The Abolition of Liberty.
The Abolition of Liberty was published in 2003. Hitchens starts off with two quotes, one from Edmund Burke, the Whig statesmen of the eighteenth century: “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less there is within, the more there must be without”, and one from James Madison, “there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation”.
The threat to the liberty of the British people emanates from their own government. Following on from the Abolition of Britain, the left, he observes, now holds power in almost all the important cultural and moral citadels of the country, as well as in government. The Tory party is even more hostile to challenging the reigning nostrums than Labour, and has adopted the dreary policies of mainstream Fabianism. His theme may be expressed as the ghosts of Sidney and Beatrice Webb-authors of an adulatory tract of 1174 pages to Stalin’s Russia (Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation? Longmans, 1935), reigning over Britain’s atrophied political imagination, more than 70 years after their death.
In the name of law and order, Blair’s government is adapting the English legal system to fit the very different continental legal system. Blair’s slogan- “tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime”-is a signal that Labour can ignore its liberty-loving wing and increase the power of the state, the police and prosecution service, at the expense of existing English institutions- the common law, Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, and the right to trial by jury. The vehicle for this transformation is the EU”s corpus juris, a plan to give the EU a common legal system. Unlike the English tradition of Englishmen as born free, the codified Continental system has the authorities grant rights, and everything is illegal unless allowed. This transition from the English common law tradition-innocent until proven guilty,left alone to lead our own lives, the state answerable to us- is strengthened by the 1998 incorporation of the 1950 Convention on Human Rights into English law; the Convention identifies rights but does not prevent the state from acting to infringe these rights. This is the exact opposite of rights as defined in the Glorious Revolution of 1689, or the the 1776 Declaration of Independence-freedom from autocratic power, from arbitrary arrest, from indiscriminate searches,or from indefinite detention without charge. The final all-European code will submit the whole of the British Isles to the Code Napoléon and the Corpus Juris.
The new ethos seeks to strengthen the state’s powers The bobby is no longer the civilian in uniform, so much as the representative of the state, “a paramilitary social worker, jangling with clubs, handcuffs, radios and gas sprays”. Meanwhile “England is rapidly becoming a place where the good are afraid of the bad, and the bad are afraid of nothing”. By abolishing the harsh penalties of the past associated with crime, the “amoral liberals and supposedly libertarian conservatives” now ruling the UK have made the police powerless, destroyed their old conservative ethos, and thereby withdrawn protection from the poor, and betrayed the “ great majority of black and other minority peoples in England, who badly need the law to be enforced on their behalf”.
At the root of the so-called “liberal” criminal justice system in the UK is the idea that crime is a social and economic disease. “The single most serious mistake made by modern democracies is to imagine that criminality can be contained or discouraged by being more considerate to criminals”. The offender is someone who has to be “understood”, normally after the crime. The victim by contrast has to be educated on how best to avoid the criminal. People are not the fallen creatures of the Judeo-Christian traditions, but social products of inequalities, mental disturbance or unpleasant experiences during childhood. Crime in short is socially constructed, and it is a moot question whether the perpetrator is to blame,if blame there is to be. From crime as a sin against a higher law, crime becomes a product of societal deficiencies, best cured by treatment. The proscription opens an infinity of avenues for the development of government initiatives.
The architect-in-chief of this revolution in criminal justice was Roy Jenkins, Home Office Secretary from 1965 to 1967 in the then Labour government. “The original English police force embodied conservative notions of right and wrong, writes Hitchens. It therefore offended the new liberal religion of benevolent government, the welfare state and human rights”. It had to be ditched.
Jenkins idea of change was to get the policy process moving in his desired direction, and in this, he proved highly successful. These are some of the main measures, which flowed from his initial measures:
- The 1966 Criminal Justice Act introduced reforms in the penal system: prisoners could be granted parole; they were to be given suspended sentences; majority jury verdicts were to be handed down in the courts; physical punishment in prisons was ended; narcotics laws were loosened; the death penalty was abolished. The results did not take long to follow: criminals took over the running of prisons; drug use spread like wildfire; crime figures soared; as Lord Denning stated to the House of Lords in June 1967, majority verdicts undermined the whole idea of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
- Following on advise from a 1962 Royal Commission on the Police that reported under the Conservatives, Jenkins began the task of centralising the force, on the grounds that big organisations were more efficient than smaller. The 127 English and Welsh police forces were reduced from 127 in 1962 to 41 by 1968. By the 1990s, one in three of the Victorian network of police stations had been closed.
