11 October 2014

The War on Modernity

(This post was begun in August, but then put to one side as my attention turned to other things. I complete it out of an obligation to ride my favourite hobby-horse, as I feel it seems rather dated now.)

Peter Hitchens is not alone in regarding the First World War as a conflict that altered the course of civilisation for the worse. That article of his is as good a summary of the argument against the war — the tremendous human cost did not serve the material purpose of most of those who lost family, or came home mutilated either physically or mentally. Hitchens does see one winner from the war:

Those on the Left should defend it and rejoice over it. It was the fulfillment of their dreams. No single event has done more to advance the power of the state and of state socialism.
At least one historian, Arno Mayer, has argued that the First World War was rooted in an attempt to solve a crisis of domestic politics rather than a crisis of foreign affairs. While an earlier post of mine may seem to agree with this thesis on first sight, in fact it argues that Britain's party-political situation made her intervention in the general European war inevitable. The Liberal government did not go to war to avoid a civil war over Ireland or industrial unrest. It went to war out of fear of losing power to a coalition of pro-war politicians. (The latter may have been acting in line with the Mayer thesis, but I haven't done the research to say.) However, a close reading of Hitchens' article suggests that he, at least, is motivated by a Mayer-like idea, although one operating with the benefit of hindsight.

Hitchens' article laments a world lost.

Many of [the war's] worst consequences came during official periods of peace and are unknown or forgotten, or remain unconnected with it in the public mind. The loss cannot be measured in cash because it was paid in the more elusive coin of faith, morals, trust, hope, and civility. The war is the reason why Europe is no longer a Christian continent, because too many churches supported it. Pointing to the poverty and scientific backwardness of the pre-1914 world is a false comparison. Who is to say that we could not have grown just as rich as we are now, and made just as many technological and medical advances, had we not slain the flower of Europe’s young men before they could win Nobel Prizes, or even beget and raise children?
It appears that, at least in Germany, there was a view that the war would slow or halt the pace of some changes:
Some politicians and writers viewed war as a cure-all for what they perceived to be the evils of an age of bourgeois materialism...
(quoted from Decisions for War, 1914-1917, p. 74)

Hitchens cites a quote from Aldous Huxley to the effect that the war removed conservatives and replaced them with nationalistic radicals. We certainly seem to conceal from ourselves the fact that Nazis and Fascists were, in their own time, seen as 'modernisers', a mood captured in the song 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me' from the musical Cabaret. Nationalist radicals, whether right or left, celebrated youth. They were essentially Modern. For the Mayer thesis, the war represents an attempt to manage the rushing flow of Modernity, re-channelling it so that it will support the traditional power structure. While Mayer sees the war in the context of a Marxist opposition between a capitalist bourgeoisie and the revolutionary proletariat, there is evidence that suggests that in Germany a war was seen as an attack on what might be called Anglo-Saxon attitudes, the bourgeois materialism essential to the capitalist system:

some politicians and writers viewed war as a cure-all for what they perceived to be the evils of an age of bourgeois materialism—lethargy, emasculation and moral rot.
[p 74, Hamilton and Herwig, Decisions for War] The great A.J.P. Taylor similarly saw cultural and political trends such as Futurism and Syndicalism presaging a mood of violence, but it might be better to think of them in terms of a cultural accommodation of the unsettling effects of technology and its byproduct Modernity. (See the quote by Taylor cited on page 40 of David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer.

Ironically, the war had the real impact of overthrowing the most traditional of European regimes, in Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. For Britons, it did have the effect of expanding the role of the state far beyond what had previously been thought acceptable. The problem with the idea of a 'War on Modernity', though, is that it does not seem to operate in all the European countries, at least not noticeably. Decisions for War makes it clear that while it might be a factor in Germany, in the other major countries different assumptions were at work in guiding national leaders from the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the war. That Germany declared war on Modernity is an arguable proposition. For everyone else, the issue is best seen in terms of supporting or resisting German power. Subsequent conceptions of a 'war on modernity' simply turn history into a plaything of the political debate. Like 'The Sixties', the First World War becomes symptomatic of whatever ills one wishes to castigate in the politics of the day. History deserves better than that.

17 September 2014

Scots Should Vote 'No' and Remain Independent!

Tomorrow's referendum in Scotland on whether to vote to end... well, what exactly? This is a problem that has been nagging me these past few weeks — what is it that the Scots are being asked to vote for? Because as soon as one thinks about the process by which the United Kingdom came to be, it raises a qualm about voting 'Yes' to the question 'Should Scotland be an independent country?'. A 'Yes' undermines the foundation of a Scottish state's constitutional order. A Yes' potentially creates something that has never existed before.

Scotland in 1602 was an independent kingdom. The Scottish people, via the Church of Scotland, had imposed restrictions on what their monarch could do. The future James VI had been baptised in the Catholic faith, but when the Protestant nobility in Scotland forced his mother (Mary, the queen of Scots who was executed by England's Queen Elizabeth in 1587) to abdicate, James was raised in the Church of Scotland, and came under the influence of his preceptor, George Buchanan, who certainly believed in trammelling the power of the Scottish monarch.

