Friday, June 3, 2011

A Comment on Peter Hitchens: The Broken Compass

Reading Peter Hitchens' book, The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost Its Way, is a bit like reading a prophecy of a train wreck written several years in advance of the event. Hitchens is a traditional conservative Christian who laments the take-over of the British Conservative by the "heir to Blair" David Cameron and his band of left-leaning, empty suits who crave power but have no idea what good could possibly be done with that power. In short, they crave power for power's sake. Nothing Cameron and co. have done since they won the election shows Hitchens to be anything but accurate and prescient.

Hitchens is convinced that British politics is broken because a shallow, slogan-based, thoughtless left-wing political correctness has become the consensus of both of the major parties in Britain. For Hitchens, the essence and the glory of British parliamentary democracy is that conservatives and liberals argue every issue from all sides before a decision is made. This no longer occurs in Britain because the conservative wing of the Labor Party is all but extinct and the Conservative Party has joined the cultural revolution of the 60s generation.

As a result, thought crime is now a reality in Britain and free speech is in decline. It is impossible to have a principled debate in this context; politics has become a matter of celebrity fueled by gossip and school-child level petty rivalries. The media comes in for special treatment in this jeremiad as opting for entertainment over substance and as in bed with political operatives to manipulate public opinion rather than informing people as to actual policy differences between politicians and parties.

Hitchens chronicles the "long march through the institutions" of the cultural Marxists one at a time: education, the media, transportation, parliament, etc. He laments the destruction of the British rail system and the growth of roads and the dominance of a car culture. Ruining beautiful cities and towns and destroying the countryside is distressing to one who loves his native England.

Hitchens is a true conservative, not a neo-conservative like so many ex-Trotskyites. His is a conservativism of "first do no harm" and "remember original sin." He is no Utopian and a skeptic about the worship of equality of outcomes rather than of opportunities, which he views as inherently totalitarian. He believes in tolerance like a 19th century liberal and is regarded as a conservative for doing so. He understands why this is so and his experience as a correspondent in the pre-1989 Soviet block enables him also to understand his opponents.

Boiled down to its essence, the book's central claim is that without a viable, popular and principled conservative political force, Britain is doomed. It is moving inexorably toward a future that the people of the Soviet Union and its satellite states threw off in disgust and calls it progress.

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