Features Australia

Coercive conformity

3 December 2016

9:00 AM

3 December 2016

9:00 AM

Is there any joint lesson to be learned from so-called Brexit and the unlikely-seeming elevation of Donald Trump to the position of President-elect of the United States? To certain sections of contemporary society in the Western world those two events were not just unexpected but unthinkable.

Was this because members of our somewhat complacent, left-leaning inner-city elites, say, not only do not know but probably cannot even imagine people who are entirely different from themselves and from their particular circles of friends and associates?

Half a century ago, the moral and social tone of most Western countries generally took some of its cues at least from direct or ‘secularised’ Christianity. A fair measure of agreement thus basically still existed about what was morally right and wrong; yet within such a social context strong strains of individuality nevertheless felt free to flourish.

So why exactly has our Western world since become so rigidly conformist?

Half a century ago takes us back to 1966, which bisects two significant dates: the effective start-up of ‘political correctness’ at the University of California in 1964 and the so-called ‘student’ riots in Paris in 1968. Sentimentalists who look back on both events as ‘revolutionary’ do us a disservice, however, for in no time at all the counterculture’s demand for total freedom metamorphosed into an ambition for total political control. Observe how rapidly politically correct edicts about what we could or could not say turned also into dictates about what we could or could not even think.

Unfortunately for them, however, while any would-be thought police can overhear what we say they still cannot necessarily know what it is we really think. That, indeed, is probably the single factor which best explains both Brexit and the more recent phenomenon of Donald Trump. In short, the privacy of the voting booth allowed voters to express what they truly felt at last about the more evident shortcomings of the European Union and of Hillary Clinton without being subjected to the criticism or condescending sneers of their more conformist fellows.

Please understand this is not necessarily an endorsement of Trump. What I personally strongly hope, however, is that his election may somehow prove a catalyst for an overdue break-up of the coercive, increasingly anti-Christian conformity of thought which has afflicted the Western world now for half a century.

When the collapse of communism took place, genuine hope existed briefly not just for the peoples of Poland and other previously oppressed Eastern European states, but also that Western democracies might at last throw off the shackles imposed on us by a neo-Marxist, politically correct New Left. How disappointed Pope John Paul II would have been to see the freedoms for which he fought with such courage dissipated in the gutless moral and cultural quagmire which the West has unfortunately become. What might the late Pope have thought, just for example, of Australia’s widely-enforced Safe Schools program? Or on being informed, to his amazed disbelief, that the whole business of ‘gender’ is, in fact, merely a ‘social construct’? Will we ever see an end to the politically inspired nonsense which is increasingly inflicted on us all? By seizing control of our universities for so-called cultural and humanitarian – but basically political – purposes, the New Left has effectively placed its foot on the throat of our culture.

Half a century ago, the moral codes of most Western countries still showed ample evidence of Christian input.

However, the true aim of what we know now as the ‘culture wars’ was nothing less than the invention and establishment by one side of a novel, entirely man-made moral code which was intended to supplant those notions of virtue and vice which had stood the tests of time with remarkable success. In the ever relevant words of English philosopher Roger Scruton: ‘The final result of the culture wars has been an enforced political correctness, by which the blasted landscape of art, history and literature is policed for residual signs of racist, sexist, imperialist or colonialist ways of thinking’. Tragically, our post-modern landscape has become an effective wasteland in which future generations will trudge looking for relics of a lost and better world.

What, for instance, were those funny-looking buildings with pointy spires? Might they once have been churches or cathedrals?

I was unfortunate enough to be in Russia when Moscow’s largest and most famous cathedral was still designated as ‘a centre for atheist studies’. Is that what our would-be cultural commissars have in mind for us in Australia, too?

What a pleasure it would have been for me when I first came to Australia 21 years ago to organise tours of former communist heartlands for parties of left-leaning academics from Australia’s universities. Might Utopia Tours have been an appropriate name for my project? Indeed, might I perhaps now share with such folk just one of the typical experiences which they regrettably missed?

In September 1989, I was in Tbilisi in Georgia attending a conference of AICA – the International Association of Art Critics. In fact, 18 protesters had been shot by Soviet troops only 6 months earlier in that beautiful city. By September, however, the break-up of Europe’s former communist empire was rather more advanced.

The 23rd Congress of AICA got under way appropriately with a paper read by a young Russian art critic: Alexander Yakimovich.

Some of the ‘old guard’ present expressed incredulity that he had been allowed to speak at all. It was easy to see why. His passionate thesis was that art in the Soviet Union remained in a ‘post-catastrophic’ stage, implying a post-traumatic psychology. The trauma related to a period when ‘no man, no artist, no thinker, no scientist in the Soviet Union could feel safe… high intellect, artistic talent, positive social activity or true moral standards were mortally dangerous for their bearers… the catastrophic aspects of Soviet totalitarianism exceeded known historical calamities by the very aspect which differentiates Dante’s Hell from Purgatory: no hope is left’.

The story I have told about Tbilisi was part of a background of professional travels I made before coming to Australia. It provides one of the many reasons why I utterly abhor the growing influence of neo-Marxism here in our culture.

The post Coercive conformity appeared first on The Spectator.

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