D. J. Webb
Some cultures are positive and upbeat; others lay undue stress on negative things and consequently create higher levels of personal stress. This is worth the consideration of libertarians, because a free society can only really take off in a society that is positive. In a negative culture, people will be depressed and fearful, and will look to the government to protect them from life itself and even from themselves. The English are known for their love of a good moan. One way of looking at this is that they are thereby letting off steam. Even if that is so, however, people who focus on the negative aspects of everything are ill-equipped to take advantage of the opportunities in life and in the economy.
The destructive promotion of egalitarianism
Part of the reason why England feels so negative is that social discussion in England is relentlessly demotivating. There is a constant harping on egalitarianism, in the form of multiculturalism, women’s rights and other equality agendas. Our media, rather than generating a sense of England as a great country that incomers will want to integrate into, create the opposite impression, that of a country of prejudiced people incongruously opposed to outsiders. Multiculturalism is, by its very nature, a negative phenomenon, one that removes the “glue” of a common culture that makes a society feel like a society, that gives people something in common with their neighbours.
The promotion of multiculturalism is common to much of the West, but there do seem to be differences in the experience of multiculturalism from country to country. In the US, people famously have a sunny, generous character, possibly one that has emerged in reflection of the broad expanse of the American continent, being based on a view that America is large enough for all incomers. This is not to say that multiculturalism is welcomed by all, but America is larger and it is possible to escape many of the effects of cultural policy. In the UK, we live in a small country where we will have to live cheek by jowl with hostile cultures if we allow the dispossession of our country. In many parts of England, there is nowhere left to move to, nowhere where would-be “white flight” can go to. Consequently, I would argue that our experience of multiculturalism is different to that of the Americans. Relatively speaking, we have more to moan about.
However, I am focusing here, not on the demographic shift, but on the cultural effects. We feel acutely that we no longer live in a society. The worse thing about this is not the shift in the realities on the ground themselves, but the constant, non-stop discussion of multiculturalism and anti-racism, both of which are twisted and distorted campaigns that do not reflect the fact that it is incomers who are creating a problem in our society and not vice versa. The most unbearable aspect of this is the synthetic outrage that accompanies such debate. As soon as anyone transgresses any of the codes of conduct or speech guidelines instituted to support the demographic shift, a howl of denunciation is raised. It is hard to believe the practitioners of this tactic of denunciation sincerely believe in their right to be outraged; what emerges is an utterly corrosive effect on free speech and freedom of expression in this country, with a vindictive cast of self-appointed witchfinders constantly on hand to start up the howling and accusations once again.
Furthermore, all the various equality agendas play a similarly corrosive role in creating a society that is beset by constant conflict. There is no way to escape this discussion, which appears to be ubiquitous and mandatory. Women who resent the fact that most senior businessmen are men are ready with synthetic outrage, pointing to things like the reluctance of some employers to hire women, given the fact that women are likely to dip in and out of the workforce in order to have babies. Such a consideration is very relevant to the employment process, and the failure of an employer to take on a woman out of this very consideration would be, in libertarian terms, simply the exercise of an employers’ rights, something the state ought not to interfere in. However, we are saddled with a social discussion where any alleged inequality leads immediately to demands for government intervention to prevent the free market from operating.
Egalitarianism is not a bright new culture that we are inexplicably refusing to embrace, but rather a destructive theme, one that constantly paints society in a negative light in order to win social intervention for causes that not too long ago would have been regarded as extreme. There are a number of other bureaucratic initiatives that are overly prominent in our culture, including the “health and safety” guidelines that have ended up replacing age-old common-sense handling of safety issues. This agenda is also debilitating, because it causes us to resign ourselves to the fact that self-serving bureaucrats will have the last word on everything.
