A few days ago I had the slimy experience of listening to a forty-minute discussion on BBC radio purporting to show the history of Britain through the medium of poetry. I describe the experience as slimy because I felt, having listened to it, that I had been slimed, finding myself covered spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally in a decaying, mendacious goo.
Let me explain.
A poet friend of mine sent a link to BBC Radio’s celebration of National Poetry Day on October 8, which included several forty-minute discussions of British history, seen through the eyes of the poets. Fearing the worst, I thought I’d dip my toe in the water, or my ear in the airwaves, somewhat tentatively at first. Feeling that the first discussion, which was on the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon roots of Britain, should be fairly safe, being far removed from the wasteland of modernity, I tuned in to learn more.
It was horrible.
Presented by Andrew Marr, the veteran broadcaster, who describes himself as a “pampered white liberal” and as being resolutely secular, i.e. non-religious, I should have expected the worst. Here is Marr on his religious position: “Am I religious? No. Do I believe in anything? No.” Since, however, it is simply not possible for a human being not to believe in anything, let’s look at what he does believe in. Having turned his back on his parents’ Presbyterianism as a young man, he became involved with the International-Communist League as an undergraduate at Cambridge, earning the nickname “Red Andy.”
“The BBC is not impartial or neutral,” Marr stated in October 2006. “It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities, and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.” Rephrased, Marr was effectively saying that the BBC was biased against rural populations, old people, the ethnic majority, and heterosexuals.
More disturbingly, Marr seems to advocate political force in addition to propagandistic persuasion to socially engineer the sort of world in which he believes: “And the final answer, frankly, is the vigorous use of state power to coerce and repress. It may be my Presbyterian background, but I firmly believe that repression can be a great, civilising instrument for good. Stamp hard on certain ‘natural’ beliefs for long enough and you can almost kill them off.” Immediately prior to these words, Marr spoke of the need to make people “immune to the old tribal chants,” which, though he was referring ostensibly to racism, is more than a little suggestive of the need to “educate” people away from traditional morality and the traditional religion in which it is rooted. Few with any knowledge of politics and history will doubt that “the vigorous use of state power to coerce and repress,” once unleashed, will be used against all groups of which the government disapproves.
More recently, Marr has been turning his attention to history, or rather history as seen through Marr’s obviously prejudiced and biased lens, presenting Andrew Marr’s History of the World, a series purporting to examine “the history of human civilization.” Needless to say, it is not a true history of the world as seen objectively through the eyes of the past generations who made it and forged it, the vast majority of whom were of course believing and practicing Christians, adherents of “the old tribal chants” that Marr wishes to eradicate. Marr’s “history,” like H. G. Wells’ “outline of history,” is nothing but the work of a crass vivisectionist who takes his living subject and kills it in the name of “progress.”
All of the foregoing is meant merely to reiterate and explain why I should have expected the worst as soon as I realized that the forty-minute discussion on the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon roots of Britishness was being presented by Andrew Marr. I should have known that it would be a slimy experience and should not have put myself in its proud and prejudiced presence. Nonetheless, and as foolish as it might seem, I rushed in where angels and saints would fear to tread and paid the painful price.
The discussion managed, incredibly, to discuss mediaeval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon poetry without mentioning the unmentionable expletive “Christianity,” the C-word, the use of which is a veritable faux pas and must be excluded from all polite conversation, even conversation about the Christian past. Thus, for instance, Beowulf was discussed, albeit with merciful brevity, without any reference to its being a cautionary tale, from an orthodox Christian perspective, about the dangers of the Pelagian heresy, and without any discussion of the numerical signifiers that connect Beowulf’s self-sacrificial death with the Passion of Christ. The great Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Ruin,” was transmogrified with the magical power of political correctness from being a discussion of the way that the ways of wyrd, i.e. God’s Providence, bring to nought the pomp and circumstance of secular political power into something that reflects modern man’s angst about his cultural identity. (I kid you not!) As if this were not ridiculous enough, I recall that the Anglo-Saxon monk, Caedmon, was discussed without any reference to his being a monk or any mention of the C-word, even though his only extant work is a hymn!
The final note of absurdity, the coup de grace or reductio ad absurdum, the poisonous icing on the ridiculous cake, was the discussion of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Rather than getting to grips with Chaucer’s work as a defence of scholastic realism against the proto-relativism of Ockham’s nominalism, the proud and prejudiced prigs informed us, with supercilious triumphalism, that Chaucer was “subversive” because he wrote in the vernacular and not in French (the language of the court) or Latin (the language of the Church). In this descent into ultimate banality, the whole of Chaucer’s work, which is full of robustly orthodox Christian morality, is reduced to the level of twenty-first century radical ideology. Needless to say, the discussion of the Canterbury Tales also studiously avoided that other unmentionable expletive, “pilgrimage” (the P-word).
My experience of being slimed by this piece of anti-historical polemic, masquerading as scholarship, reminds me of a much more recent work of literature, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which the tyrants in power employ the Machiavellian approach to history in which those who control the present control the past. It’s not about objective truth, or about learning the lessons that our ancestors can teach us; it’s about rewriting history in our own politically-correct ideological image. It’s only in this way that the socially-engineered “New Man,” free from the “old tribal chants” of religion, can emerge from the ashes (of history) that pseudo-historians have made by the burning of politically incorrect books. This, to take poetic liberties with Marr’s own words, is the vigorous use of rewritten history to coerce and repress. It is the firm belief that repression and the suppression of the truth about the past “can be a great, civilising instrument for good.”
“Stamp hard on certain ‘natural’ beliefs for long enough,” says Marr, “and you can almost kill them off.” I have the unsettling suspicion, upon tuning into the BBC’s politically-correct suppression of historical truth, that I am witnessing Orwell’s Big Brother smiling benignly at me with his friendly psychopathic eyes.
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.