All this changed in 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, on the death of Queen Elizabeth. James traced his ancestry back to Henry VII of England, who was Elizabeth's grandfather. This is known as the Union of the Crowns. Scotland theoretically remained an independent monarchy, with a parliament and justice system distinct from the English one. However, what it did not have was an independent foreign policy. Ambassadors addressed the same person, whether they went to London or to Edinburgh. A 'British' foreign policy emerged straightaway, with the ending of the Anglo-Spanish War that had been going on for some twenty years, and which previously the Scots had stood apart from. He also secured the end of the Nine Years' War in Ireland which, however, had petered out without his direct involvement. He simply swept up the pieces. Given the nature of seventeenth-century monarchies (and even earlier ones) it could not be any other way. (Although, interestingly, colonisation in the Americas remained two distinct projects.) The monarch pursued the best advantage for all the realms under his or her rule. And this is at the root of the basic problem with a 'union of crowns'. Those Crowns can eventually fall onto separate heads, as would happen when Queen Victoria ascended the British throne, but that of Hanover was occupied by a man. The Hanoverians followed Salic Law, which did not permit a woman to be monarch.

And it was this that lay at the root of the next development. James had been quite keen to see the merger of England and Scotland, but some English and many Scots preferred otherwise. The two parliaments, the two churches and the two legal systems continued to go along their separate ways, which contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, itself preceded by the Bishops' Wars, in which the King of Scotland, James VI's son Charles I, used his English realm to try and enforce his opinions on Scotland. However, with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a salient moment in English constitutional history, the Union of Crowns problem emerged. In theory, James VII could have remained king of Scotland and king of Ireland*. He didn't because he lost wars fought there on his behalf. In 1692, the daughter of James VI and I, Sophia of Hanover, was made the heir of Anne, the Protestant daughter of James VII and II as queen of England and Ireland. Scotland would have to make its own decision.

And, it did. In 1704 the Act of Security proposed a separate, Scottish monarchy that would remain Protestant, but could not be identical with that of the English line of succession, now vested in Sophia. This dispute in turn led to the Acts of Union of 1707, which united the Scottish and English parliaments and the two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Great Britain would now be governed by means of a parliament at Westminster. Scotland retained a separate church and a separate legal system. Foreign policy would go on as before, but economic policy would now be combined. Scotland remained an independent country, in one sense, in that it continued to exercise that independence through the Kingdom of Great Britain.

At its root, it is this which the referendum question is about. 'Should we undo the Act of Union of 1707?'. But I'm afraid it goes farther than that, based on what we have heard. Salmond has asserted that the Queen will remain head of state of an independent Scotland. But, in that case, she has to decide which realm will be her home, and which will require the appointment of a governor-general. Why? Because, fundamentally, the monarch no longer conducts a united foreign policy for all realms. In order to remain above politics, the monarch has to receive advice (which is basically a courtesy memo) from governments. In the case of, say, participation in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Queen of Canada, in the person of the governor-general, received different advice from the Queen of the United Kingdom. For Scotland, if the monarch should choose to reside in England, this would be something completely new. Scotland would have the same status as one of the Commonwealth Realms. So? Well, all those were formerly colonies of Scotland, through the Kingdom of Great Britain. In other words, Scotland would be in danger of demoting itself to ex-colonial status, in danger of asserting that in its previous existence it was not an independent country. This is constitutional nonsense. If Scotland is not an independent country now, than neither is England.

It seems to me that if Scotland wants to undo the 1707 Acts of Union, a 'No' vote is in order, to recognise that Scotland is already an independent country, through the United Kingdom. However, this must be followed by a demand from the Scottish Assembly to repeal or annul the acts. This, of course, could be the same process as after a 'Yes' vote, except that the 'Yes' vote as it stands inherently proposes that Scotland is a subjugated country, something that never happened. Subsequently, a new Act of Security could be passed, and Scotland could go its separate way without having undermined its previous status. It would, of course, remain a part of the Anglosphere.

Whatever the case, I'm clearly too historical to be an effective politician!


* I'm not going into Ireland's relationship to all this, which is an interesting story in itself.

05 August 2014

Peter Hitchens' War on 1914

Unlike most of my associates, I imagine, I do not regard Peter Hitchens' views as wholly disreputable. He seems to think about things, which is a good quality, even if one may decide he reaches the wrong conclusions. He is part of a group of British media personalities who have been banging on about the idea that Britain should have stood aside in August 1914, and let a general European war run its course. As a result, he has kindly created not one but two blogging opportunities for me!

Today, I want to deal with the argument that Britain had no obligation to intervene in a general European war. In a post published today, he builds a case out of quotations from Douglas Newton's The Darkest Days. Hitchens reports that the book has been subject to some criticism, although a quick google didn't offer any reviews.

The problem is that Hitchens puts more weight on the idea of an obligation than the handful of men who took Britain into the war would have. The 1839 treaty that Hitchens links to was a pretext for war. That Britain was likely to take part in a general European war in 1914 was the inevitable consequence of a series of individual decisions taken by groups of men over the first decade or so of the twentieth century. It was because Britain had no formal alliance demanding she participate on the side of France and Russia in a war with Germany, that the British government had to identify such a pretext. But I'm sure Hitchens realises that. He is addressing what we are taught. Britain went to war because plucky little Belgium, which subsequently would be the scene of German atrocities, refused to allow German armies passage across its territories to France. Britain went to war against German militarism, which had been disturbing the peace of Europe since 1870. And, by the way, Germany was the foe of liberty. This is, one might say, the Lloyd George school of interpretation. George, an adept politician as the war would prove, was seeking to justify his own betrayal of the non-interventionist position, where one might have expected him to end up.

