In a podcast with Chris Williamson, Douglas Murray suggested that if you want to attack and destroy a society because you hate it so much, you target its heroes and undermine its history and culture. He pointed out that only 20 years ago, in a BBC TV programme about the ‘ten best’ British heroes, Winston Churchill won the popular vote with, if I remember correctly, Isambard Kingdom Brunel second (despite a well argued case for the great IKB, by the much despised Jeremy Clarkson). So much has happened in the ‘culture wars’ since then – I doubt the BBC would show that kind of programme any more, and Churchill has been dragged through the mud. And does anybody know anything about Brunel these days?
Whilst we in the UK have not experienced anything as explosive as the demolishing of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, statues of historical figures have been pulled down and vandalised. In London, for example, the Albert Memorial, Churchill’s statue, and the Cenotaph have been covered in paint and slogans. These are very significant monuments in Britain’s history. Statues of Rhodes and Colston have also been attacked. This is not just ‘mindless vandalism’, the targets were deliberate. All connected – no matter how tenuously – with Britain’s history, both the good and not so good.
The MSM appears to be obsessed with slavery and racism : almost every programme is imbued with them, with commentators opining about the evils of the white man. We are told that Britain is a foul, racist country, and how its wealth was gained by nothing other than exploitation and even genocide. Concomitantly, there are calls for reparation, de-colonisation and accusations of white privilege. This narrative has even crept into the history books of British school children.
I may be over-sensitive, but I’m beginning to feel under attack. Perhaps this is what the accusers want, and enjoy, following the doctrine of the highly successful US author, Ibram X Kendi, who asserts that the way to achieve redress for past racism is more racism, in the opposite direction.
Some random examples :
- an anti-racist action plan by the Welsh First Minister Mark Drayford plans to ‘decolonise public spaces’ by seeking to remove road names called after prominent figures such as Churchill, Horatio Nelson and Gandhi
- a black actress from the hit TV drama’ Bridgerton’ accused the royal family gathered on the famous Balcony after the Coronation of being ‘too white’
(Baroness Catherine Meyer, widow of the former UK ambassador to the US, was on the panel, and smiled and nodded along with this comment)
- Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones — a businessman, farmer and founder of The Black Farmer brand- accused the UK womens’ football team of being too white and not representative of Britain
- Several black cultural commentators stated that the murdering nurse Lucy Letby was allowed to get away with it for so long because she had ‘white privilege’
- the Mayor of London’s tourism department decried a photo of a white (and probably middle class) family on London Bridge as ‘not representative’ of London.
Individually, such examples might seem trivial, but collectively, they are corrosive. And it seems to me that there few individuals and MSM outlets challenging any of it. If something is repeated often enough, it becomes ‘truth’.
Museums and galleries hasten to join the decolonisation bandwagon – and according to Unherd the age of the museum is over, destroyed by identity politics:
‘a single minded devotion to the British Empire as a unique evil whose blood-guilt is only expiated through the dispersal of museum collections is a manner of inverted narcissism, which instead of viewing other societies as aspect of fascination and study in themselves, views them solely through the prism of identity politics’.
The statement of purpose and values on the website of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford by its Director Dr Laura Van Broekhaven, suggests that she despises the institution she heads, and finds its originator, Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers (a keen ethnographer with a distinguished military history and widely regarded as the first scientific archaeologist to work in Britain) disgusting. She proudly wants to enable the return of objects to ‘originating communities’ and claims to do careful ‘provenance research’. But, I’d ask, who are/were these communities, what do we know about them , are they still there, and what will happen when/if such objects are returned? Does the historical evidence justify such emotive words as ‘looting’ and ‘genocide’? Should I/we feel guilty?
