The unspeakable decadence of Britain’s governing elites

(See also in this thread a lively disagreement about the James Bond movie Casino Royale.)

The Equal Treatment Advisory Committee of Britain’s Judicial Studies Board has determined that the Muslim full-face veil, the niqab, must be allowed in British courts in most circumstances. In the sickly sweet, feminine language of tolerance and surrender that is the keynote of modern liberal society, the guidelines issued by the Committee say that banning the niqab would have a “significant impact” on a woman’s “sense of dignity” and could serve to “exclude and marginalise” her. The guidelines say that it should not be “automatically assumed” that the niqab would create a problem in court. “Nor should it ever be assumed without good reason that it is inappropriate for a woman to give evidence in court wearing the full veil.” The guidelines say that any request to remove the veil should be “thoughtful and sensitive.”

Can we speak of the “decadence” of Britain if it is, as I have said, already dead? No, but we can speak of its decay. The stories about this decision in the BBC News and the Sydney Morning Herald that are quoted above carry to one’s nostrils the sickening sweet stench of a country that has died.

Some people take issue with such extreme statements about the condition of Britain. Thus Sam Karnick at Karnick on Culture disputes my remark of a couple of months ago that the British movie The History Boys is the expression of a country that hates itself and wants to go out of existence. Since the James Bond movie Casino Royale made ten times as much money, he argues, “The History Boys does not characterize Great Britain at this time.”

Will Karnick make a similar argument about the decision to allow the full-face Muslim veil in British courts, that most people don’t agree with it (probably true), and therefore it does not characterize Great Britain at this time? And will he make a similar argument about the undisguisedly totalitarian Sexual Orientation Regulations, that they are actually very unpopular (probably true), and therefore do not characterize Great Britain at this time? For Karnick’s assumption of a saving contrarian majority to be correct, there would have to be a mass political uprising demanding that the Sexual Orientation Regulations be repealed. There has, of course been nothing of the kind. So, even if it’s true that only a minority of the British people actually want the SOR, the majority have gone along it. What defines a society is not what most people think or want, since most people are not political actors. What defines a society is what the society actually does, through its normative and authoritative institutions and public expressions of itself. The full-face Muslim veil in British courts, the Sexual Orientation Regulations, and, yes, The History Boys—these express what Britain actually is.

So, Sam Karnick needs to wake up and smell—the rotting flesh.

Again, I know that some people will find this line of discussion off-putting. I find it off-putting myself. Nevertheless, as long as I see Britain as a society that has died, that is the way I will speak of her. If and when I see signs that Britain has come to life again, that is the way I will speak of her.

- end of initial entry -

Sam Karnick replies:

I certainly don’t dispute your claim that the current-day British elites are in the main contemptible and their ideas insane and grossly destructive. I don’t think that The History Boys is dispositive evidence for such claims. However, the evidence adduced here and elsewhere on your site (and mine, I might add) does indeed point toward such a dire and sad conclusion. I agree and lament it with you. However, I do insist on holding out hope, despair being entirely un-Christian.

Derek C. writes:

If ever there was evidence of Britain’s decline, Casino Royale is it. The plot centers around terrorists, but it doesn’t dare mention who actually commits most acts of terror in the world. Excepting an African group—shown explicitly to be Christian by a crucifix neck chain around the leaders’ neck—the main baddies are all white Europeans. The closest you get to the Middle East is an Arabic-looking middleman, who is soon identified as being Greek. The only Arab even mentioned in the film is a French Algerian, whom we never see, and is identified as a hostage.

I was looking forward to seeing the film, despite thinking the whole Bond franchise should have been ended in 1969, because Daniel Craig is a close match to Ian Fleming’s original conception of James Bond, but I was very disappointed with the hash the screenplay made of the original novel’s plot and characters. Needless to say, you have to suffer through all sorts of PC revisions to the characters. M is played by the annoying and overrated Judy Dench, and the CIA agent, Felix Leiter has undergone a race change, becoming a black man. Now there’s nothing wrong in my mind in having a female administrator or a black CIA agent, but these are not the characters Ian Fleming created. If the filmmakers want these kinds of characters, then they should create their own world and story, not leech off a dead man’s work. But, alas, that kind of creativity is dead, both in Britain and America.

Also, Daniel Craig has been saying that Bond should do a homosexual scene in the follow-up to Casino Royale.

Mark P. writes:

Derek C. is not correct about Casino Royale. The plot really does not center around terrorists. Terrorism is purely tangential to the plot. The main antagonist is an apolitical, amoral “banker” who provides financial services to various shady organizations around the country, including terrorists. He invests their money and ensures “liquidity” for their assets, meaning they have ready access to their funds anywhere in the world.

Terrorism is purely instrumental in his case and he uses it to rig his market investments. For example, the banker invested $100 million in put options against an Airbus-style aircraft manufacturer about to unveil a brand-new aircraft. The idea was to blow up the aircraft prototype at Miami International, causing the stock to nose-dive, thus making a killing on the put options. Bond thwarts the plan and the banker ends up losing $100 million. He has to raise the funds by, quite implausibly, hosting a very high stakes poker game. If he doesn’t get the money back, his clients will kill him. (There is, in fact, a very-well acted scene where the banker encounters the said African group in his room at the hotel hosting his poker tournament. They make clear the dire consequences of failure and the momentary look of abject fear the encompasses the villain is a great touch.)

The key point to understand about Casino Royale is that it is a “small story” as opposed to an epic story. In an epic story, protagonists and antagonists intrude into a world of good and evil and direct their actions to alter or thwart this environment of good and evil around them. In a small story, good and evil intrude into the world of the protagonist/antagonist and each work to restore the environments of their own lives. Casino Royale is no more a commentary on Great Britain than is Spider-Man.

I wouldn’t normally get into a defense of a Hollywood product, but I am a big fan of the Ian Fleming books. Casino Royale is the best Bond movie ever made and one of the best action movies ever made. It is so good, in fact, that it renders the other Bond films unwatchable. See it. It’s a real treat and a nice distraction from the world.

Derek C. replies:

Mark P. says Casino Royale is no more a comment on Britain than Spider-Man is on the U.S. I answer that, first, it was Sam Karnick who mentioned the movie as signpost of revitalization, and my response was to that point. Second, James Bond is as much a cultural icon of Britain as Sherlock Holmes. If James Bond isn’t a bellwether of Britain’s cultural health (and it didn’t always bode well, even in the glory days of Connery’s Bond), nothing is. A better American analog would probably be Superman, and we all know about the latest Superman movie.

In response to his particular points about the movie: yes, the financiers are the real baddies, as all Bond movies generally require some sort of evil genius. Le Chiffre, the terrorists’ banker, fills that role. However, you do have two scenes with Bond chasing down terrorists, neither Muslim. You are shown a terrorist camp in Africa, where Le Chiffre picks up a deposit. The leader is shown prominently wearing a cross. Again and again, we are never shown the people who commit, oh, about 99.999-something percent of terrorists acts in the world. This sort of scripting is positively Orwellian.

In fairness to the movie makers, I can understand why they didn’t include Muslim villains. Doing so would have brought down the wrath of Muslim interest groups and clerical fatwas, as surely as night follows day. They, in turn, would have been backed by the usual suspects writing editorials in our leading liberal journals, as well as a few “conservative” ones. A few opening nights might have even ended violently. Any death would have been, predictably, blamed on Casino Royale instead of the murderers. The producers’ fear is understandable, but it is still just that: stark, naked fear. It is all the more evidence of Britain’s death, as well as America’s decline, too.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 26, 2007 11:10 PM | Send

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