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Glorious Decline

by Theodore Dalrymple

The 2011 census of England and Wales is cause for worry, not celebration

One of the defining characteristics of the modern European liberal intellectual is cultural and even racial self-hatred: and nowhere is this self-hatred stronger than in England. Such self-hatred has become an ideology, and the strength to which it is felt by the intellectual the litmus test of his virtue and broad-mindedness (the two being now regarded as virtually identical).

On the day on which the results of the 2011 British census were published, the liberal newspaper the Guardian published a front-page commentary that began:

Perhaps we will remember 2012 as the year we learned who we are. The London Olympics did it first, offering a glimpse of a different nation from the one lodged so long in the collective imagination: not washed-up and living on past triumphs, but confident, capable and, above all, gloriously plural.

This passage is dense with hidden suppositions: for example, that the way in which people “imagined” the nation in the past was inaccurate or even fantastical, whereas now that we have reached our current state of enlightenment we can see it for what it really is. Multicultural tolerance or understanding, then, does not extend to the past, provided that it is the past of one’s own country. To the true multiculturalist, all other pasts are acceptable, excusable, or even laudable.

There is also the supposition that our glorious plurality has saved us from being a nation of washed-out incompetents. But when it comes to capability, at least in the higher fields of human endeavor, there are indications that it has been in relative decline rather than in the ascendant, to say nothing of an absolute and catastrophic decline in general levels of probity.

A few years ago, there was an advertisement for Barclays Bank at the baggage carousels at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. It showed a clunky platform shoe with a spangly Union Jack design. The legend read: “Our taste may have been suspect, but our banks never.” No one, I think, would nowadays dare propose such a legend. At a time when the British economy depends to a dangerous extent upon the financial sector, it turns out that our banks are banks of crooks, for crooks, run by crooks.

As to the inventiveness implied in the word “capable,” there are clear signs of its decline, the new presence of millions of immigrants in the country notwithstanding. The rate at which British scientists win Nobel prizes has fallen dramatically; Britain, with its centuries-old history of scientific inventiveness, now registers fewer patents than South Korea. There is hardly a single field in which the British are the industrial leaders; for example, there is not a single major British car company even though Britain’s automobile industry was one of the largest in the world 60 years ago. If British industry were to disappear altogether, hardly anyone in the rest of the world would notice. The reasons for this decline are no doubt complex, but “glorious plurality” has done, and will do, nothing to halt it.

As to the culture of the country, it has, as any long-term visitor will tell you, become shallow, shockingly crude and vulgar, and utterly worthless sub specie aeternitatis. The best that can be said for it is that, unfortunately, and to the discredit of the rest of the world, it finds an export market. The country’s public finances are disastrous, and (in contradistinction to many countries in Europe) its private finances too. The confidence in its own capability symbolized or brought about by the shallow and trashy opening ceremony of the Olympics is an indication of just how self-deluding and unable to make proper distinctions it has become.

The nature of the glory of “glorious plurality” is not further explained: It seems to consist mainly in such facts as that the population of London is now only 45 percent “white Britons,” no doubt soon to be lower still. Only people who think that there is something intrinsically undesirable about the white British could see this as a good, let alone a glory, in itself. Physically, the city has lost much of its distinct legacy, and looks increasingly like an unhappy hybrid of Dubai and Novosibirsk. Its police force, once famous for civility, at least by comparison with all other police forces in the world, seems increasingly like a paramilitary force employed by an unpopular foreign occupier, and its new reputation for bullying incompetence and fixation on crimes of opinion means that it is feared mainly by the law-abiding.

A further glory that the census reveals is the steep decline of the Christian religion. The proportion of the population describing itself as Christian has declined in England and Wales by 17 percent in the last ten years, and now stands at 59 percent. A quarter of the population describes itself as without any religion; at last the population seems ready to accept the greatest of all the liberal commandments, There is no God but Me. To illustrate the stupendous philosophical progress that the population has made in the past decade, extolled in several subsequent articles in the newspaper, there was a photograph of a boarded-up and derelict chapel in south Wales as two rather masculine-looking women walked past it, each with a pit bull (as the population of dogs in Britain declines, the proportion and numbers of aggressive fighting breeds increase). If, as seems likely, the decline of allegiance to Christianity means also a decreased knowledge of Christianity, this will have the happy result of separating the people of the country from its former traditions and its history.

The newspaper reports uncritically what Farooq Murad of the Muslim Council of Great Britain said: that the census poses “a reality check” to those “on the far right who try to alarm the country that Britain is being overrun by Islam.” This is because only 4.8 percent of the population now claims to be Muslim. What he omitted to mention is that the proportion has increased by 60 percent in ten years, so that, if that rate of increase were maintained (and of course a projection is not a prediction), 20 percent of the population would be Muslim within 30 years. By contrast, only 35 percent of the population would be Christian if the rate of decline in Christian allegiance were likewise maintained; and if, as seems possible, twice as many people claiming Muslim allegiance as Christian were genuinely practicing, Britain would be more Muslim than Christian.

There is other good news for liberals from the census: The proportion of the population that is married is in marked decline. Fewer than half of all households now consist of man and wife, while the number of people cohabiting, living alone, or living as single parents is increasing rapidly. This is such good news because it almost certainly means more people dependent upon the state for subventions and more social pathology for the state apparatus ineffectually to try to counteract. And once people are sufficiently dependent on the state, once they regard the state as father to the child, it is difficult to withdraw the subventions without causing the kind of hardship that makes excellent sob stories for the press and television to report. In other words, it guarantees employment in the state sector forever. As a 16th-century German bishop once said, the poor are a gold mine.

There is one exception, of course, to the decline in marriage: homosexual marriage. As the Guardian gleefully puts it, marriage is in so parlous a condition in Britain that perhaps homosexual marriage will save it from oblivion. It is astonishing how quickly an idea that only a few years ago would have seemed absurd even to liberals is now so orthodox that anyone who doubts its wisdom is placed in the same category as the person who beats up homosexuals wherever he finds them, perhaps to keep thoughts of his own sexual ambivalence at bay. It is obvious that the demand for homosexual marriage is the consequence and yet another manifestation of the destruction of marriage as the social norm, and cannot possibly rescue it; but no one should suppose that, once homosexual marriage is universally accepted, there will be an end to the reformist impulse that gives meaning to the lives of liberals. A letter in the Guardian from a bisexual jokingly demanded that bisexuals be allowed a wife and a husband, but what starts as a joke in our society becomes an unassailable doctrine within an ever-shortening lapse of time.

The commentary in the Guardian, seeing in the census the triumphant apotheosis of all the paper stands for, says: “Put simply, people are on the move — and some of them are coming here.” Oh, so that’s it, is it? Lots of British people are moving to Bangladesh and Nigeria to live permanently, are they, and taking out Bangladeshi and Nigerian citizenship?

It is not so much the demographic change that signifies the long-programmed suicide of a nation and its civilization: It is the sheer joy and enthusiasm with which the rapid and wholesale dissolution of tradition is being greeted. It is not so much that we now know who we are: It is rather that we no longer want to be who we are.

– Mr. Dalrymple is the author, most recently, of Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality.

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