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February 23, 2004



The ostentatious joining with others in spurious display to which Patrick West draws attention goes well beyond the maudlin death groupies. It has cascaded down from the celebrity establishment and infected all levels of society - as indeed your own article illustrates Oliver. Every commentator feels obliged to hold up their 'liberal' beliefs and publicly grovel to them (a nauseating spectacle last seen in the dark days of the totalitarian regimes) before making any suggestion - however diffidently - that this most perfect of political philosophies may nonetheless have some worrying aspects. In fact it seems to be close to a pathological condition; that despite the obvious and catastrophic unravelling of our society people are unable or unwilling to confront that decay and only call for more of the insensate policies that have brought us to this pass. Presumably the subconscious thought is like that of the suicidal individual; that only by making more vigorous attempts at self-destruction will someone be provoked to come and end it.

Peter Cuthbertson

With just about every rival body either acting as slavish weathervanes to the latest fashions when it comes to cultural issues, or ignoring them altogether, Civitas is establishing itself as perhaps the most important think tank in the country with its willingness to ask these sorts of questions.

The new attitude to mourning, with its associated applause and pop songs at funerals, receives much thoughtful inspection by Peter Hitchens in The Abolition of Britain. He begins by contrasting the funerals of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana, and sees the wave of grief that accompanied the latter as signifying much wrong in modern culture.


They've hit the nail on the head there Oliver. The aftermath of the death of Diana was one of the more bizarre sagas I've witnessed. It was as if there was a contest over who could wail and gnash their teeth the most. The same people who laughed at the contrived grief of the North Koreans when Kim Il Sung dropped off his perch, saw nothing ridiculous in the extraordinary scenes at St James'. I felt that I'd almost be lynched if I'd said in public that she was a selfish simpleton and a tart.

The same goes for the anti-War morons. Never have I seen such a sorrier pack of losers all trying to feed their egos by slandering the people who they know will protect them. The attitude reminded me of a 14 yo girl who hates her father but will show up to the dinner table and eat his food.


at least 1 commentator observed that young israelis, on the anniversary of yitzhak rabin's murder, were laying flowers and lighting candles when the kaddish (the jewish prayer for the dead) would have been appropriate. what did burke say about drawing on the accumulated wisdom of the ages instead of trying to think it all out yourself?


I entirely agree with what is being said here, even endorsing the accumulated wisdom of the ages on the question of capitalising proper nouns, but I'd like to see some evidence as to whether this is a particularly British tendency, and if so, why.

Simply bemoaning a fashion merely leaves us in a corner with Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells; it doesn't equip us to "go out and do some real good" about it.

Hilary Wade

But you can't have it both ways.

The British screen quota was introduced with the advent of talking pictures, to protect home and Empire studios from an influx of American movies which, having recouped their production costs in the States, could be released abroad at little extra expense. Beneficiaries of the quota included Ealing - bankrolled by "captains of industry" Courtaulds - which is still synonymous with the sort of gentle, idiosyncratic domestic culture whose erosion you're deploring now. I think you have to choose which you prefer.

David Gillies

The revolting and disturbing reaction to Diana's death was neatly skewered by Prof Anthony O'Hear in one of the essays in 'Faking It: The Sentimentalisation of Modern Society' (highly recommended). The editors, Digby Anderson and Peter Mullen, put it this way in the introduction: "There is a word for the decadent disposition in our culture which falls for the fake: it is 'sentimentality.' The sentimentalist is a person in denial, and what he avoids or denies is reality. He likes to think that good ends can be achieved without unpleasantness. He would rather not be reminded that pain, effort, personal responsibility, self-control and patience are inevitable. He is attracted by schemes which offer good ends without the need for any striving — learning, a just society, community and even pleasure. Most of all the sentimentalist is frightened by the idea that men have a natural capacity for evil. For to admit evil, and the will to evil, is to destroy his world which rests upon the supposition that utopia may be ushered in by the mere adoption of the right plan."

It's this lack of seriousness that I found most worrying at the time. So few people seem to be able to think dispassionately - indeed, to do so is to run the risk of being tagged as 'cold' or 'unfeeling'. A similar lack of ratiocination was on display during the 'anti-war' demonstrations. There were some groups, such as A.N.S.W.E.R., that were at heart pro-Saddam, rather than 'anti-war', but for the most part the protesters were sentimental simpletons brought up on the deeply unserious notion that all armed conflict is objectively wrong.


... and part of the reason for the behaviours that David identifies is that our society has caved in to a gross and crass feminisation that has deprived us of the best of our male qualities (qualities that may also be displayed by women of course) and substituted the worst of female characteristics. The fault in allowing ourselves to be so emasculated has to be equally borne by both sexes - but one does wonder whether so catastrophic a change could have taken place without hormone altering chemicals becoming so large a part of our everyday existence.

Hugh Hanson

It's interesting how little snippets of opinion slowly reveal their owners peculiar character. It was quite some time, for instance, before I realised a fellow blogger, normblog, was - quite amazingly - some kind of marxist. Most of what he writes is sound common sense, but with this revelation one has to be more circumspect.
Likewise with this post of yours Mr Kamm. You bemoan the erosion of tradition, and yet in the same breath applaud gay marriage. You espouse ritual for it's benefits - "allowing us to find our true place in the world" - yet decry religion.
I'm sure you know that all law in the UK ultimately rests on the belief in an Absolute (or God, as some prefer) that establishes a fixed point. That other great tradition, the Monarchy, likewise rests on this unmoving stability.
You seem to realise the importance of "art, ritual and a sense of history" but not to acknowledge that which supports it all.
If there is no substance behind it all, then what does it matter if it is all washed away?
The outpouring of public grief in the UK is surely a symptom of a more private sorrow that can no longer find expression through many of the traditional forms - because those forms have been dismantled through cynicism, ridicule, contempt and fashions of convenience.

John Farren

"If there is no substance behind it all, then what does it matter if it is all washed away?"

For that matter, if there is substance behind it, what does it matter if it is all washed away?

The one question is as nonsensical as the other.

Surely it is more a question of both utility and aesthetics; whether to regard a preference for rationality and restraint as good in themselves, and superior in themselves and in their consequences for individual and society, to an irrational indulgence of mawkish sentimentality.

Ascription of value bases to an "Absolute" as such is equally irrational, and question begging.
Back to the shadows of the Platonic cave of "eternal forms" with it, I'd say.

Hugh Hanson

Yes, you are quite right Mr Farren. Ultimately it makes no difference - the material world is subject to infinite change. Growth and decay are it's realities.
The question is: how do you navigate in a world of perpetual movement? You suggest "utility and aesthetics, rationality and restraint" to be paradigms. These are no doubt virtuous characteristics, but a quick glance through todays blogs will show the immense variety of opinions that these can produce.
eg. Was it "rational" to take military action against Iraq? Ask a hundred people and you'll get a hundred variations.
What if the "Absolute" is beyond the "rational", so that concepts such as "irrational" are irrelevant?
As you say, it begs the question: what ultimate values do we ascribe to? This question is the most important of all, because depending on our answer to it, (and we all answer it one way or another) our whole lives take shape.
OK, enough! If people want to wail over Diana then let 'em.
I'll get back in my cave now...

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