THE delusion of perpetual progress began with the 17th century Enlightenment – that era which has led to so much darkness. The big cultural shift which took place at that time was occasioned by a revised definition of human nature.
The Enlightenment was the beginning of the secularisation of Europe. John Locke was the prophet of ‘natural rights, particularly the rights to life, liberty and the ownership of property’. This notion is so absurd that even the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham described it as utter nonsense, nonsense on stilts. If human rights are natural, the lions and tigers, the wolves and the bears must be told about this!
It is obvious – or it should be – that a right can exist only if there is an institution which provides it and has the power to enforce it.
It is also obvious – or it should be – that if I, for instance, am deemed to have a right, then someone else has a responsibility to provide it.
Thus, if I am to be free, someone else must have his freedom curtailed and limited in some way.
To understand more clearly the origin of the doctrine of natural rights, we must return to that cultural shift, that dissociation of sensibility, which took place at the Enlightenment.
Before the Enlightenment, it was believed that human beings acted – individually and morally, communally and politically – out of interests.
To say one acted out of interests does not imply a selfish, greedy free-for-all. To believe that leads inevitably to a contradiction: for it is usually in my interest to compromise, and to refuse to compromise results in conflict in which the victor carries all and the loser is left with nothing.
A morality and politics based on interests goes with the grain of human nature. But natural rights is an abstract principle and therefore unnatural!
The philosophy of natural rights became supercharged in the French Revolution of 1789, which was grounded under the tutelage of incompetent philosophers including Rousseau and Locke, and flashy self-publicists such as Voltaire. Its slogans were Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité and that fictional notion of natural rights.
Tell that to the crows and the baby blue tits.
When it began, the Revolution was welcomed enthusiastically by the intellectuals. Wordsworth exclaimed: ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, and to be young was very heaven.’
Wordsworth changed his mind once the Reign of Terror had got going by 1793. This state-sponsored terrorism, perpetrated on its own people, effectually said: ‘Accept our new dogmas about liberty, equality and brotherly love, or we’ll kill you!’
They did, too. It wasn’t just a few noble heads which rolled in Paris: Madame Guillotine went on the Tour de France and altogether 40,000 people were summarily executed. These are accurate figures, for the one and only thing that bureaucrats of all times and places can do superbly is to keep records.
There are always unforeseen consequences, as the Revolution provided a doubtful bonus by enabling the rise of the tyrant Napoleon. Europe was convulsed by the results of all this sweetness and light, and the jumped-up Corsican’s hash was not settled until the Duke of Wellington came calling in 1815.
What the revolutionaries knew very well was that their only chance of success was by abolishing Christianity. For Christianity was based on the true doctrine of human nature and declared that human beings are flawed creatures whose motives are not always good and, even when they are good, they are difficult to achieve because we lack the stamina and persistence to carry them through.
That – and not some primitive fable – is the whole meaning of Original Sin.
The revolutionaries rejected that wholesome doctrine in their motto écrasez l’infâme! – crush that loathsome thing!
That thing was Christianity, regarded by the revolutionaries as a disease for which secularisation was the cure.
Secularisation and its bedfellow progress were quickened in the 19th century when Darwin’s notion that human beings had developed physically was extended to include their development morally.
This was the secularists’ antidote to Christianity. That is why it is a little surprising to hear successive Archbishops of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Justin Welby declare: ‘The Church has a lot of catching up to do with secular morality.’
Thus our Archbishops have signed the death warrant of the Church of England.
You may be asking where all this leads. It leads to the insane evils of Wokery by which a man can identify as a woman to get himself banged up in a women’s prison where he can rape the inmates.
Then, when some object to this atrocity, the nice Progressive and Enlightened people will turn up to break their windows and have them sacked.
We are to understand that such kindly acts are performed according to the abstract principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.