Dr Van Broekhaven probably didn’t do the same provenance research as Nigel Biggar who, citing historical documents, argues at length that the Benin Bronzes were not ‘looted’ by the British. A recent New York Times article questions the ‘real’ ownership of these artefacts. Having received several of the bronzes from guilt-ridden European museums keen on ‘restitution’, far from putting them in a brand new museum available to all, the Nigerian government has handed them to the personal ownership of a local tribal ruler, the Oba of Benin.
Brendan O’Neill has an interesting angle on de-colonisation, in a piece about the US author WEB Dubois:
Du Bois’ critique of the notion that high culture was for white men, and would prove mystifying to black men, has sadly been superseded by an ‘anti-racism’ with an entirely different outlook. Now, the supposedly radical stance is to believe that high culture is disorientating for black people, and possibly even damaging to their self-esteem, and therefore they require something more targeted. In short, they need release from the kingdom of culture. That, in essence, is what the decolonise movement desires: the ‘liberation’ of non-white peoples from the cultural gains of Western civilisation. Behold the crisis of universalist belief.
Nigel Biggar’s book ‘Colonialism – a moral reckoning’ (2023) is an epic work of immense detail and careful exploration. The author doesn’t want to either defend or trash the British Empire, but uncover the evidence, the facts. There are well over a hundred pages of notes, and a weighty bibliography. He is not motivated by imperial nostalgia. But his careful, scholarly, approach, and often tentative conclusions, don’t suit the current climate. He is well aware of this.
The book addresses the arguments and motives of the anti-colonialists, and their often ignorant assumptions based not on facts and evidence but on political and ideological narratives.
The author carefully unpicks their assertion that there is an automatic link between the British Empire, slavery, and racism. He often has a nice turn of phrase, eg: ‘the question of when economic activity becomes “exploitation” does not command a straightforward answer’ (p161)
He defines Empire very broadly and takes the long view eg ‘The English Empire began with the expansion of the kingdom of Wessex during the ninth and tenth centuries to create a unitary state now encompassing roughly the territory called ‘England’… (p 14) and asserts that ‘states do not exist naturally; they have to be founded’. He also reminds us that slavery has been a feature of most empires and civilisations throughout the world, going back a long way. The British didn’t invent it (as pointed out by US cultural commentators such as Thomas Sowell and Candace Owens).
And posters here at HP have noted that some of our own ancestors could be considered slaves.
The reasons why the British developed an empire were ‘many and various, depending on whether you were a trader, migrant, soldier, missionary, entrepreneur, financier, government official’ and therefore the anti-colonialists’ assertion that the sole motive for Empire was ‘ the sheer love of lording it over inferior races’ is simply wrong (p44).
To what extent, if any, are allegations of ‘genocide’ and comparisons with the Holocaust, accurate ? Biggar examines the case of the British in Tasmania, and suggests that this is the only example which could properly be described as genocide. He discusses in great detail the Amritsar Massacre and other infamous cases of British imperial military violence in the chapter on ‘Justified Force and “Pervasive Violence”’ and he is clear about culpability. But he reminds the reader of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which understands it as comprising a set of acts ‘committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.’
Of course there were racist and murderous individuals operating under the umbrella of the British Empire, and local officials who did nothing to prevent or ameliorate local populations suffering imported diseases. The native peoples with whom British colonialists came into contact were invariably disturbed by the encounter and sometimes they suffered grievously from it. There were evils and injustices, some very grave. But whilst Britain is not totally off the moral hook, it was never the intention of the British government to wipe out whole peoples as per the UN Convention. If you want to trade with a people, there is no point in wiping them out (as Niall Ferguson might say).
The author argues that the British Empire was not essentially racist, exploitative, or wantonly violent… ‘over time it became increasingly motivated by Christian humanitarianism and intent on preparing colonised peoples for liberal self-government’. He concludes with an appeal to ‘liberal, humanitarian principles’ and the necessary avoidance of ‘the canker of imaginary guilt’. (p297)
Which reminds me, I should hasten over to the British Museum to see the Elgin Marbles before they are sent back to Greece, from where they are unlikely to return.