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these people are mad?’ Just such a charge was made by totalitarian movements from the medieval Catholic church by way of the Jacobins all the way to Stalin’s secret police.

In similar vein, the rational anxieties of millions about mass immigration or militant Islam destroying the culture of the country are held merely to demonstrate that ordinary people are racist bigots or Islamophobes.

The great gift bequeathed to us by the 18th-century Enlightenment is the freedom to disagree. This is now in eclipse. The intelligentsia — the supposed custodians of reason and intellectual freedom — has turned itself into an inquisition, complete with an index of prohibited ideas. Nowhere is this more starkly displayed than in the hounding of scientists and others who question manmade global warming theory.

Such sceptics are vilified, smeared, denied funding and even —according to the renowned meteorologist and IPCC reviewer Professor Richard Lindzen — intimidated into telling lies to shore up the theory.

Assertions wholly inimical to science, such as ‘the argument is over’ or that global warming is the belief of a scientific ‘consensus’ — the claim once used by the medieval church to stifle Galileo — are deployed to ensure the argument is over before it can begin. More viciously still, these dissenters have been dubbed ‘climate change deniers’ to equate their views with Holocaust denial. Not only are they thus likened to Nazi sym-

The intellectual trend in Britain is a remorseless slide towards a dark age of intolerance pathisers, but man-made global warming theory — for which many of the best brains in climate-related science say there is scant or no evidence — is equated with the genocide of the Jews.

Without the freedom to question and argue, science cannot thrive — and without science, reason would be crippled and modernity would grind to a halt.Which is of course the aim of the environmental movement, whose roots lie in a stream of pagan, irrational and proto-fascist thinking which goes back to the counter-Enlightenment.

‘Politically correct’ views all derive from anti-Western, secular ideologies such as anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, utilitarianism, feminism, multiculturalism and environmentalism. These all share the aim of overturning the established order in the West. So any groups who have power within that order can never be offended or hurt because they are themselves offensive and hurtful, while ‘powerless’ groups can never be other than victims.

This obsession with power is, of course, a Marxist position; indeed, ‘political correctness’ is a form of cultural Marxism. But how has good old empirical, pragmatic, anti

Washing My Hands

Muddy water comes clear and I see my hands as they once were with dirt under the fingernails. I’m putting the finishing touches to a tangle of branches and leaves jammed between two rocks. The dam seems to be holding, the stream backing up, overflowing its banks. I can take my hands away.

—Hugo Williams ideological Britain succumbed to such extremism? Part of the explanation is that, with the collapse of Soviet communism, the left shifted its focus from economics and politics to the cultural arena. Employing Gramsci’s tactic of ‘the long march through the institutions’, it captured the citadels of the culture for a variety of utopian ideas.

Class divisions would give way to equality, capitalist despoliation of the earth would be replaced by prelapsarian agrarian communes and all hatred, prejudice and irrationality would be excised from the human heart.

Like all ideologies, these utopian fantasies wrenched facts and evidence to fit their governing idea. Independent thought thus became impossible — which inevitably resulted in an attack upon freedom, because reason and liberty are inseparable bedfellows.

Because these creeds purported to embody unchallengeable truths, they could permit no dissent. Reason was thus replaced by bullying, intimidation and the suppression of debate. What we are living through is therefore a fresh mutation of the previous despotisms of first the medieval church and then the totalitarian political movements of the 20th century.

The West has now fallen victim to a third variation on the theme: cultural totalitarianism, or a dictatorship of virtue. For, in a pattern that goes back to the French Revolution, the left believes that its secular, materialistic, individualistic and utilitarian values represent not a point of view but virtue itself. To oppose such coercive behaviour or uphold factual evidence in the face of ideological distortion is thus to be damned automatically as evil, mad and extreme.

But here’s the really striking thing. Progressive intellectuals who scorn ‘the right’ as knuckle-dragging extremists are themselves promoting a range of secular fantasies which uncannily mirror pre-Enlightenment religious fanaticism. Anti-imperialism, antiAmericanism, anti-Zionism, environmentalism, scientism, egalitarianism, anti-racism, libertinism, moral relativism and multiculturalism are all quasi-religious movements — evangelical, dogmatic, millenarian and with enforcement mechanisms to stamp out heresy.

Some would call all this tyranny. But to progressives, tyranny occurs only when their utopia is denied. Virtue therefore has to be coerced for the good of the people at the receiving end.

Since progressivism is all about creating the perfect society, it is therefore incontestably virtuous; and so — like Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety, like Stalinism, like Islam — it is incapable of doing anything bad. Unlike everyone else, of course, for whom it follows they can do nothing but bad.

Accordingly, progressives feel justified in trying to stifle all dissent. Never engaging with the actual argument, they instead use gratuitous abuse to turn their opponents into pariahs (while they themselves, failing to grasp the point about evidence, characterise all reasoned arguments against them as outrageous ‘insults’).

So if you are a white Christian man upholding traditional family values and expressing a desire to stop immigration and leave the EU, while being sceptical of manmade global warming and believing that Darwinian evolution does not explain the origin of life on earth, Britain is no longer your country. But don’t worry. Utopia is taking its place. The police are on their way to tell you.

the spectator | 18 September 2010 | www.spectator.co.uk

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