The destructiveness of family break-up
Equally important in sapping people’s spirits is the state’s promotion of family break-up and dysfunctional family units. In a saner society, women would only to be able to bear children with the financial support of a committed husband or boyfriend. If she did not have independent money, she could not contemplate becoming a single mother. Bearing in mind that we live in an age where the morning-after pill is widely available, there is nothing harsh about this. To deliberately use taxpayers’ money to fund—and thereby encourage—single motherhood is one of the most socially destructive policies that could be devised for implementation in England today. Families are brought up dependent on the state, without the discipline—and love—of a normal family unit. Responsibility to family members is a positive sentiment that helps to create the bonds of a society that doesn’t need state intervention; going out of our way to encourage family members to slip those bonds creates the certainty of state intervention.
In addition to single motherhood, family break-up is encouraged by the normality of divorce, with most films and television dramas determined to focus on personal emotional problems in a way that encourages people to believe that walking out on your family is, in some way, a normal thing to do, or often a positive step in order to prevent the children from witnessing family rows. The women’s rights agenda helps to weaken natural patterns of life, whereby the man is the breadwinner for his family and his wife brings up the children.
The result is a society where a disproportionate number of people do not have family networks of support behind them. Many single mothers seem to have no support whatsoever in life, with no husbands or boyfriends to provide for them and often estranged from their own families. The percentage of marriages that end in divorce is also very high. No longer do we have a society of families—which is the real libertarian pattern, as a strong fabric of society is needed to prevent the accretion of state powers—but a society of individuals, individuated units that often live alone bearing the baggage of their emotional problems throughout the remainder of their lives.
The downbeat tone of poorer communities
This then is the cultural background to life on the poorer housing estates. Dysfunctional family units are the norm on these housing estates: many children lack father figures in their lives, and crime and low-level social disorder flourish. We read recently in England of a young professional woman who committed suicide owing to the behaviour of drugdealing neighbours that the police refused to deal with properly. While on a late spring morning it may seem that there is much to be positive about in England today, the reality is that many people are struggling with private problems of all these types that they can find no way to address.
On top of all of these problems is the reality that England is no longer a land of opportunity, with many people “stuck” in life in socioeconomic terms. We can cite in this regard low wages for unskilled labour in England, wages that are kept low by mass immigration, although we have plentiful unskilled labour. Such wages are not sufficient to bring a family up on, contravening the general presumption of earlier generations of libertarians that wages would, over the long run, rise to their natural level, a level that enabled the working poor to survive and bear children and participate in society at a minimum level.
Part of the problem is the benefits system, which offers people a choice to low-waged work, but does so by trapping people in a non-productive lifestyle indefinitely. However, the availability of “in-work benefits”, such as working family tax credits, reflects the fact that our unskilled wages are simply too low in an employment market rigged by immigration. Of course, poorer communities see most of the local jobs going to foreigners, and are left watching television all day, being bombarded with propaganda on racial and cultural themes in a bid to coerce them to support the immigration programmes that rig the employment market against them.
Finally, high property prices are a barrier to social mobility in a way that prevents people in the poorer working-class communities from advancing. In-work benefits were a disguised way of allowing the property boom to continue, as a family home could not be bought or rented by workers receiving the minimum wage. Property is another rigged market, with mass immigration, in-work benefits, housing benefit (where the state subsidises high land prices), and an array of policies to prevent the collapse of house prices following the banking-sector collapse all serving to defend the interests of those with money. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that England presents itself to most young people as a country in which it is impossible to make headway. Immigration, family break-up, welfarism, property prices—these all trap poorer communities in situ.
The broader culture of negativity
Bringing these things together, we have a society that is relentlessly negative. Media protrayals of society underline this. Take, for example, the soap opera, EastEnders: this malicious television drama presents a view of our society, particularly the worst multicultural parts of our society, as a country full of selfish and feckless individuals, unable to help themselves and without any community backup. Constant focus on obesity in the broadcast media has the same effect: what should be regarded as a personal problem is almost gleefully turned into an opportunity for sneering at the lower orders, who, it is argued, ought to be able to keep positive in their lives despite living, day in, day out, trapped in their socioeconomic circumstances, with no available opportunities. I have argued previously that obesity reflects the fact that many in society have given up—and this reflects the broader, corrosive negative culture that we are creating, fuelled by the constant negativity of multiculturalisma and egalitarianism, the promotion of family break-up and the general lack of economic opportunity.
