Flat White

Richer, safer, healthier, vacuous, lost and depraved

26 August 2016

3:20 PM

26 August 2016

3:20 PM

Sixteen years or so too late, but I’m presently inhaling Peter Hitchens’s The Abolition of Britain. Though a diehard Hitchensonian – I played a small role in helping old mate Rachel Bailes publish her interview with Morality Man in the Aussie Speccie – I avoided the book mainly because of the title. Too provincial, I thought. Probably full of limey nonsense about the Education of Sheffield’s Wayward Porpoises Act of 1625 and suchwhat.  

Partially I was right. Mostly I was dead wrong. The Abolition of Britain is almost as applicable to Australia, the United States, and Canada as it is to Britain. It’s a virtual manifesto of Anglosphere High Toryism. Glazed with Hitchens’s cool pessimism, it mercilessly batters the idols of modernity, from Princess Diana to public education. I find myself wondering if it would even be possible to write such a book today. The whole thing is jarringly reactionary, as though we might reverse our tolerance for single-parent families or abolish the television. 

Which isn’t to say he’s not absolutely correct about everything. On the contrary, the book’s unabashed hopelessness is part of what makes it so convincing. Hitchens insists you agree that modernism is wicked; he doesn’t expect you to do anything about it, though, because he doesn’t believe there’s much to be done. 

I managed to pry myself away from the book long enough to catch up on the latest goss with our London aunt, and found a real gem: Why can’t we see we’re living in a golden age? by Johan Norberg. You don’t really need to read the whole thing. This excerpt sums it up nicely:  “If you think that there has never been a better time to be alive — that humanity has never been safer, healthier, more prosperous or less unequal — then you’re in the minority. But that is what the evidence incontrovertibly shows. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. The risk of being caught up in a war, subjected to a dictatorship or of dying in a natural disaster is smaller than ever. The golden age is now.”

Of course, to an extent, he’s right. But that he considers this a Golden Age only confirms the prescience of Aldous Huxley, whom Hitchens discusses briefly but with devastating effect. He quotes Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, wherein Postman contrasts Huxley’s dystopia with Orwell’s:  “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared that we would become a trivial culture.” 

Britain – and Australia, the US, and Canada are now living in this brave, new world, and Mr Norberg is its enthusiastic propagandist. Never have human beings been so safe, so healthy, so prosperous, so vacuous, so empty, so lost, so depraved. 

Norberg is a fellow at the Cato Institute, one of the US’s premier libertarian think tanks. (No small feat, by the by: the 2014 census found that, for every one person living in the United States, there are 6 libertarian think tanks.) His worshipful exhortation of global capitalism is precisely the reason why I consider libertarianism a greater danger than Marxism. The latter is debunked, and so its adherents are self-evidently absurd. Libertarians, on the other hand, are generally correct in their observations about capitalism. But their great sin is the same as Marxism’s: their unflinchingly materialist worldview. 

What libertarians simply don’t understand is that man’s material nature is, at best, secondary. He’s primarily a spiritual being, with needs that can’t be met by condominiums and cheeseburgers. He has a restless, primeval desire for culture, religion, and society – namely, his own. He subsists on food and drink, but he lives on the books, music, art and ritual of his people. He dwells in a house, but his home is his nation, and his town, and his neighborhood. Savages hide their nakedness with loincloths, but the civilized man clothes himself in his national costume, whether that’s the English necktie or the Persian burqa. 

The fashionable non-conformists of Sydney and Melbourne, clad in scarves and knit hats throughout the brutal Aussie summers, ingest inane listicles from Buzzfeed on their MacBooks while sipping lattes at Starbucks and think themselves to be living in something of a Golden Age. In fact, they live in an isolation chamber of inconsequential information and meaningless stimuli. 

Meanwhile, there are desperately poor and virtually illiterate potato farmers in Country Sligo who hail passersby with a doff of their hand-me-down tweed caps, recite a few lines of Yeats from memory, and send them away with a blessing. Their language, faith, clothing, environment, and kinship flow together seamlessly, making them something much greater and more purposeful than mere individuals, mere consumers and receptors.  

I don’t wish material poverty on the farmer from Sligo, though I do envy his tremendous spiritual wealth. Whether we can abolish the one without foreswearing the other remains to be seen, but if history (or Hitchens) is to be believed, it doesn’t bode well. 

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