It appears that one of the Blair Government’s many intended legacies to Britain may be massive destruction of public ideas and ideals of chivalry and dignity and their replacement by cultural proletarianization as crude, menacing and triumphalist as a Nuremberg Rally.
At present a Scotland Yard investigation into the sale of honors is underway and is reaching into high places. This, however, seems to me actually less important — it is not the first time in history it has happened — than the fact that the government has created an entire overarching background of cultural lowness and tawdriness, with the numen of tradition ridiculed and destroyed.
The latest essay into proletarianization, the bestowing of a knighthood on Irish rock singer Bono (Paul Hewson), came in an official e-mail which began: “Hi, Folks!” It was announced a week ahead of the other New Year honors, including any that might go to servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The award, Knight Commander of the British Empire, is one of the higher orders of Knighthood (OK, it is slightly below the Knight Commander of the Bath which Admiral Henry Harwood received for beating the pocket-battleship Admiral Graf Spee). The fact that Hewson is an Irish citizen makes the particular Order chosen even more bizarre.
Members of Parliament on all sides are calling it final proof of Blair manipulating the honors system for political advantage. Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay said: “I’m amazed at the way anti-establishment rock figures fall over each other to pick up gongs.” (I’m not so amazed, by the way. At the last Royal reception I attended Labour Party figures were climbing over one another like alligators in a pit for the chance of a Royal handshake, but that’s another story.)
The Prime Minister gushed: “Along with millions of others across the world I’m a huge fan.” Hewson has, for his part, called Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown “The Lennon and McCartney of global development,” which is evidently meant to be a compliment.p>Hewson is a member of the group U2, one of whose best-known song, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” is about British troops shooting people in Northern Ireland, though the message of the song and the politics surrounding it are ambiguous, and Hewson has denounced violence. Hewson’s concerts for Africa may or may not have done some good. He may, for all I know, be a perfectly nice man, but what has that to do with knightliness? Columnist Peter Hitchens wrote: br> /p>
“Who is supposed to benefit from this parody of honour? Who is sucking up to whom?br> Actually, the institution of Knighthood in Britain is now in such a state that it is hard to see why anyone would want to be a member of it — better, perhaps, if one is of knightly inclination (and not that there’s anything wrong with that), to buy one of the Orders offered for sale on the Internet — they at least have some sort of genuine chivalric impulse somewhere behind them.
It is hard to see why Mr Paul Hewson, a right-on citizen of a republic that rejected the British Crown and stormed out of the British Empire, should even want to belong to the Order of the British Empire, let alone be a Knight Commander of it.
The ideal of the knight — the man who is both valiant and chivalrous, both a brave champion of good and a gentle protector of the weak — has taken different forms in Britain and the U.S., but it has been important in the culture of both. It has been a potent cultural force, and for good. The typical John Wayne character, for example, was a “knightly” one. Knighthood was once a specifically religious sacrament, and preceded by prayer, vigil and fasting. Though some fell short of the ideal, a knight was at least meant to be something more than simply a good man, to be someone special, someone in a sense touched by the high and numinous.
The knighting of Mick Jagger, aging icon of the drug-culture with a life-style that needs little comment here, an event long predicted by Private Eye simply as a satirical comment on British cultural decadence, and of glam-rocker Elton John, indicated the Blair Government’s attitude to the whole idea of knightliness — a combination of joke and political tool. The old soldiers who returned their MBEs when the Wilson Labour Government handed them out to the Beatles in 1965 — ridiculed by the Beatles in songs like: “Hey, Bungalow Bill/ who did you kill?” — may have been foresighted.
To make it plain that knighthoods, or other honors, are regarded as really meaning nothing is to admit that the whole Marxist-deconstructionist mindset is correct and there is no objective value of worthiness to be recognized and honored, only baubles to be used for cynical political advantage, or to be deliberately abused in order to distress and demoralize class or political enemies. It is, in a queer way, part of the social totalitarianism that has never been far below the surface in Blair’s Britain.
With this treatment of what were once high honors goes an apparent compulsion to demean and proletarianize every great public occasion which should have associations of dignity and splendor.p>The 2002 Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace, celebrating 50 years of the Queen’s reign, consisted of a pop-concert with Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Paul McCartney and with simultaneous giant-screen coverage of England’s participation in a football match. Fifty years earlier, in contrast, C. S. Lewis had written to an enthusiastic American correspondent about the Coronation:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?