Forgive me for dissenting from the received opinion that over recent decades Britain has become more liberal. Instead, as someone with liberal views, I would argue that we have become more illiberal and have slid into a culture where intolerance, heresy hunting and suppression of dissent is considered not only normal but virtuous.
In today’s Britain people can be questioned, detained and even arrested by the police for things which they have said. There is no need to encourage violence or criminal activity, merely to express an opinion contrary to received wisdom is enough.
We have a situation where a Christian couple, Owen and Eunice Johns, who have an unblemished record in helping children in weekend respite care, have been told by Derby Council Social Services they cannot foster children. The reason given is that the Johns’ couldn’t in conscience tell children between 5 and 10 that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle.
They are being rejected, not for what they do, or what they think, or what they say, but for what they will not say. Mrs Johns has said: ‘The Council said: “Do you know, you would have to tell them that it’s OK to be homosexual?” Note the “have to.” Keeping a tactful silence would not be enough. Leaving it up to the school or the BBC, that great engine of ‘progressive’ propaganda, would not satisfy the Council. It was mandatory that the John’s parrot the party line.
A cornerstone of a healthy society should be freedom of religious expression. Yet when Christians express an opinion which does not accord with that of the opinion formers in society they can be treated as criminals under our present laws.
Certain positions on social issues are now effectively forbidden. In academia, the law, government, scientific circles and of course the media there is an atmosphere which demands conformity and stifles independent thought. The most vicious form of censorship is the self-censorship engendered by powerful elites who merely by threat can silence dissent.
Modern heretics can be stifled. The Enlightenment gave us the freedom to disagree. Today the intelligentsia, supposedly guardians of intellectual freedom, has its own Index of forbidden ideas.
The concept that certain groups of ‘victimised’ people must never be offended has given rise to the illiberal notion of the ‘hate crime.’ Since hatred is a subjective perception this has inevitably led to a culture of coercion and injustice.
This is far from the liberal opinion formers who campaigned on behalf of Lenny Bruce in the 60’s. Then liberals argued rightly that the foul mouthed comedian had a free speech right to say what he wanted even if boring ordinary citizens like myself found it offensive. Today’s progressives argue that to hurt the feelings of members of certain privileged ‘victim’ groups is not just a social solecism but an actual criminal offence.
To propagate the concept of thought crime, language, as Orwell warned, has had to be turned upside down. Rational dissent is reclassified as either insanity or hatred, step out of line and you are either mad or bad.
To dissent from progressive thought is to be accused of having an irrational fear or ‘phobia,’ think of homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, or a dozen other supposed phobias. Rational dissenters need not be taken seriously as they clearly suffer from a psychological condition and can have their arguments dismissed with a sneer rather than a discussion. Our post-modern progressives are secular ideological social engineers with a mission to reshape society, and they brook no dissent.
We have what can fairly be described as a dictatorship of virtue. Progressives do not believe they have a point of view to be debated in the hurly burly of the market place of ideas, rather they imagine that it is their beliefs which define virtue itself. Only the delusional or the deliberately wicked would oppose virtue and so progressives, and their ‘useful idiots’ in the Church, have no qualms about smothering modern heretics.
In On Liberty John Stuart Mill advocated almost complete freedom, the only restriction being that no harm must be done to another. He was able to advocate this because of two things. Firstly he had an exaggeratedly optimistic view of human nature, no Calvinist he. Secondly, and what he refused to acknowledge, he lived in a society largely controlled by what we may term the civic virtues. There was a framework within society, largely built on Christianity, which shaped behaviour.
Nietzsche, who despised Christianity, scorned the efforts of the ‘flathead’ Mill to secularise morality by divorcing it from Christianity. He rightly commented that beneath their “insipid and cowardly concept ‘man'” lingers the old “cult of Christian morality.” Nietzche believed that it was only due to the persistence of Christianity that “morality is not yet a problem,” for the British. When the Christian capital was used up and the split between Christianity and morality complete in the public mind there would indeed be a “problem.”
One does not need to be a Christian to be a moral person, but a society built on a Christian morality which then discards that framework without replacing it with a coherent and rational structure is bound to fall prey to the contradictions and tensions inherent in morally rootless Britain today.
There is conflict between a paternalism demanding maximum conformity within society and an insistence on total freedom for the individual. A caring couple are forbidden the opportunity to give love and shelter to a few of the thousands of needy and sometimes abandoned children in our nation all because some amongst a tiny group of powerful adults may have their feelings bruised.
To be liberal today is to stand against the coercive nature of all who would make us mind our language, hold our tongues and meekly acquiesce in social conformity. Whether in State or Church the overbearing and imperious should be resisted.