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Friday, June 14, 2024
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Farage and the case of the vanishing virtues

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WHEN Nigel Farage raised the question of Fundamental British Values (FBV), and how, in his opinion, a significant minority of Muslims in Britain fail to adhere to them, he re-ignited not only the question of integration in Britain’s increasingly multi-cultural society but what should be the values behind social harmony. These are issues that timid mainstream politicians would rather not be raised at all but with the culture wars raging ever more fiercely, even they can no longer avoid them, and are compelled occasionally to raise their heads above the parapet to address them. 

The current political debate over ‘British values’ goes back to 2011 when the Home Office, as part of its anti-terrorism strategy, issued a definition of ‘extremism’ as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. It set up Prevent, considered to be its flagship counter-extremism policy, which aimed to flush out those at risk of committing terrorist acts, schools being particularly targeted by investigations into alleged entryist Islamist plot. Campaigns against purported ‘neo-Nazis’ were also launched, just to balance things out. Successive ministers and prime ministers, including Michael GoveDavid Cameron and Theresa May, lectured society on the importance of adhering to their manufactured values. 

Although the concept originated in the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, the British Values agenda has led to the same place as all other ill-judged government ‘good’ intentions. Rather than nurturing social integration, it united opinion across the political spectrum against it – rightists concerned about their consequences for free speech and leftists about the narrowness of the definition. Meanwhile Muslim commentators protested at what they perceived to be the unfair stigmatisation of Britain’s Islamic communities

In fact, the only beneficiary has been the ‘values’ industry while Prevent was reproached by the Shawcross Independent Commission as setting the ‘boundaries around what is termed by extremist Islamist ideology … too narrowly’ and those ‘around the ideology of the extreme right-wing’ too broadly’. 

Although calling out the existence in the UK of a significant Islamist minority is courageous in today’s cancel culture, doing so, no matter however justified, without a meaningful inquiry into the causes of social distress and decay will not lead to any cultural and moral renaissance. As they stand, the ‘values’ as promoted are of no value at all in assuaging the moral crisis or conflict of values inherent in a multi-cultural society; they do nothing to address the harmful causes of social distress such as sexual deviance, familial destruction, juvenile delinquency and extreme sex education. These problems, which all Western societies share, in turn require a remedy that goes beyond materialist considerations. 

Many contemporary conservative commentaries skilfully raise awareness of these issues within grand narratives. Douglas Murray examines ‘crowds’ for their madness, the late Roger Scruton indicted Western thought for its foolishness, fraud and demagoguery, Ryszard Legutko accuses Western politics of Sovietisation, Frank Furedi claims that personal identity is in ruins and Mario Vargas Llosa declares culture to be dead altogether. They emphasise what we’ve lost and make it very evident that this was excellent and what’s taken its place is inferior. Yet few writers go to the heart of the matter to explain why we have lost what has been lost, as most are as intrinsically tied to secular materialism as their leftist rivals, who seek to destroy whatever conservative virtues remain. 

As a philosophy, secular materialism, which rejects consideration of immaterial or supernatural substances, such as a soul, in favour of a material universe, forms the basis of most modern empirical science. It is also concerned with the pursuit of happiness. But while a state of happiness is of course desirable, it cannot be permanent. Just at the point one thinks one has reached one’s objective, crisis sets in: financial woes, a death of a loved one, divorce, illness, a sense of unfulfilled desires; Nirvana remains as elusive as ever. It is at this point that any conservative worth his salt should stop to reflect that perhaps there is something beyond materialist metaphysics. The Enlightenment ideals of individuality and freedom have neither perfected society nor liberated its people from purported oppression. By forsaking Scriptural morality, Enlightenment man was cast adrift to fend for himself without reliance on any spiritual anchor. 

Freedom without guidance or moral restraint becomes licence for vice and individualism for narcissism, both fuelled by the seven deadly sins from whose fetters there is now no means of escape; appeals to Heaven for mercy and peace are no longer an option. Servicing secular society with novelties such as environmental ethics is inadequate as an alternative moral system not least because of their inherent divisiveness. Any attempt to revive any one virtue as a universal value outside Christian moral teaching is to miss the bigger picture and is nothing more than self-indulgent virtue signalling. A distant memory of better times may drive a secularist to urge good behaviour but he will not know how to implement it and care little whether it is implemented or not. After all, he shares a mind-set with the person he is trying to convince to act virtuously, for whom goodness is purely relative. ‘Please be kind,’ asks the virtue signaller. ‘Why? comes the reply. ‘Because it is the right thing to do,’ insists the virtue signaller. ‘What is right?’ replies his interlocutor. Unless the virtue signaller at that moment commits himself to professing Christian moral teaching, he is stumped. ‘Oh well,’ he sighs, ‘at least I’ve tried.’ Box ticked. 

So why should a secular conservative endorse Christian moral teaching? Put simply, because it works. Is it not to the benefit of society to subdue one’s sexual desires or proclivity to alcoholic intoxication or to exchange pride for humility and charity for avarice? Would society be better or worse off if people tended towards prudence instead of foolishness, diligence instead of lethargy, hope instead of despair and kindness instead of cruelty? Yet any attempt to revive any one virtue as a universal value outside of Christian moral teaching is to miss the bigger picture. However, a restoration of Christian morality is imaginable only within the context of Catholic moral teaching as, without a central doctrinal authority, belief becomes subject to relativist fashions. Was it not the Protestant Commonwealth Men of the mid-sixteenth century who gave the game away in an early manifestation of ignorance of the bigger picture when they bemoaned the growing greed and callousness of post-Reformation society? Too late. The baby had been thrown out with the bath water; materialist England was born. There is no relativist worship of the Blessed Sacrament, conversely.

The legacy of Catholic Christendom is by no means flawless. The image of the corrupt cardinal, the lecherous and avaricious pope or paedophile priest indeed does not sit well with claims of universal morality. However, the moral authority and cultural leadership of the Catholic Church should not be obscured by the actions of a few errant officials, who, as sinful men, are just as defective as those in any other institution. By doing so is to deprive oneself of understanding of the bigger picture of what is really going on in society. 

For conservatives, wokeism – that cuddly term given to the Gramscian/Frankfurtian enterprise for societal deconstruction – is to blame for the civilisational crisis, while for leftists capitalism is the villain. Although the first explanation is undoubtedly more accurate than the second, which rarely deviates from the musings of juvenile activists, neither comes close to uncovering the real cause of society’s malaise, for both are merely its symptoms. Why is society so ignorant of its own disorder? Isn’t progress supposed to conquer ignorance and sweep away society’s ills? At least that is what every progressive political slogan from Lenin’s Bolsheviks to Sunak’s Conservatives has told us. Yet all that progress seems to do is to lead society into dead ends which replicate as fast as new routes are mapped. How to resolve this conundrum? It is simple, though extremely disturbing for the secular-materialist, for it requires the destruction of what Alexander Boot terms the virtual materialist reality rooted in a false metaphysical premise to which all so-called progress is inextricably tied; to seek the truth, in other words, is to deny oneself. There can be no Easter Day without Good Friday. We thus arrive at true virtue, that trounces the gamut of transient secular ‘values’. Now that will fire up the hustings.

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Dr Gregory Slysz
Dr Gregory Slysz
Dr Gregory Slysz writes and lectures on history and current affairs. He is currently working on his second book, ‘The bigger picture and the case for Christendom’.

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