereby Man is seen as the enemy of Nature, rather than the manager of Nature.  In reality all the countryside that surrounds us has been managed by Man for generations.  The Somerset Levels is a key example of this.  The way it looks is as a consequence of the interaction between Man and Nature.  Take Man’s management role away and we would be faced with a wilderness.  It is Nature as we have shaped it that strikes us as particularly beautiful – the hedgerows, the patchwork of fields on green, rolling hills.

The blogger takes the view that if our countryside has been shaped by us, then we should maintain its beauty as well as its potential to provide us with resources.  We should not feel embarrassed that we are moved by Man-moulded countryside – that surely was our role in the first garden!  The combination of Man and Nature is the most natural state of affairs.

So, while it makes sense to preserve habitat for the songbirds and other birds that enrich our lives, it is important not to lose a sense of perspective.  Nature is there as a gift to us, for us to work, not to abandon.  So if Man needs to dredge rivers to live in the country, rivers must surely be dredged.  The consequence of not dredging may well have led to widespread destruction of habitat and the drowning of animals, particularly those that are hibernating.

It is of course completely possible for Man to abuse Nature rather than manage Nature, but the two should not be confused.  Wiping out the dodo was an abuse; deer stalking to manage the deer population is management.

So, we have a duty as part of our raison d’etre to manage Nature – not to abuse it, but not to abandon it either.  It seems to the blogger that the radical-environmentalist ideologue is as wrong as the greedy owners of log businesses destroying the rainforests; for they both deny our role of responsible management in Nature.  We are integral to the process and indeed, as with the case of river dredging, Nature is there to work for us and enrich our lives just as much as it is for us to honour our duty to manage it.  Building on floodplains is an abuse of Nature; not dredging the rivers looks to be an abdication of responsibility.


Friday, 31 January 2014

An Orthodox Voice in a Western Wilderness

There has been a tendency for rebellious Westerners to reject their cultural heritage and to seek it in the East.  From the Beatles onwards this has been a popular trend, yet strangely these Westerners do not gravitate towards that great edifice of Eastern culture based on a view of truth West and East share, the Eastern Orthodox Church, but rather choose those manifestations of belief that renounce all that the West regards as most precious about our humanity.  So the rebellious Western youth chooses Buddhism, a philosophy of renunciation, rather than complementing his own Christian heritage by learning how the East has understood those same truths upon which Western culture is built.

The irony of this is that when a Westerner attempts to abandon his culture in a Cartesian effort to shape the world according to his partial view, he finds an Asiatic culture that places far more emphasis on tradition, wisdom of the ancestors and renunciation of novelty.  The blogger suspects however that this attraction to belief systems that some Westerners engage in is an individualistic fascination with the novel.  It all goes back to Descartes’ great attempt to believe only what he himself could justify.  From that step so much of what is wrong with Western culture followed.

Western culture has always been more individualistic than the East, but that individualism can only function in the context of tradition and a reference to the accumulated ways of doing things, based on valid lessons long since forgotten.  The error of the Westerner who thinks that he can pick and choose his culture is that he can never really escape the traditions and cultural values that have shaped him.  Thus a Western convert to Buddhism or Taoism can never be completely that, he will always be a Christian Buddhist or Taoist, just as an atheist in the West still acts in accordance with the values shaped by a Christian post-Roman culture.

And yet if Western culture is individualist, perhaps we are especially free to pick and choose who we are, like existentialists who think we can define our own meaning?  Well actually the West does have a tradition and when that tradition is strong then we are far more fulfilled and free.  Edmund Burke, a defender of the liberties of the Glorious Revolution recognised this.  As much as he believed in the freedoms won for us by Parliament, he understood that we are shaped by our traditions and history.  We hand on those rights, liberties and traditions passed on to us by our ancestors.  Our social contract is not some individualistic arrangement between us and the State, but a contract between us, previous generations and generations to come.  It is a contract based on trust; we hold what our ancestors have left for us on trust for our children.  Thus Church, Monarchy, nation and tradition should be sustained (including necessary reforms for their survival in a changing world) so that they can be passed on to the next generation.

