• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

It is commonplace that the present generation suffers from a crippled
view of history — the gift of several decades of educational
experiments which (we can now see) failed tragically. This has allowed
smug and nationally self-hating historical arguments, that still speak
to that generation in Britain and America, to pass with little argument
into general acceptance.

A good description of this sad blend of ignorance and stupidity was
written half a century ago by Rebecca West. She quoted a famous medieval
remark from Bernard of Chartres: “We are like dwarfs seated on the
shoulders of giants; we see more things than the ancients and things
more distant … because we are raised and borne aloft on that giant
mass.” Dryly Ms. West continued:

    It is possible that the dwarfs may in the course of time rebel
    against the giants, and kick and scream, and insist on getting down to
    the ground again, because the extended view … from the giants’
    shoulders shows them things they would prefer to ignore. …

The giants in the present case are the great figures — first
English and then American — that in the past few centuries have sent
the bearers of English law and language to the ends of the earth, in the
case of Britain creating a worldwide empire the like of which had never
been seen — and, given the state of the world now, will never be seen
again. The screaming dwarfs infest the smug, malign, and destructive
intellectual class — mostly on the political left — who have
sedulously taught the British and Americans that it is respectable, even
admirable to sneer at and despise that imperial heritage and, at home,
to reject their own national traditions and identity.

In America this cultural warp has been expressed mostly (but not
only) in quasi-fascist organizations like the ethnically based Black
Muslims with their fake history, their private storm troopers, and their
tribal separatist agenda, and by the historical imbeciles who mount
movements to “compensate” self-proclaimed ethnic victims for the
supposed present effects of somewhat over-hyped past wrongs and horrors,
especially slavery.

In Britain this grotesquerie takes a slightly different form. It is
now on the whole a common kneejerk assumption that the imperial heritage
is a shameful thing, little more that a long record of oppression,
cruelty, racism and brutal exploitation, and that the British found
their greatest expression of true moral and political worth in breaking
it up. They were, according to this liberal orthodoxy, forced to give
way to an admirable spirit of independence, freedom, and
self-determination; all this rather came adrift in North America, where
the United States became a regrettable successor to Britain as a
worldwide superpower; but some time later, in Ireland, the sequel was
more acceptable, if sadly incomplete in the case of Ulster. After the
Second World War this autoklastic (i.e., self-deploring) game continued
in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East — a trail which led
to the Far East and Australia and to other territories, e.g., Hong Kong;
the loose end of Ulster is now being sneakily trimmed away by the Blair
government. The point is not whether the British had a choice over any
of this, but that they are taught to regard it as an unalloyed good
thing, with unimpeachable consequences of self-determination, freedom,
democracy, and tender regards for human rights.

Certainly America, with a system created by British intellectuals (of
a somewhat higher quality than we see today), has preserved much of the
best of its British political and cultural inheritance in healthy
condition, as have Canada and Australia and a very few others.
Elsewhere, as contemporary events have shown (to some), the removal of
British rule was not the universal blessing that the “freedom” merchants
would have had us believe. In the condescendingly labeled “developing”
world the corrupt, violent, and brutal caricatures of British democracy
– Zimbabwe and Pakistan are only the most spectacular current examples,
with a more benign but crime-rotten South Africa not far behind — show
well enough how naive, not to say stupid the decriers of empire were in
painting a golden future for the “lesser breeds,” once they had forced
the British to let them go back outside the law. The pathetic
“Commonwealth,” which has little (aside from a past under British rule)
in common and less wealth, has betrayed time and again the laughable
hollowness of its pretence to maintain the best of inherited British

But of course this is not a new story. In London, as long ago as
1986, The Times devoted several columns of its July 14 op-ed page to
comment on Commonwealth agitation over human rights. Under the headline,
“See Who Preaches Liberty,” Times journalist David Hart exposed the
moral fakery of Commonwealth demands for sanctions against an
“oppressive” South Africa; he offered a grim list of Commonwealth
countries who were just as oppressive, and rather more brutal. Among the
illustrations was a familiar face: Robert Mugabe. Then, as now, the
British government preferred not to notice the phony piety and welcomed
the support of racist dictators, killers, and tyrants in the noble
battle against racist dictatorship, murder, and tyranny. Today the
Commonwealth continues its disgraceful record, but with a refusal to
condemn the racist, murderous, and tyrannical dictatorship in Zimbabwe.
And the attitude of the present British government itself has been,
after a few rhetorical flourishes, one of pious hope that things will
get better — some day.

Does it follow that the horrors of post-colonial rule wipe away the
notional evil of the empire? Ah, but of course not. History remains,
history, and the empire remains (to liberals) a blot on Britain’s past
– which by a curious intellectual osmosis has soaked into our own
record. As for the “freed” tyrannies and dictatorship, your liberal
professors and journalists like to say (with a touch of indignation)
that these little difficulties are internal matters, that speaking out
about them is a form of neo-colonialism (i.e.. immoral pressure), and
that every people has the right to make its own mistakes. A cynic might
put it another way: the argument means that at least the former colonial
subjects are committing their own crimes against each other, which
spares the British and/or the American superpower the trouble (and
obloquy) of oppressing them. As for the Europeans, their interest has
been the market potential of these bloodstained corners of the world –
not these other irritating considerations. They too feel that if these
markets have twisted a rather limited cultural inheritance from us into
a grotesque and bloodstained caricature, that is their affair and none
of our own. Their money is as good as anyone’s — if it happens to be
counted out in dollars.

This species of moral cop-out is fashionable at the moment. It
operates in the continuing policy toward the Islamist dictatorship in
Pakistan, toward the still-brutal Communist regimes in China and North
Korea and Cuba, and is spectacularly on show in Africa, with Britain’s
ongoing timorous and forked-tongue approach to the brutal,
election-rigging dictatorship of Mugabe.

The most interesting aspect of all this is that the very people who
in recent memory slated Western governments — and above all the
Americans — for their support of right-wing dictatorships in Asia and
Latin America are exactly those who manage the present nervous kid-glove
treatment of rather bloodier and more brutal regimes; tyrannies which,
moreover, do not even bother to deny either their bloody brutality or
their atrocious violations of human rights. It is a piquant spectacle,
showing that the world may have changed in some ways, but certain sorts
of political chicanery and cowardice go on forever.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.