- The 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act, writes Hitchens, came as a legal tombstone placed on top of old-fashioned policing. The Act came in response to a series of police scandals. The new law defined the new force as an after-the-crime detective service, and as a record-keeping organisation, rather than as an active crime prevention force. The Act also set up the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Police Complaints Authority, helping to kill initiative in the police force.
- The 1998 MacPherson succeeded in injecting into English law the precept that the accused was guilty until proven innocent. It defined a racist incident as any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim . The report labelled the police as “institutionally racist”- a definition first launched on the world by Stokely Carmichael, the black racist and admirer of Hitler.
- In October 2002, Lord Justice Auld, in his Review of the Criminal Justice system, proposed, among 300 other reforms, to remove the right of trial by jury.The report followed three attempts by governments of all parties to abandon trial by jury, which Blackstone-the famous eighteenth century judge-had defined “as the great bulwark of (every Englishman’s liberties which) is secured for him by the great Charter”. The proposal was abandoned- for the while.
- The new state élite welcomes the abolition of heabeas corpus implicit in the European arrest warrant, and the creation of an unaccountable and all-powerful European prosecution service and police force, based upon a European constitution, court and “charter of rights”, which simply ignores “the practical success of centuries of English experience and ask us to rely on purely theoretical protections”.
Hitchens rounds off his book with a quote from one of the senior officers of the Metropolitan Police, Commander Brian Paddick. “The concept of anarchism has always appealed to me,… the idea of the innate goodness of the individual corrupted by society or by the system. I believe that many people are forced into causing harm to others by the way society operates. They would not behave in this way if the current system did not exist or was radically different”. This is the new secular religion of the educated élite. Those who do not share its views are persecuted. “One purpose of this book, Hitchens writes, is to warn that there is now a real threat to liberty of thought and speech in this country, a threat which cannot be lightly dismissed by any observant or alert citizen”.
The Rage against God.
“My only qualification for writing (this book), writes Hitchens, “is that I am me, a former atheist with some skills at words who has returned to the Church, and whose brother is in the vanguard of the current attack on religion”. The book arises out of his attempt to debate religion with Christopher, his brother, in April 2008, at Grand Rapids, Michigan. Christopher is the author of God is Not Great. Its tone is set in the following succinct paragraph in the opening pages:
“There…remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded in wishful-thinking”.
Hitchens does not do battle across the broad front of his brother’s argument. His is more of a personal statement of why he embraced militant atheism, and why he wandered back to the Church. He defines the book as an explanation of how he became convinced, “ by reason and experience, of the necessity and rightness of a form of Christianity that is modest, accommodating and thoughtful-but ultimately uncompromising about its vital truth”. His brother, he points out, “is unable to grasp that there are problems to his argument”. In Rage, he does not answer “fury for fury”, but takes a scalpel to a few of those problems, enough to throw doubt on his brother’s certitudes.
Recalling the moment in 1967 when he burnt his Bible on the grounds of his Cambridge school, he recalls his conviction that he had “burnt the enemy’s book, and that enlightened self-interest was the evolutionary foundation of good behavior”. He was in plentiful company, he records. As an illustration, he cites Virginia Woolf’s fury and disgust, expressed in a letter to her sister in 1928, at the news of T.S. Eliot’s conversion to Christianity.
“I had a most shameful and distressing interview with poor dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic, believes in God and immortality, and goes to church. I was really shocked. A corpse would seem to me more credible than he is. I mean, there’something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God”.
Like others of his generation, Hitchens writes, “we were sure that we, and our civilization, had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels and Heaven. We had modern medicine, penicillin, jet engines, the welfare state, the United Nations and “science”…People still died…but generally off-stage and drugged into a painless passivity. We could not imagine ourselves ever doing so. The “pains of death” had been abolished, along with most of the pains of life”.
