‘Lo, all the pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!’
Between the abdication crisis of the 1930s and the unhappy discourse surrounding Prince Harry’s rejection of his country and royal duty, the institution of monarchy was perhaps most threatened by the cult-like hysteria born of the memory of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Her immortalisation in the ‘Kensington Palace Diana’ sculpture by Ian Rank-Broadley was funded by public subscription. Far from being a piece of bad kitsch realism, its execution is in perfect tune with her legacy. What was unveiled is testimony to a crass popular appeal to wokery, masquerading as a narrative of sacrifice to humanity. See the neglected white boy sculpted behind her. Invisible from the front, and artfully cropped out of all publicity photos, he is left behind as working class boys often are in life, cursed for his race and gender, unfashionable as a cause, and failing in school.
Those whom the Gods have chosen for Nemesis they first make hubristic. Traditionally perceived to be both an apex and mirror of a given culture, the arts are often most adept at spotting that which leads to the downfall of a civilisation. Kipling espied the self-righteous pomp in his own time, and via his poetic genius and fame brought it before Victorian society; we need that same unavoidable perceptiveness to save our own from the virtue-signalling, pharisaic rot that is wokery. Espoused by a putatively liberal and predominantly metropolitan elite, and backed by LGBT, Green and Marxist lobbies, a dangerous woke populism has arisen from the old mantras of multiculturalism. To repurpose Byron, these are the intellectual eunuchs of our time. Who, like Eutropius daring to assume the character of the Roman magistracy, sheepishly mask their intellectual poverty with the chimera and cant of wokery. Bent on the censorship, narrative mediation, and legislative control of the public, this ambition is cloaked with the guise of ‘virtue;’ like the Pharisees of old. Its type can be found in every age of humanity; yet rather than the doing of actual good, to which the majority aspire, it is the obsession with seeming to be good that counts. To paraphrase the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, the spirit of tyranny is usually dressed in the garments of an angel of light. And it is that seeming that makes the ‘culture war’ – as it is now called between the woke and what was the idiosyncratic, decent way of things – a war of visual and discursive re-presentation.
On examining the culture war in which we now live, one must ask if ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions,’ are the intentions of the woke forces even good? Every avenue available to them in the modern media has been weaponised to make them appear so. Indeed, they have been so effective in this PR race, that the majority who have not seen it as such have been left behind. Representation, the means by which we communicate, identify, and are identified, is literally under siege. This is dangerous. We are formed as people in relation to what we see and hear. Frighteningly though, we are increasingly defined by crude application of an HR tick-list, valued not for individual promise, merit, or intrinsic worth, but rather by an accrual of points obtained by the public espousal of particular fashionable and often ill-founded views. This absence of common sense and humanity neglects real charity. It favours an arbitrary labelling of people based on how their ancestors are perceived to have behaved by those with control of the ‘post-colonial’ codex.
Western civilisation, as we have understood it to be, is threatened. One can tell the situation is dire when even Blair and Macron, arch progressives both, are becoming alert to the negative electoral ramifications of unrestrained wokery. The loss of the presumption of innocence, and the attempted reinstitution of racial pigeonholing make this a time to be very afraid. A divisive, gendered, and artificial ideology that fetishises skin-deep diversity while despising diversity of thought is creating social division where none has existed. This can only cause cultural disintegration. Otherwise known as Intersectionality, a social science largely imported from the United States, no other demagogic utopianism has gripped the West so perniciously since the 1930s. Serious points of policy, such as the long-term effects of mass immigration on native cultures, at least in this country, can no longer be discussed without slurs of xenophobia and the attempted use of ‘non-crime’ hate speech laws based on ‘perception’ (https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/racist-and-religious-hate-crime-prosecution-guidance) i.e. representation, rather than evidential reality. Lacking political wherewithal, the mainstream left laud footballers’ homage to Marxism at Wembley, and the destruction of statues of the long dead who lived by laws long since changed.
Instead of providing constructive opposition in Parliament by putting forward proposals for addressing the national debt, crime, inflation and the handling of the international pandemic, a desire for ‘mandatory diversity quotas’ at art galleries remains the extent of Labour’s legislative advocacy. Equally, those on the right have for too long neglected cultural matters, leaving a void where once stood common sense, justice, and order, which evolved over centuries to form the basis of the nation’s modus operandi.
