Few would contest that public debate in Britain has become more barbarous. It has become barbarous in a very specific sense: that a desire to do something is very often presented as the sole possible criterion for action.
This is the refuge of the savage. Civilisation is based almost entirely on people acting with other things in view than their immediate desires.
At a fundamental level, the rule of law depends on our willingness to bind ourselves to conditions we may not wish to follow. Our political and economic systems are both based on the idea that men will be true to their word and uphold it, whatever the cost to them. The happiness and prosperity of so many families depends upon the security of spouses in their wedding vows.
The most visible manifestation of this instinct is in manners, the public code of behaviour observed for the benefit of others. You seldom now see small gestures of civility between people: covering the mouth when sneezing on a train, smiling at a child, behaving with deference to the old.
This is a tragedy. We are less united as a people that at any time in recent memory, not just a result of Brexit but also identity politics. It is a splintering that has caused us to step back from civilisation and return to baser instincts in our dealings with others.
As an example, Thursday’s Telegraph carried an interview with Avivah Wittenberg-Cox who is the CEO of 20-first, ‘a gender balance consultancy’.
Ms Wittenberg-Cox has a message for older Telegraph readers: if your marriage is only ‘good enough’, perhaps you should get divorced. She tells the paper:
‘If your husband of many decades, with whom you have lived, loved and raised kids, is not interested to work on your relationship . . . you should change your partner. I don’t think that’s necessarily catastrophic. As we live longer – to 80, 90, 100 – we will see more transitions through love as we do with work.’
Excuse me for quoting at length. She continues:
‘Remember, this is the first mass generation of highly educated Baby Boomer women who have earned money all their lives. A different breed of women and not necessarily what educated Boomer men expected, or want to work with.
‘The men may think they are doing what they are supposed to be doing – not fooling around, earning money – and they think that is enough.
[Does she have sympathy with a man who finds himself being dumped from this type of marriage?] ‘Are we going to let men off the hook? None of us are responsible for the happiness of any other person. We don’t have to fix other humans.’
Me. Me. Me. Me.
The deeper moral issue is completely disregarded. It is this: you have at the time of your wedding gathered every authority in your life – civic, religious, personal – and solemnly pledged to remain married for the rest of your life.
It is the single most important promise you will ever make. Nothing approaches it in terms of personal significance or impact upon others. To walk away is an abandonment of duty and a personal failure of integrity.
We seem to have lost sight of this. The Times, Suella Fernandes MP and many high-net-worth law firms are currently engaged in a campaign for no-fault divorce, effectively allowing a person to resign from a marriage whenever they feel like it. This is a serious attack on the institution of marriage and would cause deep misery to many families. It should be opposed at every step.
Henry Bolton OBE faces a UKIP vote of no confidence today. The grievance against him seems largely to be that his girlfriend posted a number of foolish and nasty comments on social media about minorities.
But what ought to disqualify him, and any other politician acting in such a way, from public office came earlier. It lay in abandoning his wife and two very young children because he felt he could do better elsewhere.
He felt like it. And his word means nothing as a result.