When I spoke out in favour of free speech last week on Channel 4 News, I was unpleasantly surprised to find just how unpopular this view now is with the fashionable people who watch that programme.
My great sin was to suggest that the Britain of my youth had been much more free than it is now.
Oh, yes, they sneered, free for people like you – white, heterosexual males. They suggested that, for anyone else, the country was a seething pit of racial and sexual bigotry.
Children are seen playing outside in Dedworth, Windsor in 1950. It was not paradise – though by comparison with now, the liberty of children to live free-range lives was so astonishing that many find it difficult to believe it happened at all
One, utterly misunderstanding the past, even tried to tell me that women were not allowed to drink at the bars of pubs until 1983.
Revolutionaries always defame the past. I remember the amazement and surprise among Russians when a film called The Russia We Have Lost appeared in Moscow in the 1990s, showing how clean, civilised and often beautiful pre-Communist Russia had been, including the people themselves, uncrushed by decades of war, poverty, purges and stupidity.
And there is a wonderful passage in George Orwell’s 1984 in which the hero, Winston Smith, tries in vain to discover, from a rambling old man in a pub, what the past before Communism was really like.
He gives up in despair. ‘When memory failed and written records were falsified, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted because there did not exist, and never again could exist any standard against which it could be tested.’
When I first read this 50-odd years ago, I believed it was fiction about a time that could never happen. Now I think it is coming true. There is little need to destroy the written records, as historical knowledge is almost abolished, and true curiosity about the past with it.
A few stripes painted on the road and a couple of flashing orange globes were enough to halt the heaviest lorry to allow a child to cross the road. No need for elaborate traffic signals and surveillance cameras. No need to wait for a whole minute for those lights to change. The driver’s obligation to stop was so strong in his or her own mind that it was a more powerful force than any such precaution
Through the increasingly biased filters of social media, a picture can be obtained which confirms the prejudices of the modern conformist, that this is the best age that ever was and that the recent past was a hell of prejudice and grinding poverty.
When I describe freedom, I’m not thinking of the group rights for protected categories that are now widely seen as the only freedoms that matter. I’m thinking of a general feeling that we were free to do, say and think as we liked within the boundaries of a clearly understood law and of good manners.
I’m also thinking of the independence of strong families, through which tradition and faith were passed on, along with manners and the habits of unselfishness. And I am thinking of schools in which teachers with authority passed on hard knowledge.
It was not paradise – though by comparison with now, the liberty of children to live free-range lives was so astonishing that many find it difficult to believe it happened at all.
It had many things wrong with it that could have been put right without the snooping and surveillance, and the heavy hand of politically correct conformism which we now endure.
There is one telling metaphor that seems to me to explain it very well – the pedestrian crossing. A few stripes painted on the road and a couple of flashing orange globes were enough to halt the heaviest lorry to allow a child to cross the road.
No need for elaborate traffic signals and surveillance cameras. No need to wait for a whole minute for those lights to change. The driver’s obligation to stop was so strong in his or her own mind that it was a more powerful force than any such precaution.
We governed ourselves and disciplined ourselves, and by doing so we obtained a freedom far greater than any available now. I miss it, and am not ashamed to do so.
Some people may call this security… I call it misery
Millions have been vaccinated against Covid – mainly the most vulnerable. Millions more will be soon. But do not be surprised if this does not in fact lead to liberation from the strangling of the country which began almost 11 months ago.
This is what always happens when you give up real freedom for what is usually fanciful safety. Officials and politicians dare not relax the measures they took in a panic, in case they are blamed if anything ever goes wrong afterwards. And millions genuinely believe they are safer as a result.
I have grumbled for years about the airport surveillance and searches that followed the September 2001 hijackings. I’d happily fly on any airline that dispensed with them, as the locking and securing of flight-deck doors makes them obsolete, and I’m unconvinced that anyone could really mix liquid explosives in the loo. I’m ready to take a chance on it, honestly. It’s far more dangerous riding a bicycle in London.
Many years of terrorism of various kinds led first to tinny metal barriers and then to the elaborate and embarrassing baronial gates, guarded by scowling men with tommy-guns, which now protect our Premier from the people
But if I voice these views, people turn on me angrily, and tell me I’m irresponsible. They have actually come to like the servile shuffling, the partial undressing and the X-raying of their private parts.
The best example of this mania is Downing Street, which used to be open to anyone, and quite right too. Many years of terrorism of various kinds led first to tinny metal barriers and then to the elaborate and embarrassing baronial gates, guarded by scowling men with tommy-guns, which now protect our Premier from the people.
In the meantime we have given in to all the terrorists involved. The gates look like something from a banana republic, whose junta is afraid of its people, and undermine our claim to be a democracy.
And in my view they change the characters of those who lurk and work behind them. But nobody will ever dare take the decision to pull them down. Because whoever does that will be screamed at and pilloried and driven from public life if anything ever happens afterwards. Which of course it might do. But then again, it might not, and is the risk really worth it?
That last question is the key one. If you lose all sense of proportion, and decide on safety above all things, you gradually create a society that is very secure indeed, but miserable to live in. And that is what we have chosen.
Metric zealots won’t give an inch
Often, as I search out an old book to reread it, I am moved and grieved to see the price printed on its cover, generally in the shillings and pence abolished half a century ago but still fresh in my mind. It is not just that it shows how ferocious inflation has been, and that our currency has been debauched in slow motion.
I also feel a keen sense of loss. I liked our currency and was proud of the way it was different from everyone else’s, just as I was proud of the unarmed policemen we had then, and of all that went with that. I feel much the same way about our human, ancient measures, polished in use.
But I would not say much about it if it were not for the fanatics who attacked and destroyed these things, and who continue to do so. One of many dismal aspects of the last few months has been the incessant use, by the authorities, of the foreign metre when feet would have done just as well.
These zealots, remember, actually prosecuted the Sunderland greengrocer Steve Thoburn for selling bananas by the pound weight to people who wanted to buy them in that measure.
What lies behind this destructive intolerant frenzy, now more than 200 years old? It is a very interesting question, yet it is the opponents of these changes who are always derided as obsessives, not those who demand them. Why?
If you want to comment on Peter Hitchens click here
These zealots, remember, actually prosecuted the Sunderland greengrocer Steve Thoburn for selling bananas by the pound weight to people who wanted to buy them in that measure