Hitchens doesn't quote a much earlier statement (February 1906) by Sir Edward Grey, quoted in Decisions for War, 1914-1917, a distillation of a much longer academic work. Grey cites the increasing closeness between France and Britain, and its implications in the case of a war between France and Germany, then notes

If this expectation is disappointed, the French will never forgive us...
What created this closeness was a series of steps starting in 1904, during the Russo-Japanese War. Japan was Britain's ally, while Russia was allied to the French. So the first step towards Britain's entry into war in 1914 was the desire for peace with France, in the context of a war between Russia and Japan. Other steps followed, but in each case a specific action was taken in response to a specific problem. And the accumulation of steps made by small groups of men responding to particular problems closed down alternative avenues, because men were dealing with men. 'France', in this context, was the ministers and officials with whom men like Grey had to deal with. Grey and other men in the British government, I would argue, could not escape their human condition, and disregard entirely the promises made to other men in public life, any more than they would have been able to in private life, without a pretext that good faith had already been broken. In the same way the British government needed a pretext to go to war, so they needed a pretext not to.

Without doubt, the evidence shows that a good portion of the Cabinet in those last days of peace wanted a pretext not to intervene. Three things derailed such a pretext. The first was the difficult situation in Ireland, where the army appeared to be out of step with government policy of a devolved Irish parliament, and which seemed to be an existential crisis for the British state. The second was the remarkable slowness with which Grey responded to the start of the crisis at the end of June. The Cabinet first discussed the crisis on 24 July, as a new issue, almost a month after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. It was only in a series of meetings over 29 July-2 August that the Cabinet really came to grips with the matter. It was literally a 'rush to war'. The third was Grey's threat to resign, which would have created a political crisis at a time of a grave diplomatic crisis and a grave political crisis, something the opposition Conservative and Unionist party could easily have exploited.

The Liberal cabinet was trapped by a political situation that itself was the product of several steps that had created the current unstable political situation. The Liberal party had already split over the issues of the Boer War and then Home Rule some years earlier. Four years earlier it had led the country into a major political crisis over the powers of the House of Lords, which resulted in a major constitutional reform. On 2 August the Conservative and Unionist party's leader privately expressed support for Grey's position, a neat manoeuvre that encouraged the Liberals to adopt the Conservatives' more aggressive attitudes towards the Germans in order to avoid the previously mentioned political crisis. (The then-Liberal Winston Churchill himself explored the possibility of a coalition between pro-war Liberals and the Conservative and Unionists.) Grey had approached both Russia and Germany with a proposal for a conference over the crisis, the traditional European solution to diplomatic problems. It was the German unwillingness to entertain this that denied those Cabinet members opposed to intervention a pretext. Had a conference been held, and had France and Russia still opted for war, it seems plausible that enough of the Liberal ministers might have risked the political crisis that would have resulted from non-intervention.

There were all too human calculations involved in Britain's entry into the European war, and nothing to do with legalistic interpretations of 1839 treaties. For the Liberal government to follow the path of non-intervention would most likely have caused the collapse of the government, and the formation of a new, pro-intervention (and anti-Irish Home Rule) Cabinet. From the point of view of August 1914, remaining in office ensured that those opposed to intervention would retain some authority over both the conduct of the war and the post-war settlement, as well as maintaining other Liberal policies. In the event, the later collapse of the government invalidated that assumption, but no-one knew that a hundred years ago. The Belgian pretext held the government together, and to put too much weight on it is to hamper our understanding of why events happen.

04 August 2014

A Hanoverian Succession?

One hundred years ago today, half of the Anglosphere went to war with the German Empire. It probably bears repeating that there was neither debate in Parliament, nor consultation with the Dominions. A few men in London had a few meetings, and issued an ultimatum to the government in Berlin during the morning of 4 August 1914. The other half of the Anglosphere had no immediate intention of joining this conflict, even though the occupant of the White House, Woodrow Wilson, was one of the most Anglophile presidents in American history. One could argue that the First World War was the inception of the Anglosphere, the moment when the idea of an English-Speaking People really became something with practical effect, despite the long debate that took place before the United States went to war. The Dominions, through their armed forces, acquired identities that were no longer mere creations of distance, prone to fragmentation by the scale of their countries, but focused on a continuing national project that required social mobilisation to an unparalleled degree. Not only could they claim to be separate, but they could now point to an effort that deserved equality. Britain began to accept that it was no longer the centre of the Anglospheric universe, but simply had a claim to be primus inter pares.