Though the threat posed by the woke and their extremist form of identity politics should concern all, the charge against it can best be led by the Conservative Party, whose parliamentary power equips them to restore and promote reason, liberty and genuine equality before the law. If they are to win the culture war upon which the security of conservatism depends however, the historic spirit of Toryism must be revitalised in order to permeate party policy as a matter of realpolitik. Though the Conservative’s 2021 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has gone some way in protecting the statues of those who have punctuated British history with glory, more must be done. Though the formation of the Common Sense Group of MPs is a good portent, change must happen in government. Boris’s ‘building back more feminine, more gender neutral’ gaff suggests the opposite. A natural ally in the promotion of Burke’s dictum of intergenerational trusteeship should be the heritage sector, whose business it is to conserve and represent the past for the future. Without knowledge of what really existed, a decent future becomes less likely. This reality that must be faced by conservatives without delay. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden’s recent remarks must therefore be seen as promising, ‘we cannot,’ he states, ‘allow our fantastic philanthropic institutions to become subsumed by wokery.’ Indeed, we cannot, and the PM would appear to be backing Dowden’s initiative to appoint an anti-woke chairman to the Charity Commission. This comes in light of the dishonourable efforts of the Churchill Foundation – a charity established for the protection and promulgation of Sir Winston’s heroic legacy – to airbrush Churchill from their website for his apparent racialism. We can only hope that this new appointment will have the intended ‘balancing’ effect in the sector, thus returning our charitable organisations to their intended, non-partisan purposes. A promising portent may also be found also be found in Dowden’s late appointment as Chairman of the Conservative Party.
Alas, the once dystopian idea of thought crime seems almost to be reality. This goes hand in hand with the growing trend for the replacement of facts with perceptions: the suggestion that those reporting sex or hate crimes must be believed in the first instance, the Duchess of Sussex famously refers to ‘my truth.’ The emergency powers afforded by Parliament to Her Majesty’s Government to deal with the COVID pandemic (under which we still live) removed parliamentary debate overnight. This allows for increasingly draconian and sinister mandates to slip under the radar of public discourse, and terrifyingly, we hear this week that the Scottish government are seriously considering maintaining these powers in perpetuity. The current disaster unfolding in Afghanistan at least saw a return to parliament of MPs. The atrocities meted out by the Taliban should remind those who delight in restricting the freedoms of others to express themselves in life and art, to associate as they please, and to conduct intelligent politics, what precious gifts they seem ready to discard in order to signal ‘virtue.’
Understandably, the woke lobbies have the effect of terrorising companies large and small, charitable and for profit into abiding by their agenda on pain of public witch-hunting. Only weeks ago, LNER admonished a guard for the ‘crime’ of courteously addressing passengers on his train as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ following a complaint from a passenger whose gender fluidity left ‘them’ feeling excluded from the address. Influential directors choosing to enter political spheres should have the courage of their convictions, and account for the effect they have on people’s lives.
The affront to civil liberties is an attack on humanism that is now ubiquitous. This is particularly so in the arts and heritage sectors; encompassing both the contemporary – that mirror of society, and the charitable and private bodies that conserve the nation’s long history and our ancient liberties that are tightly bound therein. These are the foundations of our culture, which is suffused with a love of freedom. It recognises that the good and the less than good co-exist in all areas of life, and it is under attack by oppressive forces that seek to deconstruct History and vilify national heroes. If Britain is to escape the fate of Nineveh and Tyre, the creeping malaise of wokery within our representative institutions must be excised as a matter of urgency.
There are innumerable examples of how this pernicious ideology has entrenched itself at the top of our cultural institutions. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has instigated a programme of reclassification under a woke aegis. Classic family films such as Star Wars and Flash Gordon are now considered ‘too offensive’ for new viewers, patronisingly deemed by the Board to suffer from ‘heightened anxiety.’ The assumption that audiences are unable to discriminate between reality and representation is infantilising, sinister and absurd. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre’s latest page long ‘trigger warning’ to audiences that Romeo and Juliet do not actually die is a case in point. This ability, once taken for granted is an innate and essential human characteristic, and is necessary for the effective functioning of any society, and its understanding of the world. Cultural censorship by the woke is indeed bridging the fascistic. The BBFC’s programme is the inversion of the classic Lady Chatterley’s Lover debacle. Banned for the depiction of cross-class infidelity feared for the adverse effects such exposure to the lower orders might have on servant-master relations, such measures – once derided by the left as draconian – are now being reinstated with wokery the whip hand.
Like the National Trust, English Heritage has succumbed to the revisionist agenda. Trusted with large swathes of historic property, it is one of the charitable organisations that hold huge power over the British historiography. These powers have innocuously extended to arbitrating the merits of past figures, often deemed ‘national treasures,’ with the administration of blue plaques on buildings associated with them or their work. Unfortunately, such information is now subject to woke revisionism by the charities. War heroes who fought the Nazis such as Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris have had their names scourged. Famous children’s writer Enid Blyton has of late come under fire. Generations of children have found life-long joy in reading after early encounters with classics such as The Famous Five series; now we are warned against classism and racism in such works. Innocence and enthusiasm are sacrificed to appease adults unable to tolerate views that do not fit their own. Children must be defended from this dismal oppression by politicians and offered real education free from encouragement to obsess with their own ‘fragilities.’ How otherwise will they be able to differentiate between realities perpetrated by Hitler and advocated by the EDL from the views say, of the majority of Brexiteers? Currently they seem not to be exposed to a diversity of opinion and taught to think for themselves, but are instead sheltered, cosseted and bored. Concepts such as ‘mindfulness’ in abstract form replace curiosity, interest and love of learning. This tokenism is cruel and has been exacerbated by the isolation of children throughout the COVID pandemic. Will the result be further cohorts of snowflakes?
