I have been wanting to read The Phoney Victory: The World War II Illusion, by Peter Hitchens, but the price for a used one (a used book, not a used war) has not yet come down from the stratosphere. So a few months ago I purchased Hitchens’ The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana, as something to give me a feel for Hitchens’ opinions, and to tide me over until I can read The Phoney Victory.
Now I have read The Abolition of Britain, and am glad that I did. It was published two full decades ago, in 1999 (second edition in 2000), and is indeed about Britain rather than about the United States. (Who could have guessed?) But it is a book which any American of conservative or Christian leanings will find very helpful in thinking about how the world is put together.
Peter Hitchens is the younger brother of the famous and late Christopher Hitchens. C. Hitchens is famous for being an atheist, and for his leftist leanings. Peter, by contrast, came out of a youthful atheism into a Christian faith which has him in the Anglican Church–and speaking up for the faith frequently.
Peter also had youthful leftist leanings–and once again has come in out of the cold, to become what has been described as a Burkean conservative. Burkean conservatives are not, despite what you might think, conservatives who advocate the wearing of burkas. No, a Burkean conservative is one who has been profoundly influenced by the conservative thought of England’s Edmund Burke. It is an honorable brand of conservatism. (Or an honourable brand, in England.) Burke, for one example of his practical wisdom, was opposed to seeing his British people go to war to challenge the American move to independence. Had he been listened to, much blood and treasure could have been saved on both sides. Peter Hitchens follows in Burke’s footsteps, in not being a sucker for any war which comes along.
Peter Hitchens, along with writing books on the side, is basically a journalist. In recent months he has gained increasing fame as one who has challenged the panic-stricken response of the British government to the coronavirus situation. The way I have phrased the proceeding sentence shows where I stand on the issue, so needless to say I have hugely appreciated Mr. Hitchens’ weekly blog posts at the “Daily Mail” in London, and I read them faithfully after they appear each Sunday.
Peter Hitchens wrote The Abolition of Britain because he could see vast changes going on in the way his British people thought and acted. And the changes were not for the better.
In his preface to the second edition Mr. Hitchens says
“that the publication of this book has strengthened my belief that a great civilization, whose greatest possession is liberty, is on the verge of extinction and that we have very little time to save it.” (p. xi)
We in the U.S. understand the feeling. To many of us, our Christian civilization seems so dramatically threatened that we too wonder if it can be salvaged.
Mr. Hitchens devotes his sixteen chapters to specific ways Britain has changed. He begins by contrasting the British response to the death of Winston Churchill, to the British response to the death of Princess Diana.
One thing he points out is that by the mid 1960s, “the old security and safety were passing.” (p. 32) 20,000 London homes had been broken into in 1964, as opposed to 5,500 in 1938. Obviously even by 1964 things were changing for the worse. But contrast either number with the approximate figure for 2000: 165,000 break-ins per year!
“children in this country have changed completely. Many cannot read, write, or count. Many more can only do these things badly. Standards of behaviour, of self-control, of ability to respond to authority or concentrate on any task, have sunk. Other forces, such as television or the decline of the family, can also be blamed for this. However, the schools, which could have put a brake on the decline, have speeded it up.” (p. 73)
In Chapter Five he speaks of the deterioration of the church. We find,
“the Church, like the railways or the government, was more and more being run for the benefit of its own employees rather than for the mere churchgoers or the the nation itself.” (p. 111)
Television has “become, along with schools, a kind of national childminding service.” (p. 130) Sound familiar?
He writes of the sad state of marriage (or non-marriage) which has resulted in a rich harvest of fatherless children. The ellipsis is mine.
“marriage has collapsed in Britain in the past thirty years, while illegitimacy–the very thing marriage is supposed to prevent–has become so common as to be the norm. . . . more and more women are married to the state.” (p. 163)
He points out the barbarian attack on language and culture.
“But on almost all fronts there has been no coherent, organized resistance to the cultural revolution. The other side has lost its nerve, and no longer really believes in itself.” (p.189)
The latter sentence of the above quote raises a crucial point. Is all this degeneracy necessary and inevitable? Why have we refused to fight back? Perhaps, taken as a whole, we have indeed lost our nerve, and no longer believe in our beliefs. Our beliefs are vague, apologetically held hopings, rather than beliefs for which we will stand and fight. Similarly, moral opinions
“were now being attacked by the voice of authority. As time passed, the private beliefs of the majority would hardly ever be reflected on the broadcast media, so convincing them that they were in fact a minority and had somehow been left behind. As time went by, they lost confidence in a morality they had once been proud to support, and became ashamed of it. Enfeebled, isolated and pushed to the margins, the majority were not merely silent, but dumbstruck and powerless, afraid to defend themselves.” (p. 206)
I will conclude my quotes of Peter Hitchens’ book with an insightful passage on sexual morality.
“Our British Protestant sexual morality, which once required marriage as the price of pleasure, now treats any sexual activity as a recreation. This allegedly liberates women from the slavery of the home, and men from the slavery of supporting a family. But in truth it imprisons children in a world where they always come second to adult pleasures, it imprisons women in endless competition with their sisters for fun–a competition in which the rich and beautiful are the only winners for as long as their wealth and beauty last and not a moment longer–and it imprisons men in an ultimately sterile quest for passing pleasure. But it is ‘judgemental’ to point any of this out.” (p. 298)
The Abolition of Britain by Peter Hitchens is a thoughtful book well worth reading. The Christian civilization of England is very like the Christian civilization of the United States. Both are under very serious attack, and right now we are losing a lot of battles. We can fight back with truth and with obedience to our God. We are grateful to Mr. Hitchens for giving us some intellectual ammunition with which to fight.
A used copy of The Abolition of Britain can be obtained on the Internet for a reasonable cost. Today I found a price of $10.50 (shipping included, but sales tax will be additional) at Amazon. Inter-library loan is an even less expensive option.