All of these developments relate to what one might call the 'lost cousin' of the Anglosphere, Germany. Given any opportunity, I vigorously promote the idea of thinking about an alternative to the Anglosphere that I call 'the Hanoverian Complex'. The United States was founded, not out of Britain, but out of the realms of King George of Great Britain, Ireland and Hanover. German-speakers were a major stream of immigration into the United States, and the era of 'Liberty Cabbage' (a re-christening of sauerkraut) during the First World War threw something of a cloak over just how prominent German was in the United States was before 1917. In this, parts of the United States fitted into what might be called a German-sphere. Even up to 1914, Germany remained something of a geographical expression. There was a king in Bavaria until 1918, and it is better to write of the German armies going to war in 1914. Bavarian, Saxon and Wuerttemburger forces all had distinct identities from the 'Prussian' force that overwhelmingly predominated. Just as the war divided the Dominions from London, the conflict united German states to Berlin more thoroughly than had been accomplished by the Franco-Prussian war. The German-Speaking people came together as the English-Speaking one drew apart.

Germany, Britain and the United States have had an odd triangular relationship during the past two hundred or so years. Germans were important emigrants both to the United States and to the British dominions, while Queen Victoria was a determined Germanophile. (Her daughter-in-law, Alexandra of Denmark, was quite hostile towards Germany, and arguably played an important role in changing British attitudes.) Changes in this triangular relationship, initially broadly friendly, at first glance coincide with the accession of Wilhelm II as German emperor. Wilhelm, whose mother was the daughter of the German-descended Victoria and her German husband, literally possessed a 'love-hate' relationship towards Britain, and his pursuit of extra-European expressions of German political power clashed with the United States' own taking up of 'the White Man's Burden'. In the five years before August 1914, the most important episode of this from the perspective of Washington, DC, came in German attempts to influence the course of the Mexican revolution, which had started in 1910 and turned into an ongoing civil war after a coup in 1913. Tension between the two also arose in China, another site of a revolution that offered an opportunity for Germany and the United States to expand their influence. For the British, German economic competition and Wilhelm's bellicose rhetoric, as well as plans for a much bigger German navy, made for an uncomfortable neighbour. On 4 August 1874, relations between the three countries were certainly cordial, if not friendly. Forty years later, Germany was perceived with grave suspicion by the English-Speakers. What remains constant is that the English-Speakers shared an opinion at both moments.

So, thus, we come to the article that stimulated this post, Simon Jenkins' request for Britons to set aside their fascination with wars against Germany. Jenkins wants Britons to face the future, which requires remembering the friendly Germany, and not the one that was responsible for the massacre at Dinant, the sack of Louvain and other German attacks on civilians in 1914, let alone the worse business of 1939-45. The problem is that Germany appears to have been run in 1914 by a group who perceived themselves to be victims of a plot to keep their Empire from its proper role as primus inter pares in Europe, a view complicated by the fact that they believed that Russia's power could only get stronger. It is not unreasonable to connect the conduct of German soldiers in Belgium and elsewhere with this same paranoid outlook. This paranoia has turned into something of a self-perpetuating phenomenon, as the ”Stab-in-the-Back Myth” or the controversy over the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt and the 1960s' student protest movement which spawned the terrorist Red Army Faction and Revolutionary Cells can all be seen as symptoms of attitudes that were shaped around the turn of the twentieth century. Of course, it doesn't help halt the self-perpetuation when foreigners readily turn to reminders of a guilty past when angered by German policy.

Jenkins was profoundly wrong to apologise to the Germans for English-Speakers' worship of the First World War. Not only was the war was possibly the single most important event in shaping the Anglosphere, but “the problem with Germany” is really a German problem. German leaders needed to recognise that history moves slowly, and their fears in 1900 were a long way from being realised. It is the Germans who need to break out of that self-perpetuating persecution complex, and they need a certain resilience in the face of crass equations of German assertiveness with Nazi aggression. Who is to say, at this point, that they aren't already on a path to becoming more like the Germany of Bismarck, which recognised how to maintain the dignity of and knew the limits to great power status?

In another way, though, Jenkins was right that Britain may need to move on from its victories over Germany. Arguably, to adopt the mood of Berlin 1914, the Anglosphere as we know it is falling apart. The United States could already be inescapably headed out of it and into Latin America. Many Canadians seem embarrassed about their Anglospheric roots, see more in common with the United States than the 'Mother Country', and seem likely to opt for a globalised identity. Only Australia, New Zealand and Britain still value a shared cultural identity, although I am too far from Australia to judge that with any accuracy. One notes that one day Prince George of Cambridge is due to ascend the British throne, and by that time perhaps Britain will be wiser to embrace the 'Hanoverian Complex' rather than the 'Special Relationship'.

03 August 2014

The Living Dead

This post departs somewhat from the cultural history theme on which this blog is supposed to focus. Towards the end I introduce some themes that are not particular to Anglo-American Culture, but which Anglo-American culture played an important role. So if you read the posts on this blog for their historical content, I recommend you skip this and wait for tomorrow's contribution.

In recent years, I have become more acquainted with cancer than one might find comfortable. Cancer was responsible for the most formative event in my life, the death of my sister when she was twenty-five, just as my childhood was ending. The rest of my life has taken place in the context of this event, in ways almost none of my family nor my closest friends had or have any real appreciation. Six years ago my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Although she survived, in mutilated fashion, one has had to live through treatment and through almost annual scares in the years since. This year, my mother died as a result of a cancer. As I get older, and the probability of me developing cancer increases, I feel like a member of a herd of animals, a herd attacked by predators who pick off individuals. The survivors are relieved, but fearful. I do not claim any special status in writing this. I expect that at least a million individuals in the world can share a story similar to mine, if not millions.