Burke emphasised the wisdom of the ancestors, the importance of prejudice and, in his aesthetic philosophy, the importance of the Sublime.  With reference to this, I now want to return to the East.  Burke was often accused of a Catholic sympathy and yet was he not pointing out those aspects of a culture necessary for its survival that are often neglected in the West?
In the Catholic and Protestant Churches there is a strong emphasis on the individual being saved by Christ taking our punishment.  When Christianity was accepted in the West it moulded a pre-existing individualist and humanist culture.  These Indo-European races with their human-like gods and god-like heroes and their democratic ideals, placed a strong emphasis on the individual human and the personality.  True to the spirit of the Incarnation the Church met people where they were.  Yet can we not learn something from the East?  And I mean here where the East is relevant to us.  Surely the Orthodox Church has far more to say to us than Buddha, Confucius or the Dalai Lama?

The Orthodox Church places a greater emphasis on the teachings of the Church Fathers than Roman Catholics or Protestants and is this not in some way similar to Burke’s emphasis on the wisdom of the ancestors?  Its emphasis on obedience and authority (as opposed to the more subjective notion of individual interpretation of Scripture in Western Protestant Churches) is similar to the Burkean critique of Descartes.

The importance of the Patristics in Orthodox theology is something the West could perhaps learn from.  You only value learning from the Patristics if you recognise your faith is handed down to you by others who have learnt much on the way.  It is surely a recognition that the Cartesian outlook is by definition severely limited.  From the Orthodox outlook we can learn to value our own fathers’ teachings and our own traditions.

For those who look to the East, Orthodoxy provides a greater emphasis on tradition and on a meditative state through the theosis, which is difficult to achieve in the materialist West, shaped by Calvinist ideas that worldly success is evidence of election.  And most importantly of all the Orthodox Church is an expression of the universal values that the West is also in touch with – the truth of Christianity.

We will always be Western, but we can learn from Eastern Christianity, because we are starting from common ground.  From the East we can learn that Western individualism and liberty can reach their fullest potential with due recognition and reverence of tradition and the wisdom of the ancestors.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

In what spirit should an Englishman toast Rabbie Burns?

Tonight like many other English men and women the blogger will toast the immortal memory of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet.  This is notwithstanding the imminent referendum on a divorce between the two largest nations of this island.  The English are however of a generous spirit and notwithstanding the insults and resentment of Scottish nationalism, we are big enough to continue to commemorate our shared British heritage.

What further demonstrates this generosity of spirit is that Rabbie Burns himself seems often to have seethed with an anti-English and anti-establishment resentment.  How unlike that other great Scot of letters, Sir Walter Scott!

Notwithstanding that tone of bitterness that one can detect in poems such as “A Man’s a Man for all That”, one cannot deny the sensitivity of spirit that speaks to us in poems such as “To a Mouse” or songs such as “My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose”.  This sensitivity was somewhat betrayed by Burns in his own life of being false to true love in matters of the heart and his own principles when he became an Excise Officer, extracting tax on behalf of an establishment he claimed to despise.  Some might describe him as a man of contradictions, which is perhaps a euphemism for hypocrite. 

Whereas Rabbie Burns seems sometimes to be bitter, Si Walter Scott was able to identify with affection the characteristics of the different cultures of these islands.  Indeed Sir Walter Scott was able to create an affectionate portrait of the different extremes of Scottish culture, from the Highland bandit Rob Roy to the Lowland businessman, Mr Jarvie.  He was also able to feel deep affection for English heritage and culture, as we can see from Ivanhoe.  His characterisations show that he understands both the forces and ideals that drive men as well as their limitations.  We see the limitations of the tribal Highland culture in Rob Roy’s brutal wife and the limitations of nationalism, which turns to fanaticism in the character of Fergus Mac-Ivor.  Whereas Rabbie Burns sometimes seems judgemental in that he holds society to a higher standard than that by which he lived himself, Scott shows an understanding of the frailties of human nature and portrays these faults not with gall, but with sympathy.

