Britain's great culture war continues to become simultaneously more totalitarian and more ridiculous.
A recent development is that the Plymouth Council for Racial Equality, funded by the Government's Commission for Racial Equality, the main power-house of Britain's Race Relations Industry (one of the country's major growth industries at present), is attacking the fact that a nearby pub has been named after the Elizabethan sea dog Sir John Hawkins, a companion of Sir Francis Drake and one of the chief British Admirals who defended England against the Spanish Armada.
The pub is located close to Hawkins's birth-place, commemorated by a plaque, and the town already has a Sir John Hawkins Square.
He was one of the great figures of one of the most daring and rambunctious phases of British history, credited not only with harassing Spain mightily, but also with introducing potatoes to England and making major improvements in ship-design. Hawkins played a major role in creating the more powerful and seaworthy English ships which beat the cumbersome Spanish galleons.
In 1590 Drake and Hawkins founded a charity for the relief of sick and elderly mariners. This was followed by a hospital in 1592 and another in 1594, the Sir John Hawkins' Hospital. The charity continues today.
Hawkins's name is synonymous with British sea-faring. When Robert Louis Stevenson named the cabin-boy in Treasure Island Jim Hawkins, everyone knew that he was going to be the hero. The name was carried proudly in World War II by a Royal Navy heavy cruiser.
THE CAUSE OF THE complaint is that Hawkins was also involved in slave-trading and wrote a book on the subject. He is often, though falsely, said to have begun the British slave-trade to America in 1562 (It actually began years earlier).
Opinions may differ about Hawkins. His defenders claim, on the slavery issue, that he was a creature of his times: even 89 years later, in 1631, the Irish village of Baltimore was sacked by Muslims from Algiers and almost the whole population carried away to slavery. Further, at least in other ways Hawkins did heroic things.
However, critics claim slavery was always an abomination and there was no excuse for Hawkins then or now, especially as he claimed to be a Christian. One of his descendents recently apologized on his behalf.
Kipling must have had the likes of Hawkins in mind when he wrote, in "The Last Chantey" of sailormen on Judgment Day, which set daring and defiance against "red iniquity":
Then sang the souls of the gentlemen-adventurers --
Fettered wrist to bar all for red iniquity;
"Ho, we revel in our chains
O'er the sorrow that was Spain's,
Heave or sink it, leave or drink it, we were masters of the sea!"
Yet how black or red old Sir John should be painted is nor really the point. The point is that this incident illustrates how deeply and completely it is coming to be accepted that there is some right, in the interests of re-writing history, to both put forward a politically-correct point of view, and to prohibit not merely other points of view, but other modes of thought and perceptions of culture and national identity, and that somewhat nebulous, unelected, quasi-political bodies have either the moral or, increasingly, the legal, right to change individual and national consciousness.
The Plymouth Council for Racial Equality claims on its website to "value diversity," but only, it appears, up to a point. Ultra-liberalism expressed in political correctness in the end eats its tail and becomes perfect intolerance.
IT IS HARD TO know where this is going to stop: Oliver Cromwell committed racist-religious genocide in Ireland, but for the present at least there seems to be no move to prevent pubs being called the "Oliver Cromwell." There is even a famous Oliver Cromwell jazz festival which would probably have made Cromwell turn in his grave if he had one. (At the Restoration the English dug up his remains and destroyed them with curses.)
If there is a free market in ideas the landlord who names his pub after a controversial figure surely takes his chances that, if the name is so unpopular that people actually care, they will go elsewhere. And, after all, the members of the Council for Racial Equality don't actually have to go to the Hawkins pub themselves. Behind a quasi-official body opposing naming a pub after Hawkins it is assumed, of course, that there is no free market in ideas.
Further, this complaint indicates the particular direction of the culture war: it is aimed against things with associations in British history of patriotism and daring. There is not much danger that Britain will start slave-trading to America again, but it possibly does need to be reminded of the patriotic and daring men in what a poet called its "rough island story."
The Plymouth Council for Racial Equality claims on its own website, in words I can hardly better apart from their Newspeak clumsiness: "Culture could be defined as the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action or the total range of activities and ideas of a community."
THE ATTACK ON Hawkins seems to be part of an attack on the whole concept of Britain's historic identity, on a par with the decision by authorities at Winchester to down-grade its associations with Alfred the Great. Eloise Appleby of the Winchester Tourist Board was quoted as saying: "King Alfred represents the past. His image is not forward-looking enough for today's cut-throat commercial market place. Winchester is a town with many creative artists and new buildings and Alfred doesn't tell the whole story."
In fact, many people came to Winchester precisely and solely because of its associations with Alfred, Arthur, and other figures of high and heroic chivalry and romance. That wouldn't do, so King Alfred's College, Winchester, adopted the colorless lackluster name "University College, Winchester," in 2004, later changed again to Winchester University.
The work proceeds apace: a recent survey of 1,400 British school-children indicated one third of them believed that Winston Churchill was a fictional character.
A few months earlier a poll of adults revealed that a quarter of those questioned also thought Churchill never existed. They believed he had more to do with the TV advert for Churchill insurance -- which features a nodding dog of the same name.
Previously, the BBC's Radio Times had claimed in a program note:
History may regard Winston Churchill as the architect of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, or the maker of xenophobic speeches, but tonight we consider him, in philanthropic old age, as Churchill the European.
This was reportedly written not by an office-boy from a sink-comprehensive school or printed at the dictation of the Gauleiter of an occupying enemy power, but by a professional journalist, Sue Gaisford.
There are countless other instances of similar things. In Malvern, Worcestershire, the Elgar Hall, named after Sir Edward Elgar, who composed the music of "Land of Hope and Glory," was renamed "New Space."
In 2004 the Anglican Bishop of Hulme, the Rt. Rev. Stephen Lowe, banned the hymn "I vow to thee, my country," in his diocese, claiming its popularity was a symptom of a dangerous increase in English nationalism which paralleled the rise of Nazism. The bishop claimed it was dangerous to suggest British culture was somehow superior.
It all points to something very odd happening in that aforementioned "rough island story." For the first time in nearly a thousand years, England is being run, at an important level, by people who hate it.