That's why I recommend this podcast, in which a literary critic, D G Myers, mortally ill with cancer, talks about how he copes with a death sentence, and what it tells him about life. His advice is sound, speaking as a witness to cancer, and I recommend those who have need of such advice to pay heed. However, I'm more interested here in discussing other things that the podcast raises.

Myers and his interlocutor, a Stanford University economics professor named Russ Roberts, both raise a point about what one might call a history of perception. Roberts mentions how in the nineteenth century children might be taken on visits to cemeteries as a kind of exercise in memento mori, a concept I haven't observed used by a living person in a non-monumental environment since 1983 and even then in a proto-hipsterish ironic way. Death, of course, was a much more familiar rite of passage to people a hundred and fifty years ago because of infant mortality, shorter lifespans and a poorer understanding of the causes of disease, as well as a general lack of safety measures on trains, ferries or even the street. Mourning was expected in a more religious society, as was a cult of the dead, who were seen to have a role still in life. We were expected to pray for them both on their behalf, and to intercede on ours. Nowadays, however, we tend to obey the Gospel injunction of the Lord of Life in Matthew VIII:22. Except on officially sanctioned occasions that serve to commemorate service to the state, such as Armistice Day, we are encouraged to put mourning behind us quickly. This was most significantly observed by Geoffrey Gorer, a friend to George Orwell, an anthropologist, and a decidedly Anglo-American figure. Gorer held that mourning, by the 1960s, had become like sexual urges during the Victorian era. To be too open about it was something shameful, a burden to those around one. This attitude still persists today. Yet, as Myers points out, death and the accompanying grief are important reminders to us that our time has value, We are only allowed so much of it, and we should consider carefully what matters, before the doctor's diagnosis forces us to consider what matters.

As Roberts negotiates his way past the mortality of Myers, asking about lists of good novels or forgotten writers (which, to digress, tragically includes Graham Greene, according to them) he comes to discuss the environment that both work in, the Groves of Academe. Myers throughout makes some telling points about the difference between 'creative writing' and 'literature', and the problem of having practitioners of the one teach the other. They conclude with a discussion of the transformation of the Groves, into corporate bureaucracies that have reached the conclusion that an English Literature degree does not require the study of Shakespeare, let alone Milton or Chaucer. As a Classicist, I could have told Myers that this was inevitable once the study of Latin and Classical Greek had been marginalised, instead of being the bedrock of a humanistic tradition in education that reached back to the fifteenth century in Europe. 'First they came for the Classicists, &c'. What students get, more or less, is an offering of lecturers' hobbies, and the student can pick and choose amongst them, and thereby reach a personal connection to English Literature that in its essence divides him or her from fellow students. Whereas in the past the completion of the degree was to share in a tradition, now the object is to satisfy appetites of both teacher and taught.

I don't think I'm wrong to connect the reduction of a societal emphasis on marginalising a continuing connection to the dead with the reduction of personal emphasis in education from shared experience to individual development. Both are a consequence of Modernity, that condition that marks our own time from that of the now-dead. The themes of Modernity are The New, The Young, Fashion, Consumption (or as I prefer to designate it, Appetite), Celebration and The Individual. Before was about The Tradition, The Mature, Ritual, Preservation, Duty and The Group. To connect to the past is dangerous, because it delays The New, reminds The Young that they will be old, shows us that Fashion will fade, that Appetite will impoverish, that Celebration must end and that The Individual to dust shalt return. Paradoxically, the more that the centres of power shift from the individual to the corporate, the more that this individualist collection of themes comes to dominate cultural discourse. The family-owned shop or diner is replaced by the chain or franchise. The Anglosphere led the way in supplanting individual investors with shareholding capital organised through 'unit trusts' or 'mutual funds'. Even in sports, the local team becomes secondary to the Major-League one.

The corporate entities that dominate Modernity are themselves in principle eternal. They have the potential to outlast their personnel, to stand as paper assemblages of capital as long as the Sphinx or the Pyramids. The monarch may die, but the Crown endures. In this way, and in this only, Modernity has a capacity to resist change. Modernity's desire for change is only motivated by its need to control, and by continuous rupturing of the social environment its to disorienting changes transform us from people with a past and with traditions into goldfish living in a perpetual now. Looking out of our bowls we are frightened into a false obliviousness of our inescapable end. Traditions and rituals connect us to a death that renders all that Fashion, all that Appetite, meaningless. Modernity ignores the final change of all, Death.

Yet when confronted with death-change we identify what is important and we focus on that. These important things, if Myers is to be believed, are tied to friends and family (a group), habitual pleasures (rituals) and a request to be treated with honesty as the same person as one was before the diagnosis (preservation). Tradition connects us not only to the past, but also to the future. Those cultural traditions that we share with those who came before are ones we can also share with those who shall come after. I don't think it is any accident that that Dante Alighieri was led from the Inferno to Paradise by a poet who had been dead for 1300 years at the time he found himself in a dark wood wandering.

19 July 2014

Baroness Thatcher's Party?

