Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Melanie Phillips On the Democratic Impulse to Undo Democracy

The Human Rights Convention was originally conceived in another era ... Drafted in the wake of World War II, it was an attempt to lay down a set of principles to ensure that totalitarianism would never deface Europe again. It has now mutated into something very different. Far from protecting European civilization, it has turned into its potential nemesis.

In the shadow of fascism and Stalinism, its original aim was to protect the individual from the state. But in the half-century that has since elapsed, the relationship between the individual and the state has fundamentally changed. The emergence of a culture of hyper-individualism gave rise to a radical egalitarianism of lifestyles and values. Morality was privatized, and all constraints of religion, tradition or cultural taboos came to be seen as an attack on personal autonomy.

Where previously ties of obligation had bound individuals to each other and to the state, the new culture of entitlement imposed instead an obligation on the state to deliver individual demands that were presented as rights. Since radical egalitarianism meant that all lifestyles were of equal value, the very notion of a majority culture or normative rules of behaviour became suspect as innately exclusive, prejudiced or oppressive. Moral judgements between different lifestyles or behaviour became discrimination; and prejudice, the term for discrimination between lifestyles, became the sin that obviated the moral codes at the heart of Judaism and Christianity, which had formed the bedrock of Western civilization.

All minorities thus became a victim class to be championed. The nation itself became suspect, since it was the embodiment of a majority identity that by definition treated minorities as lower in the cultural hierarchy. So the idea of a nation that represents and protects individual citizens on the basis that they all subscribe equally to an overarching identity and set of values came to be replaced as the key political driver by interest groups defined by race, religion, ethnicity, gender or other existential categories.

The values of the dominant culture thus had to be replaced by the perspectives of the self-designated victim groups. Democracy became effectively redefined from majority rule among equal citizens to power-sharing among ethnic and other interest groups. Multiculturalism became the orthodoxy of the day, along with nonjudgementalism and lifestyle choice. The only taboo now was the expression of normative majority values such as monogamy, heterosexuality, Christianity or Britishness. Because these were rooted in the particular, they were by definition discriminatory. The only legitimate values were now universal, detached from particulars such as religion, tradition or nation.

Melanie Phillips Londonistan