According to Hitchens a major factor in our cultural decline has been the influence of television. He accuses it of ‘helping to spread false ideas about society, through propagandist drama’ which has lead to ‘a national conformism among the young, in taste, humour, morals and politics’. As a consequence ‘the feverish, unsettling changes’ it has brought about have weakened people’s attachment to their ‘traditions and institutions, liberties and independence’ that has resulted in a ‘slow motion coup d’etat’.
Hitchens acknowledges that the British cultural revolution has so far been free of direct violence to people. Instead he argues that violence has been done ‘to institutions, to traditions, ways of doing things and to language’. In so doing ‘we have abolished the very customs, manners, methods, standards and laws’ which have restrained us from the ‘sort of barbaric behaviour that less happy lands suffer’. He believes that ‘the cultural battle, ignored by most politicians, is often more decisive and important than the noisier clash of parties’.
Hitchens draws attention to the long legacy of cultural conservatism which only began to break down in the 1960s. As a consequence this allowed ‘progressive’ cultural iconoclasts to reconstruct society ‘so that the most abject conformism appears to be rebellious and safely undisciplined’. This dissemblance allowed genuine individualism to be branded as ‘merely eccentric, barmy or contemptible’ resulting in a ‘soap-watching admass conformist society, happy to deride free thought and suppress heresy’.
Hitchens specifically addresses the devaluation of language ‘stripped of its literary references where almost nobody has heard of Cranmer or Tyndale, and Shakespeare is considered too rich a mixture for our young’. Similarly architecture ‘once full of messages of authority and faith, is now lumpish and unhistorical’ reflecting the worship of ‘money, power, technology, even of ugliness itself’. He eulogises a past when Britain was a ‘multinational state, though not a multicultural one’ in which people ‘understood authority and respected it without grovelling to it, for it was also a society of individualists’. In contrast he laments the present time which ‘in a generation, all this has been demolished, concreted over, reformed out of existence’.
He rightly denounces the supposedly Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher as a ‘false dawn’ since neither she nor her party were ‘interested in morals or culture’, believing instead in ‘the cleansing power of the market’. As a result she unwittingly ‘helped to destroy many of the things Conservatism once stood for’ and was ‘unable to reverse a single part of the cultural revolution’. In power the Tories could come up with nothing better than ‘the brute force of the market’, a materialistic outlook that ignored ‘patriotism, morality, tradition and beauty, elevating the businessman to the role of bishop’.
Fortunately, some of Hitchens fears have not come to pass. He predicted that ‘unfair referendums in which the BBC is not required to show balance’ would be held to ‘rush the country into the Euro and into proportional representation’. As it turned out the New Labour government was never able to commit to joining the Euro, and the referendum to introduce a PR system was lost as the British people voted overwhelmingly to retain the first past the post system. He speculated on whether the British people ‘any longer possess the will or the identity’ to resist Britain’s immersion in a European superstate, or whether they will ‘sink, exhausted and grateful, into the mushy embrace of the new Europe’. Reassuringly, the British public decided to leave the European Union altogether, so this threat has at least been lifted for the foreseeable future.
Peter Hitchens analysis of the cultural decline of Britain is broadly correct. The mainstream media has become debased and degenerate, continually pandering to the baser elements in society. The BBC, once synonymous with high minded cultural values, has been transformed into a mouthpiece for multicultural, politically correct, conformist group-think. Barbarous architecture is widespread, repulsive genres of ‘music’ such as rap, hip-hop and trance are promoted uncritically, and sensationalised, celebrity obsessed, gutter journalism has become the norm. Although Peter Hitchens is for the most part right on many issues, one subject he largely ignored was the impact of large scale third world immigration, with its consequential undermining of traditional British cultural values, social cohesion and sense of shared community.