In the 1997 British general election, after five years of heated argument largely within the Conservative Party over Britain's relationship to the European Community, the promise to hold a referendum on the topic attracted 2.6 per cent of the votes. This was the sole issue on which the Referendum Party fought the election. It did not campaign to leave the Community, only to offer a vote on the topic. Up to that time, the party was one of the most successful minor parties in British electoral history, and received a much higher percentage than a rival Eurosceptic party, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

A previous referendum on the subject in 1975 had endorsed membership, and one might have thought that the question was settled. The 'Yes' votes in 1975 secured a margin of about two-to-one over the 'Noes'. Here is an excerpt of one speech in support of the 'Yes' cause.

It is not surprising that I, as Leader of the Conservative Party, should wish to give my wholehearted support to this campaign, for the Conservative Party has been pursuing the European vision almost as long as we have existed as a Party....

We can play a role in developing Europe, or we can turn our backs on the Community.

By turning our backs we would forfeit our right to influence what happens in the Community.

But what happens in the Community will inevitably affect us.

The speaker was the future Baroness Thatcher, on 16 April 1975, exactly forty years before 2015's anticipated British general election. Mrs (as she then was) Thatcher was in her first year as leader of the Conservative Party, the party that had taken Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, and the party which had first applied for the United Kingdom to join the Common Market, in 1961.It is absolutely key to understanding my topic in this post to recall that

(a) the Conservative Party was, prior to 1997, the more Europhile of Britain's two main parties; and,

(b)Margaret Thatcher, given an opportunity to vote against Britain's membership in the European Community/European Union, rejected it.

It is clear, therefore, that something dramatic changed. Baroness Thatcher became the ringleader of Euroscepticism until she retired from public life, while the Conservatives became increasingly sceptical in outlook towards the European project, at least until David Cameron was elected leader. To what can we attribute this change?

Thatcher on several occasions was quite explicit about her reasoning, even before her resignation.

There are some things for which there was majority voting within the Community when we went in, and we accepted that, and for the specific objective of achieving the Single European Act only, there have been more matters. Now there is an attempt to get far more things passed by majority voting. That means that we would have more laws imposed upon us, even if the House was flatly against them. We expect our people to obey the law, mainly because it has gone through all the legislative processes in this House, and we should be very slow to add to any majority competence on the part of the Community.
Mrs Thatcher's statement to the House of Commons, 30 October 1990, the occasion of the famous 'No, no, no' line which precipitated the resignation of Sir Geoffrey Howe.
The point of that kind of Europe with a central bank is no democracy, taking powers away from every single Parliament, and having a single currency, a monetary policy and interest rates which take all political power away from us. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson ) said in his first speech after the proposal for a single currency was made, a single currency is about the politics of Europe, it is about a federal Europe by the back door.
Mrs Thatcher's speech to the House of Commons, 22 November 1990
[The Maastricht Treaty] takes us over the top to a new political entity, a European union, which we have never had before. Before that, we had never gone that way but had kept quite a bit of sovereignty, and it is the last lot that we are in danger of losing.
Baroness Thatcher's speech to the House of Lords, 7 June 1993
For the European Union not only wishes to take away our powers; it wishes to increase its own. It wants to regulate our industries and labour markets, pontificate over our tastes, in short to determine our lives. The Maastrict Treaty, which established a common European citizenship and greatly expanded the remit of the European Commission, shows the outlines of the bureaucratic superstate which is envisaged. And Maastrict is the beginning, not the end of that process....

Indeed, we are increasingly seeing the emergence of a whole new international political class. Some of them are politicians who have failed in their own countries, and so have tried their luck overseas. Some are officials who understand nothing of our British distinction between the legitimate powers of the elected and those of the unelected.

the inaugural Keith Joseph lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies in 1996

These selections from Thatcher's speeches are consistent in their theme. According to them, the Maastricht Treaty fundamentally altered the EEC, symbolised by the change of name to European Union. The Referendum Party specifically addressed this, by arguing that such a fundamental change required a renewal of the promise made by the British people in 1975. The problem was, however, that the bulk of Conservative MPs during the government of John Major believed that Britain could achieve some kind of accommodation with the European Union. In this they continued the Conservative Party's postwar traditions. Thatcher, meanwhile, played a duplicitous game of at times seeming to support rebels against the Major government, and at others declaring her loyalty. The result was the creation of a cadre of Conservative MPs opposed to further changes in the nature of the European Union. The defeat of the Major government in 1997 (which in no way can be attributed to the Referendum Party) thus marked a turning point in the history of not just Britain, but the European Union. It is conceivable that a Conservative government elected in 1997 would have been much less enthusiastic about the arrangements in the Nice Treaty, and thereby slowed the rate of European political integration during the time of the Blair government (1997-2007). We shall, of course, never know.

That Nice treaty included some articles governing EU citizens' freedom of movement within the Union. Today's British politics sees immigration as an important issue, and concerns about asylum-seekers (who would have been non-European) featured strongly in the Conservative election manifestos in 2001 and 2005. From the late 1950s to the early 1980s, immigration had also been a significant political issue, although the nature of that immigration was very different. In January 1978, over a year before the 1979 election, Mrs Thatcher addressed the topic in a television interview:

...there was a committee which looked at it and said that if we went on as we are then by the end of the century there would be four million people of the new Commonwealth or Pakistan here. Now, that is an awful lot and I think it means that people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture and, you know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in. So, if you want good race relations, you have got to allay peoples' fears on numbers. Now, the key to this was not what Keith Speed said just a couple of weeks ago. It really was what Willie Whitelaw said at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, where he said we must hold out the clear prospect of an end to immigration because at the moment it is about between 45,000 and 50,000 people coming in a year. Now, I was brought up in a small town, 25,000. That would be two new towns a year and that is quite a lot. So, we do have to hold out the prospect of an end to immigration except, of course, for compassionate cases.

