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Andrew Lilico

Andrew Lilico: Over the very long haul, all that really matters is technology and religion

It's sometimes claimed that the values of our society arise game-theoretically, that something about complex societies with an interplay of urban and rural elements and a cycle of seasons means that society can only function without degenerating into anarchy or civil war if we have something close to the morals, values and aspirations that our society has - some kind of respect for fair play; near-equal esteem for all people regardless of sex, disability, creed or colour; toleration or more "positive" liberalism; respect for life; valuing of science and art and music; generosity towards popular culture; and so on.

If that were really so, it would be quite remarkable.  Indeed, since the morals, values and aspirations sketched above are clearly judaeo-christian-hellenic, and not shared by almost any other religion or philosophy, and arose in judaeo-christian-hellenism long before anything remotely like a modern society, it would virtually count as a proof of the truth of judaeo-christian-hellenism.

In fact, though, I think it's pretty clear that that's just wrong.  It just isn't true that complex society couldn't function on some radically different moral-aesthetic basis from ours.  The people that claim that are trying desperately to rationalise their sticking with Christian moral principles even though they've ditched the God bit.  Society could function perfectly well, thank-you, with human sacrifice, slavery, radical racism, gender-based oppression, the mainstream acceptance of child prostitution, and the hunting as a blood sport of criminals, political dissidents and the disabled.

Once we see this - once we really embrace it - we see that over the very long haul humanity is an epic battleground of values.  Many societies, right up to modern times, have routinely burnt widows, culled children for whom there wasn't surplus food, and exterminated the disabled.  There is no necessity in our thinking these things monstrous as opposed to mundane.  We think them monstrous only because of which army of ideas we happen to be in - which kingdom of religion we belong to.  There is no fundamental reason why, in 500 years' time, we should not think it perfectly normal, say, to hunt certain groups of humans for sport (as was done by the Indian Thugee cult of the early 19th century, or by the Tasmanian farmers of the late 19th century, or as per the recent hit movie and book series "The Hunger Games").

One implication of this is that we cannot expect our ideas/values to survive, let alone flourish, unless they have a vehicle to carry and promote them.  Call that vehicle a "religion" or a "philosophy" or an "ethic" as you will.  But whatever it is, if it's to flourish in a world of proselytizers - Islam, Evangelical Christianity, Communism - it will need disciples, evangelists and missionaries.  If we rely simply upon teaching our children, the fate of the Zoroastrians beckons.

Technology does make a difference, but technology-worshippers should be aware of its limitations.  Technology will determine whether, if we are curing the sick, we are doing so with herbs or cancer-killing nanobots; or if we are hunting them we are doing so with spears or lasers.  But technology cannot tell us whether we are curing or hunting them.  Technology utopians that imagine a Star Trek-esque future in which all the world is united in purpose make their story plausible only by imagining a common enemy that unites us - Klingons, Romulans, the Borg.  Technology provides the backdrop and implementation of our philosophy/religion/ethic, not its content and purpose.

A political philosophy is merely a theory of the principles, institutions, and customs of a practical outworking of a philosophy/religion/ethic.  It cannot be free-standing indefinitely.  Divorced from its religio-ethical foundations, a political philosophy will drift, atrophy, fade and die.

When we ponder to ourselves the big long-term question - as we must from time to time, and especially in our present circumstances - such as "Does it matter if constitutional Conservatism disappears?" or "Does it matter if Britain disappears altogether, or withdraws from the world stage?" - one of the things we really need to be asking is about the contribution of these institutions/ideas (Britain, constitutional Conservatism/Whiggism) to the expression, development and extension of our preferred religio-ethical systems.  Personally I regard Britain as a fundamentally constitutional entity (I don't believe there are any British values as such, apart from constitutional values; and Britain's nothing to do with nuns cycling to the village green so they can eat cucumber sandwiches whilst watching cricket, or whatever strange notions Conservative leaders tried to offer in the early 1990s).  And I don't believe that constitutional entity could last long without its Whiggish Conservative protectors.  So "Does it matter if constitutional Conservatism disappears?" and "Does it matter if Britain disappears altogether, or withdraws from the world stage?" are really the same question.

Given my own preferred religio-ethical philosophy, the answer to that question, over the long-term, turns on how much the existence of Britain will in the future contribute to the question of whether in 500 years time we shall, say, seek to promote the disciplined welfare of all humans, or instead admire the indisciplined way some humans hunt others for sport.  I regard Britain as having served in the past as an excellent disperser of the Christian good news and ethical teaching - though, being human in origin and design, obviously imperfect in all kinds of ways.  The United States has an obvious claim as the future political vehicle to carry on the good work.  And Britain's other, less estranged daughters such as Australia and Canada may rise further in the future.

Furthermore, Britain has become very decadent.  Our political establishment has no obvious goal/mission in the world - nothing akin to the Single European State project of the Continentals or the religious mission of the United States.  Sometimes decadence is the end for great powers.  On the other hand, sometimes it's not.  Britain was rather decadent in the late 17th century, and for times in the 18th century, but she recovered.

I believe recovering can be of long-term value.  A central part of our Establishment recovering, however, will be two things:

- First, you must understand what is at stake.  That we do not respond to recessions by sacrificing our children to the flames or confiscating the property of all the Jews is not inevitable.  That we smile and listen to jolly-but-tearful eulogies when a man dies, rather than burning his wife alive is not inevitable.  And history is not one way.  There is no reason we could not in the future do things we would today consider monstrous.  Even if you have no religious underpinning that tells you why you should prefer individual freedom, respect for life and property, and the exalting and protecting of the weak and sick and old and poor, you can at least understand the idea of choosing our team.  You can make the pure existential choice to promote judaeo-christian-hellenist values, comprehending that other choices were available and may be made by other people.  Over the long-term, the struggle is between us and them.  Or if you can't choose judaeo-christian-hellenist values, choose something else, and convince us that it's better or more feasible.

- Second, choose a mission, a goal.  What are we working towards?  Are we trying to build towards one day terraforming Mars?  Or perhaps we are working towards exploring other star systems?  Or are we aiming to create a new nation of the Anglosphere?  Or are we aiming to be the artistic capital of Europe?  Or the scientific powerhouse of the West?  What is the mission our Establishment has for our society?

Stick those together - a rationale for our being; and a specific medium-term objective for our society - and our decadence will fade.


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