Derbyshire Doubly Mistaken

Monday, April 02, 2007

Via Glenn Reynolds, I learned of a moving post by John Derbyshire of the New English Review that contemplates what has gone wrong with the British. I myself have blogged numerous times before about the decline of British society due to multiculturalism and recent events have borne this out: consider the abandonment of standards in medical education, the teaching of their history (HT Isaac Schrodinger), and, as many will agree with Derbyshire, now military valor. Ayaan Hirsi Ali put the situation best when she described Britain as, "sleepwalking into a society that could be ruled by Sharia law within decades...."

Derbyshire's post, as I said going in is moving. But it is also dead wrong about two crucial aspects of Britain's crisis of civilizational confidence that must be understood properly if that great nation is to regain its (wakeful) footing.

First of all, he compares the British captives of Iran to the legendary John Moyse and finds them wanting because they are, unlike Moyse, obeying orders under threat of physical harm while in captivity. The account of Moyse that Derbyshire quotes from Michael Turner bears repeating.

To this fine tribute to English scorn for lesser breeds, the poet appended this extract from The Times of 1860: "Some Sikhs and a private of the Buffs (the East Kent Regiment), having remained behind with the grog-carts, fell into the hands of the Chinese. On the next morning they were brought before the authorities and commanded to perform the kotow. The Sikhs obeyed; but Moyse, the English soldier, declaring that he would not prostrate himself before any Chinaman alive, was immediately knocked on the head, and his body thrown on a dunghill."
Although I am hardly an accomplished student of British history, I feel obligated to add the following from the Wikipedia entry on Moyse that Derbyshire links only in passing:
[Moyse's] stubborness is not surprising because he had a history of insubordination and willfulness while in the service. Not long before his death he had been demoted from the exalted rank of Colour Sergeant as punishment for talking back to a superior.
I bring this up for a very simple reason: What purpose would a refusal to obey an order issued under threat serve? By accident of history, Moyse's deed was eventually related to the British, who immortalized it in a poem, but I somehow doubt that the bull-headed Moyse had thought so many moves ahead. At best, one could reasonably act like Moyse if he somehow knew that his act of defiance might become known and later inspire his side to victory. And it would be that soldier's personal decision what to do, because it would be that soldier's life.

Under all but the most extraordinary circumstances, the proper behavior for a prisoner of war is to do just what the British sailors are doing right now. The debased soul that thrives on forced obedience will fail to be moved by defiance and civilized men will know anyway that any such "submission" is not sincere. If anything, the behavior of the British sailors is merely further evidence that their Iranian captors are savages.

Having said that, Derbyshire both hits and misses with his overall analysis: That Britain is showing a lack of civilizational confidence and that this is due to multiculturalism. He hits with this 1941George Orwell quote -- at least for the first few lines:
What has kept England on its feet during the past year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down.... [bold added]
But in the remainder of the George Orwell quote, Derbyshire misses when he uncritically accepts the sources to which Orwell attributes this sense of superiority, "racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war".

The first of these notions can be shown to be wrong through a casual recollection that the British at their height prized classical learning. If we regard the English and the Germans as separate "races", then why be proud of being a member of a "race" that takes lessons from the Roman and Greek "races"? (The pride one should have in being a part of a Greco-Roman-influenced civilization is justified not on racial grounds, but because these civilizations were great.) And if the English are not a separate race, well ... logic tells us there is no "racial pride".

"Leader-worship"? Derbyshire himself scoffs at it and dismisses it out of hand later on. "Religious belief" was probably important, but as for Derbyshire's advocacy of it today, I must indicate that "religious belief", is the defining characteristic of our current enemy! I will discuss this some more later on.

"Love of war" I can agree with, but I must qualify my agreement by describing exactly what I mean by it. Since to love something is to know what it is and value it, I shall quickly define war and recall its purpose. War is "a conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations or between parties within a nation". And as for its purpose, I will start with something very profound that Ayn Rand once said about it.
Wars are the second greatest evil that human societies can perpetrate. (The first is dictatorship, the enslavement of [a society's] own citizens, which is the cause of wars.) [from "The Wreckage of the Consensus" in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal]
War is clearly not a desirable state of affairs -- unless it is waged in the name of protecting one's freedom. Only in this very narrow sense can "love of war" be regarded as a virtue. And clearly, it had to exist in this sense when the English were fighting for their freedom and their lives against Hitler!