Mrs Thatcher further addressed the matter in her memoirs, when she wrote:

Ever since Enoch Powell's Birmingham speech in April 1968 it had been the mark of civilised high-mindedness among right-of-centre politicians to avoid speaking about immigration and race at all, and if that did not prove possible, then to do so in terms borrowed from the left of the political spectrumm, relishing the 'multicultural', 'multi-racial' nature of modern British society. This whole approach glossed over the real problems that immigration sometimes caused and dismissed the anxieties of those who were directly affected as 'racist'. I had never been prepared to go along with it. It seemed both dishonest and snobbish.
The Path to Power, pp 405-6, my italics.

Mrs Thatcher's gift for populism is much in evidence here. It is curious to see a Conservative politician use the word 'snobbish' as snobbery is at the root of the Conservative party. It historically has been very much what the Marxists would call 'a class party'. It exists to defend the interests of the propertied (which for much of its history meant those who owned the land), but at the same time it has been rooted in the defence of key institutions of the British state — the monarchy, the Church established, the armed forces. By contrast, its nineteenth-century rival, the Liberal Party, was more of an alliance of groups who needed to protect their own interests against the core represented by the Conservatives. The stresses of modernity broke up the Liberal coalition during the first three decades of the twentieth century, while leaving the Conservatives largely intact. However, many traditional Liberal voters drifted over to the Conservatives during the 1920s, among them an Alfred Roberts, a grocer in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and the father of Margaret Roberts, later Baroness Thatcher. (Mrs Thatcher's official biographer, Charles Moore, is quite explicit about this, p.15 of the first volume.)

During the nineteenth century, it was the Liberal party that in Britain supported a programme of cheap, small government, that regarded the 'Establishment' with suspicion and supported free trade over protectionist economic management. These are all approaches that we have come to associate with the late twentieth century's archetypal British Conservative, Baroness Thatcher. But they weren't the attitudes of the Conservative tradition. And in the twenty-first century, it is UKIP, not the Conservatives, who are loudest on themes of Euroscepticism, controlling immigration, suspecting the Establishment and wanting to reduce government intervention in the economy and society. In many ways, UKIP represents the real descendant of Mrs Thatcher, and are part of the continuous reinvention of the British political system that has been going on since the founding of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, and the 'New Liberalism' of the 1906-15 Liberal government.

During the nineteenth century, it was the Liberal party that in Britain supported a programme of cheap, small government, that regarded the 'Establishment' with suspicion and supported free trade over protectionist economic management. These are all approaches that we have come to associate with the late twentieth century's archetypal British Conservative, Baroness Thatcher. But they weren't the attitudes of the Conservative tradition. And in the twenty-first century, it is UKIP, not the Conservatives, who are loudest on themes of Euroscepticism, controlling immigration, suspecting the Establishment and wanting to reduce government intervention in the economy and society. In many ways, UKIP represents the real descendant of Mrs Thatcher, and is part of the continuous reinvention of the British political system that has been going on since the founding of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, and the 'New Liberalism' of the 1906-15 Liberal government. European integration exposed the fault lines in the Conservative movement that had been hidden by a common opposition to Labourism on the part of traditional Conservatives and what might be called Gladstone Liberals. We could well have entered a period in British political history like that of a hundred years ago, when the main parties remade themselves, leaving the rump of one to be pushed to the margins. And at the end of the process, where will Baroness Thatcher's party be?

04 July 2014

'London's Not in England Any More?'

This is the first of a handful of posts I hope to write over the next ten days or so related to the phenomenon of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This post was started before the European Elections, and the first draft of it seems to have been lost in a computer crash, although I would swear on the proverbial stack of Bibles that I had saved it. Then, a later computer crash caused me to lose all my data for the charts, although in this case I know I had not saved it. However, a recovery function should have allowed me to recover the data, but that did not happen here. The good news is that all this delay means it has more hard analysis than originally was envisaged. The bad news is that it wound up very much longer.

One of the striking facts about the recent European Elections in Britain (which mysteriously are being presented as a defeat for Ed Milliband, because his incompetence is the agreed-upon media narrative), is the divergence between the London metropolis and the rest of England on the matter of UKIP. Since Greater London is the most cosmopolitan part of England, this might seem hardly surprising. Many immigrants have settled there, not just during the post-1945 era but throughout history. The financial institutions of the City do well out of the European Union, not least because it might prove harder to sustain London's status as the European financial centre and linch-pin of the global financial markets outside of the European Union. But, as an historian, I find myself wondering if deeper forces are at work here, forces that are shaping one possible future not just for Britain but for the whole world.