It does seem churlish to criticise the immortal memory today and would defeat the point of the argument were I to do so; rather I am arguing that we should show Scott’s sympathy for human nature in toasting a flawed character who probably would have resented us.  Thus, in the generous spirit of that other Scotsman, Sir Walter Scott, let us toast the immortal memory of a great romantic poet who belongs to all of us, English and Scottish – Rabbie Burns!   

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Pantheism like Deism can only give a partial picture

 In the declining West with its twin maladies of political correctness and the kitsch there is a growing tendency for thinking and sensitive people to look for the Divine and the cultural in Nature.  The Church seems to have been captured by those forces people of taste reject – I mean a politically-correct outlook that would replace the reaching out to the sublime with value-neutral and gender-neutral language.

Of course this is depressing and cultural decline in the West is a real phenomenon.  I have argued before in this blog that this decline has much to do with the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment, with its attempts to universalise, deny the local and the traditional and move from the Incarnation to Deism or even atheism.

Nietzsche of course recognised the decadence of the West and produced a powerful critique in his writings.  He knew that the attempt to explain all by science was a mistake and thought his emphasis on the aesthetic and the subjective Ubermensch was the answer.  I think he was wrong in the way he laid the blame for Western decadence at the door of Christianity.  The self-loathing of political correctness today has its roots in the decadence Nietzsche perceived, but it is not an evolution of Christianity; rather it is a falling away from Christianity.  Christ did not teach us there was no Judgment, only that we were not the judges.  Remove God and we are left with a society with no values (something Nietzsche came to embrace of course).

More perceptive than Nietzsche in his definition of this Western decay was Charles Baudelaire, that old sinner.  As much as that son of a Lutheran minister Friedrich Nietzsche probably never committed a significant carnal sin in his life, Baudelaire in his seedy, garret existence perceived the Divine still through the murk generated by Western liberal dogma.  Rather like the woman washing Christ’s feet grasping the nature of grace better than Simon the Pharisee, so Baudelaire saw that it was a falling away from religion, not religion that brought about decay.

Baudelaire wrote of the liberal French writer, George Sand:

“Consider George Sand.  She is, first and last, a prodigious blockhead, but she is possessed.  It is the Devil who has persuaded her to trust in her good-nature and common-sense, that she must persuade all other prodigious blockheads to trust in their good-nature and common-sense.”

The blogger considers this to be a devastating definition and categorisation of the liberal do-gooder.  Baudelaire saw that these liberals, with their non-judgemental and modern outlook were falling away from Western culture with its concept of sin and redemption.  You cannot have the redemption without the sin.

So the argument of this blog is that what repulsed Nietzsche was not Christianity, but a partial picture of Christian values – it was liberalism, spawned by the least traditionalist and most secularist aspects of Enlightenment thinking.  The decent and intelligent man attracted to Pantheism should not reject Christianity because liberalism casts pearls before swine.  He should first know exactly what it is he is rejecting!  He is not rejecting liberalism, he is rejecting what G K Chesterton called “The intolerant Truth”, which is “full of grace and truth.”

Pantheism does indeed identify something very powerful in Nature and the Pantheist is right to feel awe and perceive something revealed of the divine in Nature, just as Job in his revelation saw God in Nature.  Job however could tell the difference between the Creator and the creature.  The Pantheist has the two confused.  The Pantheist sometimes caricatures the Christian as Manichean or Gnostic, but the Church always regarded the hatred of the material world as heresy.  Baudelaire pointed out:

“The mystery of Paganism.  Mysticism:  the common feature of Paganism and Christianity.”