A personal journey.
The first part of the book is entitled “a personal journey”. In this part, he reviews arguments in his writings that we have already met: how the two wars destroyed the old faith; how the inherited sources of authority had dried up; how “our rulers had fallen flat on their faces in their attempt to behave like imperial rulers of Egypt”; how “a cheap and second-rate modernity” came to replace “the magnificence we had grown used to”; how faith in science came to replace the Christian faith; how a pseudo-religion venerated Winston Churchill, and how “those who had fought so hard to defend Britain against its material enemies did so at terrible spiritual cost”.
Hitchens’ discovery of Christianity, and his realization that the pseudo cult of his youth was a mirage, was a slow process that culminated in his two years or so of reporting from the Soviet Union in its dying days under Gorbachev. As Hitchens writes, in mile upon mile of mass produced housing around Moscow, “you would be hard put to find a single family untouched by divorce, that no mother reared her own children, that the schools taught lies, that secret government establishments leaked radiation into air and water”. In 1990, he records, a country, Russia, with collapsing birth rates, recorded 6.86 million abortions and 4.85 million live births. Male alcoholism was widespread, and social mores were coarse.
On returning to Britain in 1995, he was struck by the similaritiies, a major reason for which he identifies as the rapid vanishing of the last fully Christian generation. He had been confirmed into the Church of England in 1985, and at the time had seen no particular connection between his return to religion and the shape of society. His teenage socialism had been destroyed by his closer observation as a reporter of the inner workings of Britain’s socialist Labour movement, and the unhinged strikes it kept calling. He was also constantly reminded of his mortality by the beauty of parish churches, and by England’s great cathedrals. The scales fell fully from his eyes on his sighting of Rogier van der Weyden’s “Last Judgement” Here is the url to van der Weyden’s Altarpiece in the church at Beaune, Burgundy.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaune_Altarpiece
As he looked at the figures in van der Weyden’s picture of people fleeing towards Hell, he realized that these were people he knew. Van der Weyden, writes Hitchens, was still earning his fee 500 years after his death. The conclusion: the human condition does not change. We are always the same. Good and Evil are ever present.
A second, similar incident occurred in the Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas, as Hitchens scrutinized Thomas Hart’s picture of the Prodigal Son. The Biblical story tells of the return of the son, his father’s welcome, his brother’s jealousy and the feast to celebrate the return. In Hart’s version, the son returns to a ruined homestead, a devestation caused by his own greed and wastefulness.
In Hitchen’s experience,Hitchens returns to the Church of his childhood, which he left when it was still adorned with the Prayer Book of Cranmer and the language of the King James Bible. He returns to a Church which has been sanitized. “The Christian religion (across Europe), he writes, is threatened with a dangerous defeat by secular forces, which have never been so confident.” The purpose of militant secularism is to marginalize religion in the schools, universities and the media, and to substitute religion for a belief in multiculturalism “by those who disliked the Christian, patriotic monoculture of the country”. The Church of England’s ldeadership had buckled under the attack.
Three failed arguments.
In the second part of the book, entitled “addressing atheism: three failed arguments”, he takes aim at some of the weaknesses of his brother’s position.
The first failed argument he levels against atheists is that conflicts fought in the name of religion are always about religion.By saying this, militant atheists hope to establish that religion is itself a cause of conflict. This, he says, is a half-truth: some conflicts are , and others are not. “The only general lesson that can be drawn from these differing wars is that man is inclined to make war on man when he thinks it will gain him power or wealth or land”. The conflict in northern Ireland was nominally about religion, but its symbols were secular-“black berets and combat fatigues-not by the holy images or the Godly singing of mighty psalms”. In the Lebanon, both Christians and Muslims trample on their own scriptures in the cruelties that they inflict on each other; in the case of Israel, its territory is recaptured from Islam, “a force which tries never to retreat from what it has once conquered(and still yearns for the lost lands of Spain)”.
Having made the point that religion may or may not be a cause of war, he asks the burning question: why is the European Left ready to make common cause with Muslims in their battle against Christianity in Europe.