First of all, let's look at some electoral data for three British general elections. These are not the same beast as European Elections, but I want to illustrate something about London's electoral behaviour. The data starts with the 1987 election, which is arguably the last time that Labour ran on a 'traditional' Labour economic platform. Its manifesto offered a 'National Economic Summt', continuing the tripartite partnership between unions, businesses and government that characterised the Butskellite era, a nationalistic scheme to use the tax system to retain British savings for investment in British industry, as opposed to letting the market draw British savings wherever the rates of return were best, and a mergers policy aimed at protecting the national base for technological research and development. By contrast, the 1992 manifesto included no such partnership and no attempts by government to control the flow of savings out of Britain, nor to use economic considerations to influence policy on mergers. Whether the ambitions of the 1987 manifesto would have been achievable under the regime established by the Single European Act (which took effect a few months after the 1987 election) is open to question, but without doubt by 1992 Labour's promises were more like New Labour's than Old Labour's.

The figures in the following chart are based on data at the Electoral Calculus web site. What you need to know in addition are the following 'National Swing' numbers, which sum the swing to or from Labour with the swing to or from the Conservatives, seeking to make a positive integer of it.

1987 3.5 to Labour
1992 4.1 to Labour
2001 3.6 to Conservatives

The chart shows that London's voters did not swing towards Labour in 1987 as much as the rest of the country. Whether this was caused by what we might now recognise as the anti-globalist Labour manifesto of 1987 is open to question, but the two things do coincide. In 1992, by contrast, London ran ahead of much of the country in choosing Labour. In fact, John Major's Conservatives won a narrow majority. The chart does not show 1997, in which a Labour landslide saw northern England track the national swing much more closely than it did in 1992, suggesting that Major's victory was down to him holding on to Conservative votes in Labour heartlands. 1997 represents a peak for Labour during the period under examination.

Funny things start happening under Tony Blair. In 2001, London again lagged behind a national swing towards a combative Conservative manifesto that demanded a reimagining of the European Union into 'a network Europe'. Although it was silent on the subject of immigration generally, it specifically expressed concern about the asylum system, and proposed changes to that.

The Conservative manifesto of 2005 strengthened the commitment to immigration changes, adding ideas about enhanced border security to 2001's concerns about asylum. On the European Union, a commitment to a referendum on the EU constitution was given prominence. The idea of 'a network Europe' was restated as 'a deregulated Europe'. In 2005, while the data appears to show a 'third-term fatigue' drift towards the Conservatives, in fact it masks a massive swing towards the Liberal Democrats in London, the Midlands, Yorkshire, the Northwest and the far north including Newcastle and Durham on the order of around eight percent. The Liberal Democrats in 2005 were the most anti-war of the big three parties, yet also were more committed to Europe than the Conservatives. London was continuing to show a support for the European idea, but we might also be seeing the effects of large concentrations of Commonwealth immigrants in rejecting both the Conservatives' EU antipathy and concern about secure borders, as well as Labour's support for the American war on terror.

The Conservative campaign in 2010 was almost certainly the most pro-European since the 1992 election, so I will not discuss it here. Instead, I will skip forward to the 2014 European elections and direct you to a set of charts, I think produced by the BBC, which I found on the blog of Porthleven councillor Andrew Wallis. These charts show London clearly standing apart from UKIP's voting heartland. UKIP, in fact, were strong in both traditional Conservative and Labour heartlands. Using this information, and my own studies of the general elections, I identify England as divided into four 'provinces':

South Scotland, the northwest and northeast of the country votes more like its Scottish neighbours than other parts of England
Tory England, the southeast and south
UKIP England, everywhere else

UKIP is most disruptive of the old party system in an area stretching from Yorkshire south to London, and from Humberside west to Cornwall. UKIP England incorporates the area, excluding the Tory South, that was most enthusiastic about the Conservatives' 2001 election campaign, as this data show:

It is basically the old Roundhead territory of the English Civil War, except that it trades London and the Southeast for the West and Southwest. But even this is slightly misleading. In Tory England, if UKIP repeats its Euro-election performance, it could replace the Liberal Democrats as the main opposition to the Conservatives. (The Liberal Democrats in 2005 sneaked past Labour in the total vote here, and increased that lead quite sharply in 2010.) Of course, that's a big IF, but not entirely fanciful based on current polls.

The point is that UKIP is also in a position to add the Southeast to the rest of UKIP England, increasing its resemblance to Roundhead England. But it looks unlikely to add London. London, in many ways, does not now conform politically or socially to the rest of England. Unlike South Scotland, it can produce a Conservative plurality of votes (although the last time was 1992). Unlike Tory England, it votes Labour. Unlike UKIP England, it has a long-standing tradition of preferring pro-European, pro-globalisation policies, going back to 1987.

London's economic profile, as a centre of finance, services and the media, make it suited to the needs of the globalised economy. In fact, London is already a key member of a network of global cities which are the organisational centres of the global economy. These metropolitan areas include New York, the Bay Area in California, Tokyo and Toronto. What would be interesting would be to establish whether, like London, these all are developing a politics that to a greater or lesser degree diverge from those of the country in which they are situated. More importantly, are they resembling one another's politics more than they do those of the rest of their country's. I certainly think there are strong parallels between Toronto and London.

London, as the Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens proposed in February (scroll down to the heading 'London's Not in England Any More'), may not be an English city any more. The 2014 European Elections could be a sign of that.