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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Radicalism in Ruritania: then and now

I grew up here, in Ruritania. 

Fifty years ago – yes, it’s as long ago as that for me – teenage boys in my grammar school used to quiz themselves to find out if they were conservatives or radicals, authoritarians or democrats, socialists or whatever-the-opposite of-socialist was in those days. Some of the quizzes were devised by a popular psychology Professor of the period, Hans Eysenck – who it was later discovered, faked his research results. Anyway, it was good fun. We were an argumentative lot.

You came out of those quizzes as a Radical if you signed up to Disestablishment of the Church of England, Abolition of the Ruritanian Monarchy, Abolition of its House of Lords, Abolition of the Death Penalty, Decriminalisation of male homosexuality (female homosexuality was never illegal in Ruritania) and Prohibition of Blood Sports. 

In other words, a Radical – aka a Progressive - was anyone who took democratic ideas seriously and had a bit of humanity about them. 

The list of boxes to be ticked could be expanded, of course, but at my school I don’t think we knew much about the boxes for Abortion, Divorce, Free Love though we did know about Votes for Women (which was no longer a Radical box to tick because the conservatives had already caved in on that one). Belief in God was optional – you could be a Radical and believe in God and more did then than do now.

Socialism was another dimension and whether you were Socialist or not depended on your views on state power, economic egalitarianism, property ownership and so on. Belief in God was optional – you could believe in God and Christian Socialists (who existed then) did.

It’s all changed now. 

Immigration has created completely new Boxes to tick. You get to be a Progressive if you are against Female Genital Mutilation and Forced Marriages since conservatives in immigrant communities favour those things. To someone of my age and background, it’s like we have gone back centuries. I find it hard to see how you can have debates about whether or not it’s right to mutilate a girl’s genitals. It's a crime of violence and a matter for the police to prosecute. You can put money and effort into explaining to people that they will go to prison or have their children taken away from them if they ignore your warnings. But there is really no Debate to be had. It's not a bit like debating the House of Lords. The long-term health and happiness of particular, nameable individuals is at stake, now and irreversibly.(I feel the same about male genital mutilation).

The Ruritanian government, which rests on the support of the quarter of the population who are Middle Englanders, has in recent years redefined the meaning of “Radical”. A Radical – often enough an argumentative teenager in many respects like the one I was – is now someone who sits at home watching videos of people having their heads cut off with a knife and thinking that this is the right way to treat people who have different views on theological matters. Our only defence against these teenagers, we are told, is their conservative elders. It's a strange world in which a Radical is someone with a taste for snuff movies

As for Socialism, well you can’t even see those boxes anymore. The Daily Mail won’t allow it. And most of what remains of the Labour Party agrees.

1 comment:

  1. 50 years ago it was a pretty innocuous thing to be a radical, as you were considered harmless. Now, with radical having developed into a verb (to radicalize), both the noun and the verb have sinister overtones. Meanwhile, radicals in the old fashioned sense are now dismissed as dinosaurs. Which means that Britain is becoming both more extreme and more conservative, with an ever widening gaps between the two sides.