The root of the Left’s hostility to Christianity is the Christian belief that the ideal society does not exist in this life. “By stating…baldly the truth known to all conservatives that poverty cannot be eradicated, the Bible angers and frustrates those who believe that the pursuit of a perfect society justifies the quest for absolute power”. “The concepts of sin, of conscience, of eternal life and divine justice under an unalterable law, are the ultimate defence against the utopian’s belief that ends justify the means and that morality is the relative.They are, he writes, safeguards against the worship of human power. ”
Power, he writes, is what Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin applied in an orgy of blood and violence. European leftists pretend that the Bolshevik Revolution might have succeeded in other hands than Stalin’s. This, he writes in nonsense. Trotsky was in at the foundation of the regime and just as evil as Stalin. “The record shows that an actual systematic hatred of Christianity was central to the Soviet regime, flowing directly from its materialist philosophy”. His brother seeks to classify the Soviet regime as “Stalinist” and so evade any responsibility for its evil actions. But he and his atheist colleagues “cannot honestly disown (the USSR), and it is because they know this in their hearts that they panic and babble when confronted with this problem”.
In the case of National Socialist Germany, relations between regime and churches were more complex. Common ground existed in hostility to communism. But as he points out, the Hitler regime was fundamentally hostile to Christianity. Its youth meetings were timed to clash with church services and festivals, and the regime promoted “sexual promiscuity and rebellion against parental authority contrary to Christian teachings”. In this, the two ghastly totalitarianisms were startlingly similar. Any “revolutionary state must alienate the young from their pre-revolutionary parents if it hopes to survive into future generations”.
In short, militant atheists in Europe have a problem with their forebears.
The second failed argument addressing atheism is that it is impossible to know what is right and wrong without ultimately acknowledging the existence of God. Atheists, he writes have a fundamental inability to concede that to be absolute a moral code needs to be beyond power to alter. Left to ourselves, we end up making our own contradictory definitions of right and wrong. This is the nub of his argument against the Good War theory of 1939-1945, “in which the good side committed dreadful crimes and the bad side worse ones”.
To be effective, a moral code must be vested in a non–human source. “If that non-human source can be shown to be false, then the moral code which it endorses cannot be absolute. It will become a matter of choice, or have to be kept in place by the threat of force, or a mixture of both, like any other code of human invention”. This is not a proof of God’s existence, just a statement that without God there is only a relativist judgement of right and wrong-a judgement that tends to favour the strong over the weak, the very contrary of Christ’s teachings.
Christ’s admonition to love our neighbours as ourselves is extremely demanding, so much so his brother Christopher argues, that “it is too strenuous to be obeyed”. Not so, says Peter. It is followed all the time in the unshakeable devotion of mothers to children; of doctors and nurses risking infection and death in the course of caring for others; in the cases of husbands caring for sick, incontinent and demented wives(and vice versa); in the courage of men lying down their lives for others on the battlefield. “Yet there will always be a wordly relativist on hand…to say that it was only sensible, to urge that we do the easy thing, and to say that it is right to do so”.
We are living, he writes, in the afterglow of a Christian world, surrounded by relativist art, relativist law, and relativist politics. Relativist morality increasingly prevails as the number of believing Christians shrinks, and with them, “the millions of small and tedious good deeds which are needed for a society to function with charity, honesty and kindness”.
As Abraham Lincoln said of his Presidential Oath, it was “registered in heaven”. “Without a belief in God and the soul, where is the oath? Without the oath, where is the obligation or the pressure to fulfil it? Where is the law that Kings must obey? Where is Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus or the Bill of Rights, all of which arose out of attempts to rule by lawless tyranny? Where is the lifelong fidelity of husband and wife? Where is the safety of the innocent child growing in the womb? Where, in the end, is the safety of any of us from those currently bigger and stronger than we are?”.
And he ends in evoking his experience of the last days of the USSR as admonition to his own country: “I have seldom seen a more powerful argument for the fallen nature of man, and his inability to achieve perfection, than those countries in which man sets himself up to replace God with the state”.
