There'll always be an England, people used to say. Now the emphasis is on used to say. Because one report after another from that once sceptered isle is less than encouraging. For years the talented Anthony Daniels, who also writes, prolifically, under the name Theodore Dalrymple, has been chronicling Britain's social disintegration. His reports from once jolly old England make it sound like something out of "Clockwork Orange."
Maybe it was his day job as a prison doctor that gave Dr. Daniels so sour a perspective. Let's hope his is a skewed vision. Because in this Age of Obama, Americans are being told to adopt policies that seem strikingly similar to the just rejected Labor Party's nostrums -- in everything from health care to taxation, political correctness to economic regulation, labor law to foreign policy.
If that's going to be the shape of our progressive, Social Democratic, oh-so-advanced future, let's get off this roundabout now and head straight back to the past.
Skimming a choice selection of headlines from the Daily Mail's website is not exactly a cheery way to start the day:
"A-level student, 17, stabbed to death at home in front of parents 'was victim of mistaken identity' "
"Soap actress left blind in one eye after being attacked with wine glass in bar row"
"50,000 British women warned their breast implants could explode"
"Council to ban the word 'obesity' -- so fat children don't get offended"
"Teenager who blinded man with her stiletto heel in drunken brawl is jailed for 18 months"
"Man suffocates to death after falling into clothes recycling bin"
"Nurse who told heart patient to mop up his own urine is free to continue working"
"Woman, 86, threatened by M&S security staff for eating biscuit in wrong part of the store"
And so depressingly on. Britannia, where have you gone?
Mark Steyn, who writes the back-of-the-book essay for National Review, picked out these headlines to illustrate Britain's social disintegration. His conclusion: "What strikes you about the peculiar combination of drunken depravity, random violence, petty officiousness and political correctness is the sheer bloody pointlessness of it all."
You may suspect, as, as I did, that the game is fixed, that these news items can't be representative of British society. Or there wouldn't be much of a society left. Surely the quotes were selected for their scare value. In order to paint the dreariest picture possible of what has happened to the mother country. (Remember when Americans were allowed to refer to Britain as the mother country -- before the phrase was deemed too Anglocentric to be acceptable in the public prints? Now even the bust of Winston Churchill has been exiled from the White House.)
Unfortunately, Mr. Steyn has some statistics to back up the impression left by the headlines he chose. He notes that that the UK now has "the highest drug use in Europe, highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, highest number of single mothers," and that "marriage is all but defunct, except for toffs, upscale gays, and Muslims." The whole country seems to have become downwardly mobile. Britain now has become an example to beware, not emulate.
If the news from Britain is a preview of the American future, it's time for an immediate U-turn. Before it's too late. For, despite the emphasis on political and economic issues in recent presidential campaigns ("It's the economy, stupid!"), it's the culture that counts.
A country can rebound from economic difficulties and even political demoralization -- see the New Deal, or the Reagan Years -- but how restore the social fabric, the very culture of a country, once it's been allowed to deteriorate? The collapse of educational standards may be only the most pervasive and influential symptom of what ails us.
How turn it all around? It can be done, but not easily. And the longer the challenge is ignored, the greater it grows. Until a tipping point is reached, and then it may be too late. Which is what's so worrisome about Great Britain, where more than the pound is being devalued. A whole, distinctive culture is being lost. And if England is lost, as every English speaker in the world must know in his heart, the world is.
It is such visions of the American future that may explain the rise of the latest political phenomenon on this side of the pond--the Tea Party, a variegated collection of Americans who have only this much in common: Like Howard Beale in Network, they're mad as hell and they're not going to take this anymore! They're opening the nearest window and shouting their rage. Yes, they're reactionaries -- but they have much to react against. What intelligent observer wouldn't?
No, the Tea Partiers may not know what to do about the problem, but at least they know we've got one. And they're not going to be all nice and quiet about it.