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Where the blessed are the meek?

James Cary


'Government has become ungovernable; that is, it cannot leave off governing. Law has become lawless; that is, it cannot see where laws should stop. The chief feature of our time is the meekness of the mob and the madness of the government.' It seems astonishing that these words were written in 1922 - before the escalation of the Welfare State and the intervention of government in all walks of life. The words were from GK Chesterton. The context was a book about eugenics, a hot topic at the time.

There was legislation which, on the surface, appeared to be good news for what were then called idiots, imbeciles and the feeble-minded. But it was taking a worrying turn in the climate of Nietzschean philosophy. Should those with mental illnesses be prevented from having children, so that humanity could evolve to be better, faster and stronger? Chesterton thought not, hence the title of his book, Eugenics and Other Evils: An argument against the scientifically organized state.

Although the specifics of the issues change, the themes remain the same and Chesterton's voice is as relevant today as ever. The mob has been meek, and the government mad. On the rare occasions the mob has not been meek - as in the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, who marched against the madness of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 - the motion to invade still passed by 412 votes to 149.

The consequences of that war are still being reaped, causing more madness. The Home Secretary's proposed legislation gives yet more powers to the already-armed and powerful security services. Now our every word can be monitored, vetted and checked for possible offence to people who aren't even in the room. Clearly, the laws won't stipulate any particular religion, since to do so would be unfair. So it will be applied across the board, with any number of unintended consequences, as well as tiresomely predictable ones, causing the cowed crowd to roll their eyes, tut and turn back to the television.

Politicians say that they don't want a meek mob, but greater political engagement: more debate, discussion and 'fresh thinking'. They got it in the Scottish Referendum. Surely this was one indication that politics can be discussed at the bus stop and in the market square, with a heady mixture of erudition, philosophy, passion and thuggery. The response from the big political parties was to scramble north to quell the debate, close ranks and defend the status quo. They want people to discuss what they want - including independence - as long as they ultimately agree that things are essentially fine as they are.

The Westminster cosy consortium has done the same with UKIP, ridiculing it for years, until it looked like a genuine threat. And then pointing out it will never win a seat in the House of Commons, implying that those European seats are irrelevant, which makes you wonder what the point of the European Parliament is. Then when they win a seat, there's the assumption that they should not be part of TV debates. Or at least if UKIP is invited because it has one MP, then so should Caroline Lucas, the solitary Green MP. But why not have both? The Loony Eco-Left are every bit as welcome as the Knee-Jerk Cigar- Smoking-Right, aren't they?

Thanks to the magic of Youtube, I was able to reacquaint myself with a Spitting Image sketch in which Thatcher and Kinnock are calling each other names across the despatch box in the House of Commons. They are interrupted by David Steel who proposes a three party system to avoid this mindless debate. At once, Thatcher and Kinnock unite, Thatcher calling Kinnock 'exactly the kind of cretinous buffoon this country needs in opposition' and Kinnock adding 'If people don't want to vote for us, then they could do a lot worse than vote for those fascist bastards over there.' Even in the tempestuous Thatcher-Kinnock years, they didn't want proper debate and fresh thinking.

Such timely thoughts regularly come from unlikely characters, like the estate agent's son, GK Chesterton. The fact that Chesterton was a Christian is significant. He knew who he was, and was not writing for the approval of others. He was happy to mock the heroes of his age, the intellectual in-crowd like George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells (see Heretics) and as such his voice was subversive, counter-cultural and, I believe, prophetic. We need more of these voices in the face of a meek mob and a mad government.