The third failed argument addressing atheism is that atheist states are not culturally atheist. Yes they are, he replies, especially the totalitarian monstrosities of the twentieth centuries, progenitors of our own militant secularists. His brother’s assertion that Stalin’s Russia was a religious state is non-sensical. It sought to reach its utopia through a sea of blood, persecutions and massacres. One of the Soviet state’s first initiatives was to persecute religions, notably Christians; it justified its barbarities as necessary to the cause. “Communist ethics makes it the highest duty to accept the necessity of acting wickedly”. Stalin, Mao Kim il Sung, Ceausescu made human idols of themselves; all believed, like their heirs, in their own ultimate goodness.
The European heirs of these monsters are just as determined and intolerant as their forebears. “Secularism is a fundamentally political movement, which seeks to remove the remaining constraints on power,and the remaining traces of Christian moral law in the civil and criminal codes of the Western nations”. They wage constant campaigns against Christian schools; they allocate the priveleges of heterosexual marriage to homosexual civil partners; they make it impossible for Christian churches to operate adoption centres; they harass and persecute government employees who wear crosses or pray with their patients; and they force guest houses to welcome homosexual couples beneath their roofs. All this, he adds, in the UK.
The last part of the book is devoted to the theme of “the league of the militant godless”, in which he reminds the reader of the USSR’s false claims to found a new civilization of equality, love, truth, science and progress; the fellow travelers like the New York Times reporter, Walter Duranty, who denied the Ukrainian Holodomar of 1932-33; the Webbs’ adulation of Stalin; the 1960s radicals reverence for “Fidel”, “Ho” and Mao-the greatest criminal ever in human history, with 70 million deaths on his tally. Those who apologized for Stalin now adopt a variety of causes: gender politics; global warming; abortion; homosexual rights; hostility to religious education for children; the causes of “diversity” and “equality”; their aim in Europe and North America is to drive the remaining traces of Christianity from its laws and constitutions, and he concludes that the League of the Militant Godless has done its work well.
The Cameron Delusion(Updated edition of The Broken Compass).
This is a rag-bag of a book which holds one very important point, that Hitchens regularly re-states whenever he has the opportunity. The main enemy of conservatism in the UK is the Conservative party. “It claims to stand for national independence, tradition, law and order, rigorous education, low taxation and light regulation, strong armed forces, the family and marriage. Its very name commits it to the defence of the Union or England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
It does none of these things. In the 1930s, Conservative parsimony undercut imperial defence, leading to Dunkirk and the ignominy of Singapore’s surrender; it was selling warships to Argentina, before the Falklands war; it campaigned to surrender sovereignty by entering the EEC, signing up to the Single Market, and then to the Maastricht Treaty.
It does not stand for tradition at all. It has made no effort to counter the cultural revolution: it submits to New Labour hegemony in the BBC; it was all for life peerages and did little to defend the hereditaries during Blair’s botched reform of the House of Lords; it openly recruits Lib Dems to the party, and obediently kowtows to Labour’s Fabian gradualism.
On law and order, it is a joke. It did nothing to oppose the mergers of police forces, or to put bobbys back on the beat, or to make the bobby once again a servant of the people rather than of the state. In the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act it embraced leftist distrust of the police as gospel, and endorsed codes of police practice based on leftwing mistrust of the police. It is actively acquiescing in turning the Crown Prosecution Service into a continental Examining Magistracy. It embraces the social democratic view of crime as a social disease.
On education, it endorsed Anthony Crosland’s comprehensive education and the destruction of the grammar schools. The Tories never seriously opposed the Labour party’s wrecking ball wielded against the school system; and it could be added, did nothing to effectively reverse Labour’s decimation of apprenticeships; nor is it standing up against the import of the politically correct agenda to UK universities.
Divorce rates have continued to rise under governments of any stripe. All governments endorse the social reforms from the 1960s that have torn apart family life, provided subsidies and free housing for unmarried mothers, and watched as poverty, crime and under-achievement spread.