Culture ought to be uplifting—something that unites us and allows us all to share in the best achievements of human creativity. Good linguistic standards are one aspect of this: previous generations of Englishmen loved our classic nineteenth-century novels, and sought to improve on their English in line with classical standards. Nowadays, the negative egalitarian discussion of linguistic standards emphasises the point that all linguistic standards are arbitrary. Of course, in one sense this is true—but the issue is social and cultural, rather than linguistic, and the uneducated are denied access to classical literature and poetry by the focus on demotic norms of speech. Poor linguistic standards form part of a wider dumbing down of culture in a way that demoralises society. Good education is no longer available in most parts of the country, as most schools focus on the inculcation of negative cultural themes such as egalitarianism and multiculturalism.
Another form of culture that could play an upbuilding role in culture is religion. The Church of England is there to help to create “Jerusalem”—heaven on earth—in England. The original Christian perspective of waiting for the Second Coming of Christ was long ago abandoned. Whatever the historical or theological objections to Christian doctrine, the church played a profoundly positive social and cultural role. All members of society experienced great architecture, language and music in every parish church, and positive cultural themes such as the benefit of hard work and the need to show love to one’s enemies were promoted from the pulpit every week in every village. Yet religious belief has been rubbished as part of the wider “culture of critique”, where everything uplifting in Western civilisation has had to be debunked. One of my favourite articles in the Daily Mail is an extract from Quentin Letts’ book, Bog-Standard Britain, where he explained the upbuilding effects of positive culture:
I read books. I write letters with a fountain pen. I polish my shoes. I attend church and like singing the ‘Te Deum’. I love my wife and, at the time of writing, she seems to have a reasonably benign view of me. I follow this way of life not to burnish my chances of making it to St Peter’s gates. I do so because such routines make me happy, because I was taught to do so by my parents and because I want to introduce my children to the same morale-boosting ways.
I do these things because they tie in with a tested idea of what is good for one, an idea of self-improvement—in short, of ‘getting ahead’. But this is an outdated notion in Britain today. To improve themselves, people need to know what is best and what is worth acquiring, but instead we have become obsessed with egalitarianism, despite the obvious truth that all men are not born equal. [“It’s time to rise up and revolt against dumbed-down Britain”, Daily Mail, November 6th, 2009.]
Positive culture and libertarianism
This article by Mr Letts repays careful reading and re-reading. Culture is morale-boosting, and the debunking of our culture is morally destructive, creating a society that becomes progressively mired in negativity. The harpies of the BBC and the shrill public debate that is foisted on us drips poison into our minds, constantly insisting that there is something wrong with maintaining high standards in any area of life, when these are the very things that would spur people on to achieve in a free society. Mr Letts goes on to say in the same article:
Class distinctions allow us to measure ourselves against the rest of society and work out where we are best able to bobble along like a cork on the sea. They offer rewards for self-improvement and a caution against self-neglect. They are our social speedometer and enable us to keep within the limit best suited to our engine capacity.
Self-improvement implies obtaining a good command of English, working daily to create a happy and committed family life, attending a traditional church on a regular basis, obtaining a good education that is worth the money, doing a worthwhile job, living in a nice property, and playing a positive role in the local community. All of these things are sneered at—not just by the state elite, but by many self-proclaimed libertarians too. Many of these ideals are simply impossible to attain in Britain today, or only possible in the most favoured circumstances. So we have a society where it is scarcely surprising that self-neglect is increasingly the norm, and self-improvement the widely mocked exception.
Once the rewards for self-improvement have been tarnished by the negative culture of critique or have slipped increasingly out of the reach of low-income communities, we are left with a society of people who have no reason to motivate themselves. Extraordinarily large numbers of people in England appear to have given up; they are no longer trying in their lives. It is hardly surprising therefore that this country’s individuated population, shorn of real opportunity in life, is reduced to calling for state help to solve all the problems of life. They—we—can no longer fend for ourselves.
