By Bruce Bawer, HRS
Is it absurd to hope that the British royal wedding might help, in some small way, to bring about the massive change of mindset that Britain so desperately needs at this moment in history?
Ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered to turn on the TV for the royal wedding. But a friend invited me to a champagne breakfast in honor of the occasion, so I ended up watching the whole thing. I was glad I did. I was impressed, and even came away hoping that this experience might help change certain things for the better.
What am I talking about? Well, let me explain it this way. First of all, I’m the very opposite of a monarchist. Born and bred in the U.S.A., I harbor a reflexive distaste for the very idea of a royal family – or, for that matter, an established church. I believe deeply that the American secular republic – based on ideas set forth in the Declaration of Independence and structured in a manner prescribed by the U.S. Constitution – is one of mankind’s most extraordinary creations.
Yet even though America’s founders were only able to establish their republic by revolting against a British monarch whom they saw as tyrannical, that republic could never have been imagined in the first place without the example of England. The U.S. would not have its Constitution if not for Magna Carta. America’s system of laws is founded in English common law; American liberty stands on the shoulders of English liberty. There is a real and strong and vital continuity between the centuries-long development of freedom and free institutions in England and America. And the core values that have been cultivated over the centuries in both nations have become, to a very large extent, the shared values of all free peoples around the world.
In our time, however, these values face serious threats. The most dire is that posed by Islam in the form of what has been variously called cultural jihad, creeping jihad, and stealth jihad. Not only in Britain and America, but also in Canada and Australia (those other English-speaking countries whose values and systems derive from England’s) as well as in Western Europe, free people have been brought up on multicultural relativism – the poisonous tenet that the values brought to their shores by immigrants from autocratic Islamic societies are no less worthy of admiration than the liberal values that are their own precious heritage. Acting on this profoundly misguided belief, these free people have compromised that heritage, subordinating liberal values to “respect” for (among much else) Islam’s barbaric oppression of women and its brutal intolerance of other faiths.
And nowhere has this woeful development been more pronounced than in Britain. To those of us for whom Britain is the country of Churchill, the country that stood alone against Hitler, the country whose people stood determined to repel any Nazi invasion, the notion that Britain should lag behind other European nations in its readiness to defend its freedoms is utterly inconceivable and thoroughly counterintuitive. Yet facts are facts. While its EU partners do at least make some effort (however feeble) to stand up to the silent jihad – as France has done, for example, with its burka ban – the response of British officialdom has been typified by the fatuous, defeatist 2008 speech in which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, not only declared sharia in Britain inevitable but welcomed it as a peachy adjunct to British common law.
In recent weeks, the jaw-dropping headlines about British leaders’ pathetic passivity in the face of creeping jihad seem to have been coming at an even faster clip than usual. The other day, a Tory leader charged that Labour Party efforts to control immigration had been “spineless and futile.” The Conservatives are supposedly better, but though Prime Minister David Cameron, who recently stirred controversy with a frankly rather tame speech on immigration and British values (a speech widely hailed as bold and condemned as divisive), he has so far been more talk than action. Besides, as Charles Moore recently observed in an eloquent piece in the Telegraph, immigration has already changed Britain “on a scale which is irrevocable.” Plus a fact, as Andrew Green of MigrationWatch pointed out after Cameron’s speech, even the tamest ideas for immigration and integration reform are fiercely opposed by the BBC – which, though Green does not say this himself, is quite simply a mouthpiece for the left-wing British cultural elite (as is, of course, the Guardian).
Meanwhile, ponder this: it was reported just a few days ago that Cameron, to avoid the proposed secularization of the House of Lords (which traditionally contains a cohort of Anglican bishops), had suggested instead – sheer madness! – that imams be welcomed into that august body. And while you’re at it, chew on this: in an April interview, John Cleese, who as a member of Monty Python helped shape the demotic culture of today’s England, forcefully decried that culture, calling it a “yob culture” with “strange” values and lamenting the loss of the world he grew up in, which, though “a bit stuffy and…more sexist and more racist,” was also “an educated and middle-class culture.”
The cultural transformation Cleese was describing was, of course, the change from Churchill’s England – a nation of stoic, proud, brave, self-effacing, properly dressed, and patiently queuing people steeped in their history and cultural heritage and prepared to defend their freedoms – to the England of soccer hooligans, mindless Diana-worship, and multicultural paralysis, a country all too many of whose citizens have been brought up to be rude, shoving, slovenly, historyless, and stupefyingly vulgar.
Sad, sad, sad.
Cut to last Thursday. The majesty of Westminster Abbey. The glorious music of Hubert Parry and others – aptly described by the Telegraph’s music critic as “a magnificent pageant of the musical tradition of the Church of England.” The immortal poetry of the marriage service from Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, beginning with the words “Dearly beloved…” The stately ritual that no country does remotely as well as England.
For me, the entire royal wedding, from start to finish, served as a reminder of the precious treasure that is the English cultural legacy – a reminder that human civilization as we know it would be unrecognizable without the contribution of England. As I watched the event, the thought – the question – that I kept returning to was this: is it possible, at all, that this just might make a difference? That this wedding could help awaken the British people out of their torpor, help alert them to the inestimable value of what they’ve been bequeathed by their forebears and are in the process of losing without even fighting to preserve it? Was it possible that even some of the yobbiest of the yobs had left in them a trace – dormant, perhaps, but capable of being rekindled – of respect, even love, for these great old things by which their country used to be defined, and for which it used to be admired, in the eyes of the discerning world?
After the ceremony ended and the BBC’s cameras shifted to the surging crowds outside the abbey, members of which the presenters had eagerly corralled for interviews, I wasn’t sure what to think. The mood of these spectators was not reflective but festive. There was inane gushing of the sort that brought to mind the cult of Princess Di. Then again, these people hadn’t actually seen what I’d seen: while I, watching the telly, had been awed by the display inside the abbey, they’d been out in the street, craning their eyes for a glimpse of a celebrity. Some of them seemed like (to borrow Cleese’s word) yobs from Central Casting: one woman, for example, had the Union Jack painted on her face.
But even watching these interviews, I thought I detected seeds of hope. One person after another said things like: “It’s a great day to be British.” An older married couple interviewed by the BBC explained that when “God Save the Queen” had begun playing, the younger people sitting around them on the grass, apparently strangers to them, had remained seated. This couple had taken it upon them to chide the youngsters: stand up for the national anthem! And in fine pre-Spice Girls, pre-Amy Winehouse English fashion, the younger people had good-naturedly obeyed them.
The next morning, I sampled the coverage in the British press. There was plenty of silly stuff about Kate’s gown and Will’s hairline. Yet between the lines I sensed that more than a few British subjects who’d watched the nuptials had experienced something meaningful. Could it be the germ of a new birth of national pride and cultural memory? If so, how widespread was it? How deep did it go? How long might it last? Was it entirely absurd – a pipe dream – to think that such a national event might help, in some small way, to effect the massive change of mindset that Britain so desperately needs at this moment in history?
Perhaps. But perhaps not – perhaps not.