The Tory party is for the Union in name only. Power has been centralized in Tory Party Central Office-which as I can attest is ruthless, corrupt and duplicitous. It says one thing, its all for the associations, but does another, by riding roughshod over them. Like all top down bureaucracies, its eagerness for centralized control has accompanied a rapid decline in membership. It is pointing leftwards, as does Cameron on his bike in the illustration on the cover of this article.
The party occasionally mumbles Burkean phrases, feigns Churchillian patriotism and indulges ‘bombastic posturing to obscure its role in the squalid sale of the country to European Union rule, and in the expedient surrender of this country to the terrorist campaign of the IRA”.
The Tories have come to accept the nostrums of Fabianism, whose founders, the Webbs espoused gradualism as the path to revolution. With Blair’s soft coup d’état, they had a choice: either oppose Fabian dogmas or accept them. With Cameron-Mr Slippery, as Hitchens called “Dave”-the Tories opted for acceptance.
What is worse, the end of the cold war has allowed the Left to escape westwards. Its acolytes, freed from association with the communist regimes from which they dishonestly distance themselves, have now filtered their ideas and policy prescriptions into the mainstream of European and UK life. “Far from being defeated in the Cold War, social and cultural radicalism and the worship of power had escaped through the holes in the Berlin Wall, and begun to establish themselves in a morally and politically disarmed Britain”.
The result is that the UK’s inherited adversarial politics in parliament has atrophied. The demarcation line that is supposed to run down the centre of the Commons chamber now runs between parliament and the people. As the room for dissent in parliament shrinks, so the danger is-he is writing in 2010- politics moves out into the streets and becomes the prey of demagogues.
Among conservatives, Peter Hitchens may be called a Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet”,whose tribulations are recounted in the Old Testament. The nation of Judah, Jeremiah proclaimed in the seventh century BC , would be faced with famine, plunder, the destruction of Jerusalem, and captivity in a foreign land. This was so because Israel had broken the covenant made with God, by worshipping Baal and burning their children as offerings to Moloch. For his pains, Jeremiah was imprisoned and only released when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army.
Let Britain stand in stead of Judah; de-christianization for the broken covenant; Marxist-materialism for the worship of Baal; the burning of children for the holocaust of abortions since the mid-1960s; invasion has not occurred, but, as Hitchens regularly repeats with regard to the vote to Leave the EU of June 2016, the reflexes of an independent state have atrophied. The only parallel which does not hold is that Hitchens has not yet endured imprisonment for his pains. Those who do continue to prophesy in his manner, he adds, will find their freedoms further circumscribed as the remaining barriers to an all-powerful state are swept aside.
Hitchens is a conservative sui generis, as conservatives should be. That is their special and individual identity, as heirs to a tradition passed on, as Burke pointed out, from generation to generation. In the case of Hitchens, the figure of the Commander looms large- caring father, a man of few words, of loyalty, duty, great courage, and fortitude in adversity. Hitchens own years as a Trotskyite have made him intimate with the thoughts of the European Left, the Militant Godless, their absolute determination to tear down all barriers from the past that stand in the way of their untrammelled exercise of power, justified by their pursuit of utopia. His knowledge of their dialectics enables him to identify-correctly in my view-their linear descent from the bloody tyrants of the twentieth century: Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Hitler. The root of their hostility to Christianity is Christ’s statement that his kingdom is not of this world, and that the meek shall inherit the earth. The Militant Godless, says Hitchens, root for the powerful.
That is why the inherited order of the still United Kingdom is their enemy. The British people knew that this side of death, no earthly paradise could be built. Hence their long history in the curtailment of executive power, in defence of trial by jury, of habeas corpus, of the right of voters to sanction their legislators at elections, freedom of religion and a free press. These laws-another point on which I agree-have been written in the hearts of the British people over the centuries-something which the new metropolitan élites of the last few decades, forgot until they were reminded of the fact in the massive vote for Leaving the EU on June 23, 2016.