This may seem arcane, but it is surely profound, and the blogger may not have fully understood Baudelaire’s meaning, but no discussion of Christianity can be complete without reference to the Incarnation and is not the Incarnation nothing less than the Divine coming into its creation and thereby sanctifying and redeeming it?  So both pagans and Christians see the mystery in the world around us.

If creation is imperfect but beautiful, the Incarnation can make it perfect.  We must turn to a far more saintly character than Baudelaire to complete this blog – G K Chesterton.  The Roman Catholic Church is currently investigating whether this rotund Englishman of wit and letters was actually a saint. 

Chesterton demonstrates in his work, the Everlasting Man that Paganism can only eventually lead to depravity as evidenced by Roman decline into the Circus and perverted emperors.  This is of course a reiteration of the first chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  In another work, Chesterton defined the problem of paganism in his book on Saint Francis of Assisi:

“What was the matter with the whole heathen civilization was that there was nothing for the mass of men in the way of mysticism, except that concerned with the mystery of the nameless forces of nature, such as sex and growth and death.  Thus, the effect of treating sex as the only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex.”

Thus the decline of the classical world.  And thus also the need for a redemption from Nature worship.  That redemption came through the Divine entering its own creation – Nature - from the outside.

Acknowledging the specific nature of Christ’s incarnation has important practical implications for today however, because if we take the Incarnation completely seriously, we realise that the Universal has become local, the general, specific and the Divine, individual.  Thus local tradition and custom in religion become sanctified because they are specific to a certain people.  If redemption is achieved by God becoming a real, physical person in a particular place and time in history, so the way we worship and reach out to the universal, which is sublime, must be practised in a customary and traditional way. 

We meet the Universal Divine here in this world, in our places of worship with words handed down to us from previous generations.  As T S Eliot put it in the Four Quartets:

“Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere.  Forever and always.”

The Book of Common Prayer helps us to reach the sublime because of the beauty of its language and because it is English tradition.  New and transitory language is a step away from the Incarnation and towards Deism.  It will refer to the Incarnation in words, but the underlying assumption is that the words should be detached from local context and tradition, they should be “modernised” – this is a major intellectual concession to Deism I believe.

And so the belief or rather faith in the Incarnation achieves what both Pantheism and Deism fail to do:  it brings us into touch with the Divine where we are now in both our personal lives and in our own culture and traditions.  Only the Incarnation can redeem us.    

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The True European is no friend to the Eurocrats

To talk of scepticism about the European Union, that political and economic project, as being an anti-European phenomenon is (often) a complete misunderstanding of that position.  Of course, there may be a minority of Euro-sceptics who genuinely loathe their European kin, but what really fires mainstream Euro-Scepticism is opposition not only to loss of democracy, but more fundamentally opposition to the standardisation of Europe.  That standardisation is the destruction of European culture in all its various national manifestations.

T S Eliot, in a radio lecture to a German audience in the Post-War years, stated:

“For the health of the culture of Europe two conditions are required:  that the culture of each country should be unique, and that the different cultures should recognise their relationship, so that each should be susceptible of influence from others.”

What is relevant here in terms of the political project in Europe today is that it is based upon standardising and making all Europeans the same.  If we believe in a European culture however, we must understand that it is strengthened by the different local expressions of that heritage.  If everything is forced from above by a political and legal authority to be the same, there can no longer be the cross fertilisation necessary to sustain European culture.

This blogger does believe in European culture and that there is something unique and special that Europe has to offer the world.  It is from the interaction between Christianity and the heritage of Greece and Rome.  These two societies, which valued humanity, were fertile ground for this new Semitic faith from Galilee.  Greek was the language of Scripture and Rome the ecclesiastical centre of the new religion.  Today we are all still shaped by that interaction between these forces.  All Europeans have this in common, including Eastern Europe with its Christian Orthodox and Byzantine heritage, which can trace its genesis to the same three roots.