But if you think Derbyshire blew it big time, he rather ironically succeeds in blowing it even worse -- and in hinting at the right answer -- all at once when he attempts to describe the "genius of the English-speaking peoples":
The great genius of the English-speaking peoples was in holding the two sets of ideas in their minds at the same time: both "racial pride, leader-worship (well, to be fair to the Anglosphere, we never really went for that one), religious belief, love of war," and "the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience ... the equality of all human persons." This was quite a trick, as the two sets of principles actually contradict each other. It was Orwell himself who gave us the word "doublethink." [bold added]
No! No! No! Aside from being three-quarters wrong about Orwell's "big four" (and "love of war" in its proper sense does not contradict "the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience ... the equality of all human persons."), Derbyshire is making the very mistake that the leftists have capitalized on for decades. He is failing to discriminate between the good and the bad of British civilization. But in doing so, he drops the hint we need: Stop making that mistake.

For all its virtues, Britain has also had its share of vices. As with most Europeans, the British have been guilty of racism in the past and this racism has been mixed in with justifiable pride in their civilization. Religious intolerance has existed in Britain and religions in Britain (or the Judeo-Christian sects anyway) have since renounced all claims to governing men. And Britain has fought not just wars of defense, but wars of conquest that did not further the cause of freedom.

The British, as Derbyshire points out, did in some ways "doublethink", but this was not their genius, but the ultimate source of their undoing at the hands of the multiculturalists. The multiculturalists preach that no civilization is better than any other and are especially fond of pointing out the flaws in Western civilization, past and present, while excusing those of all others. Yes. The British were once racists. (The left holds that they still are.) The British used to hold slaves, too. But guess which people just celebrated 200 years of having been the first to abolish the slave trade?

This feat was not done while pretending that "racial pride" and "equality of all [men]" were equally valid, albeit contradictory, truths. It was done by scrapping the first in favor of the second. The absence of slavery within the British civilization makes it superior in that respect to all others that still have slavery (as so many Moslem nations do). But the multiculturalists do not want the British to understand that. Instead, they hold a quasi-religious belief that Britons alive today, who have never owned slaves, owe reparations to the free descendants of the slaves.

The multiculturalists are working to keep the British ignorant about something that they themselves moved toward through all but their most recent history, and yet never explicitly grasped: that what makes a civilization great is its recognition that all individual men have inalienable rights that deserve protection. Just at the point in history when the British were finally about to abandon the last of the primitive parts of their civilization, the multiculturalists did everything they could to muddle these very issues, to make the British feel unearned guilt, and make them doubt themselves worthy of a continued existence.

The people who learned from the great civilizations of antiquity -- and so brought us the Scottish Enlightenment, the end of slavery, and the Industrial Revolution -- should be jealously protecting their civilization rather than bowing before all comers.

The British do not need those stocks-in-trade of our Islamofascist enemies, "racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief"; nor do they need to embrace the contradictions they rightly abandoned long ago. Rather, they need to recognize "the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience ... the equality of all human persons" for the virtues that they are, how precarious and precious they are, and how desperately in need of defending they are -- for their lives depend upon them.

British civilization is not, as the multiculturalists argue, categorically evil because it is not perfect. And it is not, as Derbyshire would hold, deserving of uncritical loyalty despite its past flaws. It deserves loyalty for its largely unappreciated, life-giving virtues and its capacity to continue to improve.

-- CAV

PS: It may seem self-contradictory that I both urge the British to stand up for themselves and yet hold that the British captives are responding properly. But remember that the British soldiers are in no position to do anything constructive while their government, which is, is negotiating with the captors. Anything but military force or credible threats against Iran is, at this point, completely unacceptable.


April 3, 2007
: (1) Added note on context of Orwell quote. (2) Minor edits. (3) Added PS.


Andrew Dalton said...

The old, socialist Left claimed to be on the side of reason--and the conservatives' response was to take that unjustified claim at face value, and to declare themselves against reason. Now, we have the spectacle of an openly irrationalist, savage-worshiping Left, and the conservatives still attribute reason to the leftists. I'm starting to think that conservatives simply hate reason outright, and they will resort to any smear regardless of how farfetched it is.

Gus Van Horn said...

I think you're right.

And in that respect, the left is the best thing ever to happen to religion. There is really no way to make religion look good without making a mockery of reason.