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2023: Shout out for our great civilisation!


Today two TCW writers take contrasting looks into the future. This is the optimistic one. Elsewhere on these pages is a pessimistic view by Joe Baron.

AS WE face challenges that I should have thought beyond comprehension just a few years ago, with a deliberately increasingly totalitarian and morally bankrupt state crushing liberties that for centuries we have been privileged to enjoy, how should we in this formerly blessed land respond at the start of a New Year? 

As I write this I am listening, at almost full blast, to Joseph Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis in all its glory. A triumph of everything that is great about our civilisation. Western civilisation. 

Haydn was the court composer for over 30 years to the Esterhazy family, who perhaps were only second to the Habsburgs in all Austro- Hungary. The Missa in Angustiis, arguably the greatest of the 104 symphonies, 18 masses and numerous other works he composed, was completed in 1798, towards the end of his life. It too was written at a time of great tumult. All looked lost.

The Habsburgs were in trouble, for Napoleon and his marauding French army had defeated the Austro-Hungarian Empire four times in the field of battle during 1797, threatening the very gates of Vienna. Times were so hard that Haydn’s patron had dismissed the wind section of his orchestra, leaving only the strings while relying on some hired hands for brass.

Haydn’s majestic work, simply translated, is a liturgical piece for ‘troubled times’. He wrote it as an appeal to the Almighty for national salvation when it looked as if his world was collapsing. And by the first public performance of the work, September 15, 1798, there had been a miracle. 

A few days earlier Admiral Horatio Nelson and the British fleet had struck a stunning blow to Napoleon ambitions at the Battle of the Nile, and Haydn’s world was safe. The barbarians, in the shape of Napoleon and his forces, were halted for now. In celebration Lord Nelson (with Lady Hamilton of course) was invited to Esterhazy and heard the work conducted by Haydn himself! The Nelson Mass, as it is now sometimes called, was born. From misery to triumph.

It is easy to despair. Western civilisation is in dire straits: that is clear. In many respects the challenge is overwhelming given the role of technology, state power, increasing news selection and downright Orwellian disinformation conducted by those abusing their positions of trust.

The reach and ambition of the state to dominate the individual is quite extraordinary. The power to ensure conformity over the private sphere is vast. Every aspect of the tolerant, intelligent and coherent civilisation is under deliberate attack and from within. 

Morality is turned on its head, the nuclear family mocked, economics is from the era of the printing press and the elites act like God, believing themselves to be so omnipotent that they can control the mighty climate. But they have no clothes. They are largely incompetent, useless and wasteful at almost all they do.

So what should readers of this site do as we set out on another year? Should we wail in despondency or retreat like hermits to the Outer Hebrides?

No. We should concentrate on what is in our control and not what is not. This should be our rule book for the New Year. We should with vigour celebrate truth unapologetically and confidently with the like-minded, and mock the barbarians who are unpicking all that has made our civilisation a beacon in a largely dark and unenlightened world. 

Copy the playbook of the great Czech dissident and ultimately first free Prime Minister, Vaclav Havel. Create parallel universes, be with like-minded people, and build on that support where one can simply ignore the latest decree of command from the apparatus. Laugh at them, gently point out their absurdities. 

Only the most gullible believe their nonsense anyway, sullenly keeping their heads down trying to earn a crust. Their culture war may be total in reach but it is shallow – no one sensible believes any of their nonsense and it is enforced only through fear, not love nor belief. 

We have been a great civilisation, and frankly we deserve to die if we roll over so easily to this insane onslaught. The world is barbarous. Almost all that is good in it – theology, philosophy, medicine, science, art, music – was written by the minds of our wondrous civilisation. If that is lost, all is lost, and we face a new Dark Age. But it will not, God willing, be thus. It is our duty to ensure sanity prevails, and ultimately it will.

There is an awakening in this country and perhaps more strongly in other parts of Europe (I think France, Sweden, Netherlands and Italy as well as large sections of Eastern Europe) of citizens who reject the disastrous and illiberal direction in which we are heading.  

The dystopian ‘Build back Better’ and ‘Great Reset’ world of our leaders is doomed to fail. Our own should be full of hope; a celebration of family, community, loyalty, faith, beauty and truth; building on the gift of the great Western civilisation that we have given the world. It understands our fallibility and accepts that and eschews grandiose utopian theories that inevitably lead to despair.

Whether Haydn or Led Zeppelin is your thing, pump up the volume this year, ‘shout out’ and hold fast to the best of our heritage, values and culture. We have been here before; our civilisation periodically loses confidence, yet each time triumphs again, as it can and will do again.

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Ewen Stewart
Ewen Stewart
Ewen Stewart is a City economist who runs the consultancy Walbrook Economics. He is director of the think tank Global Britain and his work is widely published in economics and political journals.

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