If we think about what is needed for a libertarian society to be created, we will see that there is some kind of cultural basis that cannot be dispensed with. Not all societies are equally suited to socioeconomic freedom, as modern Britain appears to prove. One of the apparent prerequisites is a common culture in society: this is because cultural conflict leads inexorably to state management of the population. Yet there are self-proclaimed libertarians who seem to believe that the cultural conflict created by the mass ingress of the most culturally inappropriate immigrants is a vital strand of libertarianism, under the rubric of “free movement of labour”. Yet all this does is to prevent the labour market from operating properly, holding down low-end wages in a way that removes opportunity for many. These “libertarians” have failed to grapple with the fact that mass immigration and welfarism are two sides of the same coin, as most jobs are taken by immigrants as our own unskilled are deterred from entering the workforce by absurdly low wages.
Another one of the prerequisites of a free society is strong families. If people are not to rely on the state, they must be able to rely on each other. It is quite false for some libertarians to pretend that we live in a presocial state of nature, as if we are individuals who do not enjoy advantages from the existence of society. There is such a thing as society. For this reason, libertarianism cannot successfully encourage the creation of a society where individuals spurn responsibility to each other. If family ties can be rubbed out so easily, it is only because the state will step into the breach. There can be no free society, free of state control, unless family ties become stronger, and routinely so. There must be a social fabric, intwined with horizontal ties, to replace the vertical liens to the state.
More fundamentally, however, a free society presupposes individuals with the mental strength to forge their own way in life. People who fall prey to depression, or live their life on Valium, or who are unable to motivate themselves—whatever the reasons why they may sink into such unproductive attitudes and lifestyles, it seems clear they are not the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. A true libertarian society can only be founded in a culture where people are prepared to invest energy in their lives, to draw up plans and goals, and work hard to achieve them. Not all of these people will be successful—which is why social and family support networks are vital—but positivity and an upbeat attitude prevalent throughout society is an essential ingredient.
Coping with negativity
The problem, therefore, for libertarians who support economic self-reliance is that English society is patently not ready for self-reliance. The number of downbeat or depressed individuals is too high; the lack of economic opportunities too stark; the surrounding environment of egalitarian propaganda too depressing and demotivating; and the lack of strong families a barrier to a free society that it is difficult to surmount in a short space of time. The essential problem is that the more negative the culture feels to us, the easier the victory of the Establishment, roughshod, over us. We might win the arguments on points, but end up making those we speak to more discouraged by the slide of our society into bureaucratic control.
We cannot accept the new culture, because of its drip-drip negativity, which corrodes society and erodes the foundations for human effort and ingenuity. Yet, by enunciating our opposition to the prevailing cultural themes, we risk coming across as negative too, carping at state control, but unable to do anything about it. We need to think about how we can create a sense of positivity, positive action, enjoyable action, surrounding libertarian groups and organisations. I don’t have a full answer to this question, other than to encourage people I talk to to think along the lines of self-employment rather than traditional employment, where the wages are low and the social propaganda unavoidable. I would also encourage people not to watch television, but to keep their television set for DVDs of their own selection only. In this way, we should opt out of the demoralising propaganda of the BBC. I would also suggest to libertarians that life is too short to live in multicultural hellholes like London and Birmingham. The nice parts of our country are diminishing rapidly, but Lincolnshire, Cumbria, the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, etc.—all of these are locations where a libertarian could live a relatively happier life and escape some of the negative aspects of modern Britain.
It seems unlikely that we can totally avoid the state and its poisonous propaganda anywhere in the country, but by encouraging the building of networks of self-reliant English people in the more English parts of the country, we could help to make the state more irrelevant in our lives. Even so, it seems likely the prognosis for such a development is somewhat brighter in the US, where people are culturally more self-reliant, than in the UK. But by reading good literature, polishing our shoes, maintaining standards of politeness and decency in our private lives, as Quentin Letts pointed out, we can keep our own morale high and thus denounce state power in a cheerier way than if we were to allow the state to sap our spirit, all the while keeping our fingers crossed that the tendency of capitalism towards boom and bust eventually forces the state bureaucrats to implement more thorough-going reforms that weaken their grip on us.