The following is a guest post by the Rev Dr Peter Mullen, Hon. Chaplain of The Freedom Association
I enjoyed an interesting exchange with my old friend Alexander Boot following my recent article about totalitarianism – or rather what I saw as the lack of it – on these pages. Incidentally, and if you don’t already know about it, Alex writes a consistently readable, informative and frequently amusing blog. You can find it on Alexanderbootblog.
When it comes to totalitarian dictatorships, Alex knows what he’s talking about because he was born and raised in Russia under the Soviets. Much as I enjoyed our exchange, I think we were at cross- purposes. The point of my article was about the restrictions owing to the Covid epidemic. I admitted, and indeed bemoaned, the tediousness of these arrangements, but I said they don’t amount to totalitarianism. Alex – I think the word I’m looking for is upbraided – me for this and he seemed to be insisting that we do live under a sort of totalitarianism which is, at the very least incipient.
This is what I see as the cross-purposes bit. For I agree with Alex that we are living in a totalitarian society – only it has nothing to do with the Covid emergency. Rather, it is the moral and societal straitjacket imposed by our woke culture. While woke is only a useful bit of slang: it would be more accurate to describe our present state as ideological hegemony – a set of secular dogmas which circumscribe every aspect of our lives. Let me give just a few examples…
Our libraries and national institutions are removing the statues of those they newly disapprove and – if not quite, or not yet – burning our history books, they are rewriting them. There is a similarly slavish obedience to the perverted opinions about race relations preached by the looters and arsonists in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The fatuous Archbishop of Canterbury has publicly taken the knee to show his solidarity with these thugs – as have footballers, cricketers and those employed in what are misleadingly called the arts – but which are mainly showbiz and pop music.
Christian teachers who refuse to teach the perverted LGBT+ agenda lose their jobs. J.K. Rowling’s once avid fans have ditched her and her Harry Potter books because that sane woman has said she doesn’t believe men can have babies. Our homegrown totalitarianism – though it infects the whole of the western world – has its slogans and shibboleths such as Equality and Diversity. And, like all religions, it has its all-enclosing mythology: in this case the pagan superstition of global warming. The previous and equally fatuous Archbishop Rowan Williams recenly marched through central London – in his anti-Covid mask – to express his allegiance to the militants in Extinction Rebellion who hold up the traffic, deface public buildings and, when they can, prevent the publication of newspapers – thus denying to others the freedom of speech which they themselves so conspicuously enjoy.
I could give many more examples, but you’ll be wanting your lunch. So, Alex, if this is what you mean when you speak of our totalitarian regime, I heartily agree.
The pressing problem is how do we wake up from woke? How do we do the equivalent of tearing down our own Berlin Wall? This is difficult, if not impossible: precisely, for that is what totalitarianism means. It is a prison, only with invisible walls. Still, I can see a chink – am I allowed to say chink? - of light. Because totalitarianism is not something new. It occurs time after time and then again.
The woke police have not yet arrived to remove my books and burn them, so I can read about a notable and fairly recent example which was the French Revolution of 1789. Our version is proceeding in a startlingly similar style. The Revolution in France began under the tutelage of incompetent philosophers such as Rousseau and Locke and smarmy self-publicists like Voltaire. Its slogans were Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite and the fictional notion of natural rights. Tell it to the crows and the baby bluetits. And, humanly speaking, as if what is called a right does not involve someone else in a responsibility: so one man’s freedom becomes another’s yoke
Needless to say, those 18th century Romantics and wishful thinkers all over Europe loved it – just as those dumbcluck Archbishops love it today. Willie Wordsworth wandered lonely as a clot by the side of Derwent Water singing, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, and to be young was very heaven!”
Wandering Willie soon changed his mind once the Reign of Terror had got going by 1793. This state-sponsored terrorism, perpetrated on its own people, effectually said, “Accept our new dogmas about equality and brotherly love, or we’ll kill you!” They did too. And it wasn’t just a few noble heads which rolled in Paris: Madame Guillotine went on the Tour de France and altogether 40,000 people were summarily executed. And these are accurate figures, for one thing that bureaucrats of all times and places can do superbly is keep records. Then the Revolution provided a bonus by its enabling the rise of the tyrant Napoleon. Europe was convulsed by the results of all this sweetness and light, and the jumped-up Corsican’s hash was not settled until the Duke of Wellington came calling in 1815
Now you might not think it, but there is good news in all this. For what it teaches us is that nothing fantastical can endure. And you don’t have to be a crazed Hegelian to understand that reality will eventually insist on breaking in. The sleeper must after all wake from his dreams – or, in this case, his nightmares.
But why? Why is it that, as Samuel Johnson said, “Nothing novel can last”? That bit is easy to understand. In this case, because the dogmas of the Revolution were based on a misunderstanding of human nature. We are not born in an innocence which leads to our relentless progress: and we are not, as The Beatles sang, “Getting better all the time.”
Instead, the dogma that sustained European civilization for 1900 years was based on the knowledge that human beings are flawed creatures. For the individual, this means he must repent. For society it means we must learn to shape our lives out of disagreements and learn to make compromises. Nothing that is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of our basic human nature can last. The same goes for our incipient woke totalitarianism: it might take some time, but it will come tumbling down, under the weight of its internal contradictions.
I’ll buy you a drink on that, Alex – if we’re ever allowed out of lockdown
All views expressed in contributions by named authors are their own and may not reflect the views of The Freedom Association.