The Decline Of British Decency | Ben Thompson


Conservatives sometimes shy away from ‘talking down’ their country for fear of appearing unpatriotic.

But to ignore a decline in behaviour that would benefit us all does a great disservice to our country, so conservatives ought not to be afraid of addressing troubling trends.

One chief among these is the general decline of ‘decency’ – behaviour that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability – within British society.

This is a trend that has seemingly been marked for a decades now.

Take for example, the ‘Brits abroad’ stereotype (Defined by Urban Dictionary as ‘A mentally challenged individual from the UK, who travels to foreign countries with no intention of integrating with the culture there‘).

Why is it that Britons have developed this reputation for being poorly behaved whilst travelling abroad? Research conducted by the travel company Expedia has repeatedly deemed Britons to be the worst behaved among tourists.

To the shame of the rest of us, the evidence keeps looking us in the face. Britons starting a mass brawl on a cruise ship in 2019, Britons being pinpointed as the cause of a 2003 crime-wave in the Greek island of Rhodes, a 18 year old British girl performing oral sex on twenty-four men to win a £2 bottle of wine in Magaluf, etc.

You get the idea, it’s not pretty.

And it runs contrary to this image that is constantly put forward in Hollywood films of the mild-mannered and painfully polite Brit.

Britons didn’t always have this reputation for being slovish and rude.

In his book Exploring English Character (1955), psychologist and anthropologist Professor Geoffrey Gorer noted that the English had their ‘natural aggression’ successfully controlled: ‘In public life today, the English are certainly among the most peaceful, gentle, courteous, and orderly population the civilised world has ever seen.’

George Orwell wrote similar things in 1944, remarking that ‘An imaginary foreign observer would be struck by our gentleness.’

The most complementary tribute to the English character comes from American philosopher George Santayana, who lived in several European countries throughout his life. In 1922, he gushed, ‘The Englishman is disciplined, skilful, and calm […] He knows how to be well-dressed without show, and pleasure-loving without loudness.’

These descriptions cast such a sharp contrast compared to our modern reputation.

Admittedly, the above descriptions could be taken with a pinch of salt, if we were to think of how the English were perceived in parts of the world that did not share their culture.

The way in which public decency seems to be on the decline is a matter of great concern. Why exactly this has occurred is another matter entirely.

Cultural critic and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple blames the transformation of Britons into ‘total and shameless vulgarians’ on cultural relativism: ‘Since it is easier and more immediately gratifying to behave without restraint, than with it, and there is no longer any generally accepted argument or even prejudice in favour of the restraint that leads to public decorum, there is no standpoint from which to criticise vulgarity.’ (Life At The Bottom: The Worldview That Makes The Underclass, Theodore Dalrymple, Ivan D. Ree, 2001, p. 86)

The coarseness of modern British life is damaging in a multitude of ways, but is particularly harmful in how it undermines efforts to integrate immigrants. Why would immigrants feel any desire to become a part of wider British society, if that society supposedly upholds the right to promiscuity and drunkenness as it’s highest virtues? (Read Ed West’s The Diversity Illusion for more on this)

This is a argument made from a conservative perspective, but I don’t think it’s even a subject of partisan division. Many on the left have lamented the ‘selfishness’ of people who flouted lockdown restrictions to go partying.

A particularly shocking example of this came on New Year’s Eve when hundreds of people broke into All Saints Church in East Horndon, Essex, and threw a party which subsequently wrecked the 500 year old church.

Mercifully, over £17,000 has been raised to go towards repair costs. So evidently, decent and good people still exist among us.

But does this behaviour not alarm anybody else?

Contemplate how drug use within a church would have been perceived fifty years ago. And then reflect on the fact that hundreds of people saw no issue with breaking into a church to participate in mindless hedonism – to toast in a new year in which they’d presumably do more of the same.

Where does the solution lie?

Ultimately, with ourselves.

We have to be the ones trying to uphold those stereotypical British manners, against all odds. We should be that person who offers a seat on public transport, the one who tries to refrain from excessive swearing, and the one who offers patience to a overwhelmed customer service employee.

As lockdown restrictions ease, we should branch out to our communities again. Involve kids in clubs that teach integrity and decency, reach out to our neighbours and extend a hand of friendship to local businesses.

Character matters – and we should not be so arrogant as to assume that literature from hundreds of years ago can flout contemporary trends in our behaviour.

We need to shape up, or accept the ‘Brits Abroad’ tag is to be our destiny.


Photo Credit.

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