The prolonged agony of this older Britain, he traces to the two world wars, the hollowing out of the old beliefs, the death of God, the spread of relativist thinking-whether on corporal punishment, abortion or sovereignty-the rise of the Militant Godless in the shape of the grey Fabianism of the Webbs, and their heirs, and not least of the non-existencee of a truly conservative party. As powers have been steadily handed over to the collective bureaucracy in Brussels, so the inherited structure of Socratic discourse in parliament has weakened; the English law and criminal justice system has been subverted towards Napoleonic format; crime has soured, punishment nullified; Labour does not represent working people, and the Conservative party is nothing more than a blow-hard collective of self-interested liars; and debate has ebbed away from parliament onto the streets, a gift to waiting demagogues. This was written at the latest in 2010, six years before the momentous Leave vote.
Hitchens is no reactionary. There is no Golden Age in his mind to which we should retreat. Generalissimo Francisco Franco thought there was: the sixteenth century when Spain reigned supreme over the known world. Taking Spain back to that age was an important motive of the regime action.  As he writes in The Rage against God, Hitchens recognised the souls skidding hellwards as depicted in van der Weyden’s Altarpiece in Beaune, Burgundy. They were people he knew, five hundred years after van der Weyden’s death. The sins and omissions were similar. The moral universe has not changed in the intervening centuries. Good and Evil exist. Without a non-human standard, everything becomes subjective, wishy-washy, post-Jenkins British. What Hitchens is saying is that British freedoms were sui generis, unique, vulnerable to vandalism, and that we are living in the afterglow. He is helped in seeing this because of the parallels he observed in the dying days of the USSR, and the UK which he returned to in the mid-1990s: the manners more coarse; the cheapskate public “culture”; the leadership encarnated in the brash figure of “bulldozer” Blair and of “Mr. Slippery” Cameron.
Had the UK stayed out of the world wars, would things have evolved differently? No doubt. The armies of the Central Powers may well have flattened France in 1914-15, the blood-letting stemmed, the empires given space to evolve, and the world spared the likes of Stalin and Hitler. But it is not unreasonable to conjecture that a France, which had expected military support from Great Britain in 1914, would have joined a hegemonic Germany in a virulently anti-British alliance. As it is, Britain endured over one million deaths in the wars, paid back its war debts in the early 2000s, and still does not face a friendly Franco-German axis in the EU.
Could the Chamberlain government have done anything else than extend a guarantee to Poland-yes, the Poland which had devoured chunks of Czechoslavakia and was anti-semitic-in March 1939? Yes, it could, have done. Warsaw would have had to compose with Hitler fast. Things may have turned out differently then, given the possibility of a German-Polish pact directed against the USSR. But this really is conjecture. Hitler wanted Lebensraum; his racial doctrine cast Slavs as a lesser breed; he was told by Goebbels and by Ribbentrop that the UK leadership was “too decadent” to go to war. When the British Empire did declare war in September 1939, the Führer was surprised, and as Hitchens I consider rightly adjudges, was not really interested in invading the British Isles. The evidence of the period March to September 1939 suggests, not as Hitchens argues following Simon Newman’s thesis, that London was courting confrontation with Germany over Poland in order to salvage its reputation as a Great Power. It was hoping against hope that the prospect of war with the British Empire would deter Hitler. It did not.
There are parallels between Britain in 1939-40 and now. Then, London faced a hostile continent. In 2016-18, the EU seeks to punish the UK for daring to Leave as a warning to any other state which may flirt with the idea. Then, America First was an anti-British force to reckon with; now, Trump’s version of America First is pro-UK, anti-May and hostile to the US’ own creation, European integration and its institutions. Those institutions drain the lifeblood from Britain’s inherited constitution. That is why passions run so high over Brexit in the UK. Hitchens’s insights remind us how arduous the battle will be to recover the essence of those dying traditions, and how attractive the siren songs of submission to Brussels’ will be. But submission, if it comes, it will be. Just as independence if it returns after 50 years will have consequences.
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Atlantic Books, 2007.
He cites the definitive biography by Robert Service, Trotsky : A Biography, MacMillan, 2009.
The Cameron Delusion, Continuum 2010.
On the Church under the Franco regime and beyond see “The Church and Religion in Contemporary Spain: An Institutional Metamorphosis”, in Victor M. Pérez-Diaz, The Return of Civil Society: The Emergence of Democratic Spain, Harvard University Press, 1993.pp; 108-183.