Post-Moral Journalists are Endangering the Constitution and their Profession | Adam Garrie
The legacies of Benjamin Disraeli and Margaret Thatcher are traditionally considered to rest at opposite ends of the Conservative party in terms of their respective intellectual arguments. Disraeli was the man who breathed new life into traditional Toryism by supporting the expansion of democracy among the working classes. He radiated a gallant patriotism that was intentionally wedded to stark warnings directed at Britain’s poor. These warnings proclaimed that cosmopolitan liberals could never relate to their plight in the way that high Tories with firm roots in tradition could do.
Margaret Thatcher by contrast tends to be remembered as the leader who killed off the last vestiges of the “old” Tory party, thus completing its transition from one which emphasised Queen, Church and traditional society, into a party which was first and foremost one which aimed to oppose reckless socialist economic policies, all the while neglecting the institutions that Disraeli held dear.
Far from being irrelevant to today’s political crises, the arguments pertaining to Disraelian versus Thatcherite traditions in Conservative thought continue to rage today. This is the case even though Disraeli presided over a government which spent vastly less than that of Thatcher, whilst Thatcher holds the noble distinction of leading the country to victory in the Falklands.
In any case, whilst the differences between Disraeli and Thatcher are often exaggerated in order to make important contemporary political points, they shared one interesting trait. Both came from backgrounds that were atypical for residents of No. 10. Disraeli was Britain’s only Jewish born Prime Minister and the Methodist Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s first of two female Prime Ministers.
It is no coincidence that whilst France and the United States are in many ways more socially liberal than Britain, it was nevertheless Britain that put a man of Jewish birth and a two females into its highest political office. By contrast, the “ultra modern” republics across the Atlantic and across the Channel, respectively, have not had political leaders whose backgrounds are such obvious deviations from the mainstream. When such “exoticism” was minimally attempted elsewhere, a Catholic President of the US was assassinated and a deeply uncompromising rogue was recently impeached. Such a reality makes the political paths of Disraeli and Thatcher appear entirely commonplace in relative terms.
The reasons underlying these trends cannot be explained by Britain “defying” its traditions. On the contrary, Disraeli and Thatcher became colossal political figures because of Britain’s constitution which is steeped in tradition whilst being mercifully light on secular dogmas of any variety. This allows for a flexible political atmosphere within the framework of a stable and prescriptive spiritual state.
Britain’s constitution is neither Methodist nor is it Jewish and yet it gave a female Methodist and a highly charismatic Jew, a laurel that France and the US have failed to do in their respective political systems. The fact of the matter is that Britain’s Anglican constitution, its monarchy and its customs have served to keep minds open to the possibilities of deviating from the norm in the world of politics and of course also in the worlds of business, the arts, academia, sport, jurisprudence and science. This is because each of these secular spheres exist in a parallel realm to that of the state and its ancient spiritual institutions.
To frame it in another way, in Britain, the spiritual nation as embodied by the Monarch and Church is sufficiently separated from the secular grind of politics. As a result of this, Britain’s politicians have never had to prove personal credentials to the same lugubrious degree that French and American politicians are subjected to on a regular basis.
Forgetting matters of religion, race and sex, consider Boris Johnson. Johnson’s comedic and eccentric persona would immediately disqualify him where we a Frenchman trying to lead the 5th Republic or otherwise an American trying to enter the White House (Johnson was in fact an American for most of his life, though not one who aspired to be President).
But whilst Johnson’s detractors call him a buffoon and his supporters call him a lovable eccentric, the country as a whole was happy to lend his party overwhelming support in the general election of December of 2019 – safe in the knowledge that the head of state could never be described as a buffoon nor an eccentric of any variety. The fact that state institutions in Britain are consistent and reassuring, has given politicians the freedom to be themselves. This has likewise given the public the ability to not just tolerate but celebrate such unique and extraordinary politicians when they appear.
This proves that for all of the molestation to the constitution of Britain at the hands of Tony Blair and his acolyte David Cameron, someone who doesn’t fit the profile of a typical politician can still attain the country’s highest political office. Furthermore, the medieval witch hunt against Donald Trump that one witnessed in January would be impossible under a British constitution which simply requires a government to command the straight forward confidence of Parliament.
Yet all is not well. The concept of intellectual dissent is indelibly related to the concept of support for political leaders whose personal backgrounds and characteristics deviate from the “norm”. Indeed, it has been Britain’s traditional constitution and shared social confidence in ancient institutions that have allowed for vigorous debates in Parliament and elsewhere to transpire without concluding in secular witch hunts, street violence, a loss of civility, let alone pogroms and ceaseless civil strife.
But is this still the case? The present pandemic crisis has shone light on some preexisting trends in society that should have long ago been confronted. Most mainstream journalists covering the pandemic can be roughly divided into two categories. First of all, there are those who are doing their best impersonations of North Korean propagandists. The goal of such people is to heap excoriation upon anyone who dares to question the efficacy of the government’s policies. On the other hand are vulgarians whose main purpose appears to be one of childish point scoring that is devoid of any real foundation in critical thinking and thoughtful opposition.
There are of course some voices in the wilderness such as Peter Hitchens, a man whose clear aim is to engage in refined critical thinking and thoughtful opposition. In spite of or perhaps because of this, Peter Hitchens and his readers have seen first hand that a shrew like and hectoring version of the North Korean treatment awaits anyone who dares to question government policy from an empirical and enquiring position.
Not only is the juvenile silencing of dissent wholly un-British, but it is also curiously republican. In a republic, a county’s political leadership represents the state itself. In Britain, the political leadership represent themselves and this is only possible because their constituents have given them a temporary mandate which expresses itself in the form of a Commons majority.
Britain’s constitution does not afford any specific respect or authoritarian privileges to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. Their respect is derived from that which any subject ought to offer another subject and their only privileges as Privy Councillors are those that involve giving advice – not issuing diktats.
But when journalists act as though the opposite were the case, there is a danger that politicians will begin to act out the role that journalists have staged for them.
Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely and whilst the constitution does not authorise Britain’s politicians to act in a tyrannical fashion, there is little to stop someone from exceeding their authority when one is worshipped by high profile journalists who appear more interested in savaging their readers on social media than they are in scrutinising the government of the day.
There is no conspiracy afoot among journalists who are using republican and even authoritarian tactics to convince the people that politicians are beyond the scrutiny that all politicians deserve. Instead, a combination of declining standards in education, a supreme detachment from the moral fabric of tradition and a total ignorance of constitutional realities, has resulted in dissent being viewed as treason rather than an exercise in important freedoms.
Freedom of speech, of expression and the freedom to scrutinise politicians is even more important during a crisis than it is during more placid times. Britain’s journalists have therefore failed not only their readers but they are doing serious damage to a constitution that the political class have neglected along with their cohorts in Fleet Street.
Few police states are created out of thin air. They arise when the normal modes of restraining power are slowly eroded by thousands of little swipes. Sadly, there is no vaccine against the disease of creeping republicanism.
Photo by Özge Güngörmüş on Flickr.