However, that cultural unity is achieved through the diversity of local sub-cultures, from the Anglo-Saxon to the Italian.  Our strength lies in our difference and our culture is not the same as politics.  The trouble with the European Union is that it is trying to replace European culture with European politics.

The two forces are in complete antithesis, because the predominant political ideology is anti-cultural.  The dominant political outlook, to the exclusion of all others, is secularist, liberal and materialist.  To value Europe’s cultural heritage is to destroy your career in the European Union.  One only has to call to mind the debacle of Rocco Buttiglione’s candidacy for the European Commission to understand that the Commission is instinctively opposed to European values.  It was precisely because Buttiglione as a Roman Catholic held to a moral and spiritual code that sustained our culture since the Holy Roman Empire that his candidacy was undermined.

So the European Union is more about secularism and liberalism than sustaining European culture.  It would rather see a Europe in which the only value was the legitimacy of personal choice – a moral code described by American Distributists as similar to that of “the psychopath”, in which one choice is no more morally valid than another.  This is in contrast with a European culture based upon real values.

Furthermore by its aggressive project of standardisation the strength of Europe’s different cultures is being eroded.  A key example is weights and measures.  This may seem a mundane subject, but weights and measures are part of everyday life, they become part of our unique colloquialisms and our sayings.  They reflect an outlook on life and are therefore part of popular culture.  Thus imperial measurements in England do not adhere to an abstract theory of measurement, but rather commemorate specific events or individuals – the foot for example, mythically being based upon the size of King Edward’s foot.  This uniqueness is of course anathema to the anti-cultural European Union and so selling goods in imperial measurements in England has become a criminal offence!

So the argument of this blog is that the true European loves what makes Europeans different and what makes them the same.  The English, with our common law, adversarial politics and law, our foxhunting, pubs and yes selling our goods in pounds and ounces, and of course with William Shakespeare and our poets.  The French: with their painters, their strong secular state, sustained rural way of life, their gentler form of capitalism, their wine and cuisine.  The Germans: with Goethe, with their music, their philosophy, their consensual industrial relations and yes their beer festivals.   The Italians: with Dante, their opera, strong family-values, their Catholicism.  It is sad when these traditions diminish and standardisation undermines tradition.  Politics undermine culture.

In the same way, what holds Europe together is inheriting the universal and cultural values of Christendom, expressed differently throughout Europe, from the severe Calvinism of some parts of the North to the sumptuous Catholicism of the South.  Whatever the local manifestation, that common culture holds us together and a political system so averse to that inheritance also undermines what Europeans share.

The European political class must realise that Europe’s spiritual and cultural survival does not depend on political unification, but local diversity.  We saw in the last century the danger of that impetus to unite politically when Germany became a political unit and standardised, it went on to try and create a standardised, political unit of the whole Continent and its archipelagos.     

John Major, during his more beleaguered years as Prime Minister, trying to gain acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty emphasised the Catholic concept of subsidiarity - a principle that was championed by that English Catholic and Distributist G K Chesterton.  The Roman Catholic Church has learnt from history what a dangerous path it is to ignore local conditions.  It had to face the Reformation as Northern Europe began to express its Christianity in its simpler, more democratic way.  The European Union should learn from the Church and in that way Europe will become stronger through its diversity of Protestantism, Catholicism, different languages, customs and different national traits.  The best way to achieve that European diversity is through that tried and tested political institution – the nation state.

The nation state is large enough to unite, without being too large to gain popular engagement and acceptance.  It is of the same size as a nation of people by definition.  It is the nuclear family, with those special ties, as opposed to the extended family of a whole Continent.  It holds together a people who have specific things the same in common: language, race, history, religion.  Of course all European nations are part of something bigger, but they are the local manifestation of that culture and because they are of the same size as a people they command the political legitimacy a super state could never command.  Men will die for their country and thereby save democracy from threat; they would not die for an international bureaucracy. So Europe should not vest an international bureaucracy with law-making powers and all the trappings of a nation state.  No one will come to save it when it falls under threat.