The current political class is dominated by the ethics of vanity identified by Jesse Norman MP in his book on Edmund Burke MP as liberal individualism. This liberal individualism permeates the thinking of the metropolitan class that has the time and money to govern the rest of us. It is the nadir of a gradual decline in Western thinking that puts the material before the spiritual, the modern and novel before tradition, the atomised individual before society and science before religion.
On the Left we see this reductionist outlook represented in its disparaging of institutions that make up the fabric of our society, sneering at valuable institutions from monarchy to marriage. If we are all individuals the Left says we should not be oppressed by conjugal vows or subject to a Queen.
Meanwhile the Right has forgotten its duty to conserve our institutions and has turned a legitimate institution, the market, into an idol. It regards market economics rather than values and norms of behaviour as explaining human actions. Patriotism and faith are replaced by rational choice theory.
Things really seemed to go wrong after the wonderful scientific discoveries of men of faith such as Isaac Newton. This great deepening of our understanding of the material world, which began as a wonder at Creation was turned into idolatry of science, where science was claimed as the explanation of all things and our institutions and traditions were only seen as valuable if they could be justified by scientific tests.
Not only was this so-called Enlightenment anti-religious it was also in a sense anti- human. The one man who did most to pervert our new scientific understanding was that serpent in the garden of philosophy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. At university the blogger undertook a whole module on this leading thinker of the Enlightenment and discovered a misanthrope. He seemed to regard human interaction as leading to a destructive amour propre. For him the human institutions that bind generations together with their accumulated wisdom were forces of oppression. He therefore detested the society Man had built up in the light of religious faith.
The French revolution with its belief that Rationalism independent of tradition could explain everything followed, with Rousseau as its hero. Since then this rationalist and materialistic outlook has continued to attack tradition and faith. It has chipped away at our social bonds, questioned the norms of behaviour that make living together possible and indeed life enhancing.
Much is attributed to the Enlightenment from individual freedom to parliamentary democracy. England gives the lie to this. Much of what people give the Enlightenment credit for was already underway in these Islands before Rousseau and the others put pen to paper. Religious pluralism came about following the new settlement of the Glorious Revolution (one hundred years before France committed regicide), but this was only implementing ideas that were gradually developing following the Restoration in 1660. Charles II’s reign might have seen reversals in the journey towards religious pluralism, but a compromise was being worked out. It was finally achieved with the accession of William III, but not by reverting to the narrow Puritanism of Cromwell and the Regicides.
A middle of the road solution was reached without reference to abstract theory. In good Anglo-Saxon fashion a compromise was cobbled together that allowed people to worship God true to their own interpretation of the Bible, Parliament was given freedom from Royal Prerogative and the Whigs therefore got what they wanted. It was a compromise that worked however because it realised men live by tradition and affections not rationalist theory. So the settlement preserved the monarchy and indeed the pageantry of monarchy. It preserved the House of Lords and it continued with the Church of England as an established church – so the Tory affection for tradition was acknowledged too. It recognised that while we must be free we are also social creatures who need institutions and traditions.
Over the Channel, when abstract principles were followed rather than the lessons from history, the Terror and the guillotine resulted. That is not to say that only the French make such a mistake. While atheism and materialism took power by force in 1789, in the United Kingdom its growing strength has been more insidious and by stealth. “Clever” people no longer respect our traditions. They act as though our institutions survive by some strange accident, some oversight when we were embarked on dismantling the structure of oppression while on the road to liberty. What they do not realise is that true liberty depends on these institutions rather than the false freedom of liberal individualism which is to be lonely and weighed down by the material world.
So people are right when they look back nostalgically to better times, because as these abstract, rationalist ideas have gradually permeated our nation more and more we are constantly losing what is life enriching.
As we approach Christmas however the whole country returns home, casting off abstract rationalism. Family, tradition and the Christ Child are seen again for how central they really are to our lives. It is a return to the Merry England of carolling and wassailing, Christmas pudding (banned by the Puritans), Father Christmas, hunting (banned by New Labour), hawking and feasting.
So our resistance to the liberal individualists with their economic theories and their scientific explanations of religion begins when we wish each other “Merry Christmas”. Certainly if we start to wish each other “happy holidays” instead, we have given up the fight.