Woke revisionism has also hit Jane Austen’s House Museum, an institution dedicated to promoting her life and work. For two hundred years Austen’s work has typified Regency Englishness, captured with superlative wit. She has entered the canon of literary greats on her own merits, finding success as a woman writer before female suffrage. Unable simply to marvel at her achievement and delight in this body of work, the curators are now bent on a programme of Empire and Regency Colonial re-contextualisation. Unfortunately for the legacy of Jane Austen, she was a fond of drinking tea and wore cotton dresses! The Royal Academy of Music too has instituted a programme of ‘decolonisation.’ Not only will the historical collections of Britain’s oldest and most august conservatoire be reassessed through a woke ‘lens,’ but so too will their current educational programmes. Given that British imperialism ended decades ago, classical music has too long awaited the en masse arrival of decolonised musicians.
Great art is creation; it requires an ingenuity that can only come from freedom of expression. Without liberty, quality of content and, in turn, the inspiration and reciprocal cultural formation of audiences can only suffer. One only need contrast the communist realism of the USSR with their contemporaries in the West to see freedom vindicated. The new wave of arbitrary censorship of the arts must be observed with deep foreboding. It follows a sad dictum: mix all peoples of the world together, stir them up, and see what comes out. The result is not the truly diverse and beautiful tapestry of humanity that went in, but a prescribed greyness, hypocritically covered by the colourful veil of ‘equality.’ It is the sameification of the world, which is an imposition on the individual, and therefore the community.
The exclusion of contemporary Germano-British artist Jess de Wahls from representation at the Royal Academy of Art is another key example of the sector’s perversion. Her case is one of traditional femininity defined by unquestioned sex by birth and the definite experiences thereon. This is not just another left-wing creative like JK Rowling, whose views were formed when strong, independent womanhood was itself laudable, believing in traditional femininity, but essentially agreeing with the rest of the agenda. Shame on her. de Wahls does not share the near-ubiquitous views held by the art world. This is, of course, anathema. To inverse a favoured mantra, the artworld has become institutionally and therefore systematically woke at the expense of others who identify differently. However, the Royal Academy has apologised for its actions, revoking its crusade against ‘transphobia’ for ‘the protection of free speech;’ it is a sign that popular counter-offensive can gain traction. Restore Trust is an encouraging example of a grassroots pressure group that has successfully campaigned against the woke agenda’s takeover of the National Trust. Their principal aim is to depoliticise the National Trust – that once treasured institution trusted with so much of Britain’s national heritage – and return it to its roots of conservation, not radical historical revisionism. Run largely by volunteers, the group have successfully advocated that they can forego diversity indoctrination programmes. This push back has also led to the extrication of their woke chairman, Tim Parker. In art as in politics those who attempt to please all, please no one. Genuine diversity is the only way.
Alas the potential ramifications the rewriting of history by the woke, that judges artists not for the quality of their work, but for how well their personal lives fit into the fashionable morality of the current cognoscenti, are only beginning to reveal themselves. Caravaggio murdered his tennis partner whereas Carlo Gesualdo did the same to his wife and her ravisher, Egon Schiele and Fra Filippo Lippie debauched underage girls. Picasso traded on the black-market, and Beethoven was arrested for vagrancy. Should they be banned from the pantheon of greats, never to be appreciated again? Indeed, if woke revisionism does not even need intention, but merely a connection so indirect as having consumed goods, the production of which is now deemed morally illicit, the question must be raised: who or what will be left? What will the advocates of this nonsense eat, wear or read themselves? Though there are emerging signs of common sense infiltrating the sectors, a coordinated approach between the grassroots base and government policy is needed to preserve this great British industry. If not, we shall be left with galleries and concert halls featuring either bores or ghosts of artists’ past, now cast with hideous visages.
In Britain, institutions intended to conserve the nation’s treasures have taken it upon themselves to undermine them. Other nations take a strong approach to defend their histories, and from this we should learn. Donald Trump’s ‘Executive Order on promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture’ links the democratic ideals of Greco-Roman civilisation with those of the country’s constitution. Whereas Hungary is replacing its utilitarian Soviet buildings with architecture that draws on rich and beautiful traditions tested over thousands of years of humanity. If there is to be any identifiably British culture left, politicians must now act and legislate to remove the rot that seeks to wither our great bastions of civilisation. Policy must be directed to discourage discrimination by colour or creed, and to encourage freedom of expression and opinion. This freedom must be encouraged if we are to restore the arts in this country to their former glory. A woke elite cannot be allowed to stifle those bodies which represent our past and present. The liberty of the subject must take centre stage at the cost of additional regulations to ensure it. If the soul of the nation is to be saved and new Kipling emerge to warn us of hubris, then let us abide by the Disraelian ideal of keeping one eye to history, so that we may steady our future course.
Joshua Whiteman-Gardner, M.St.(Oxon.)
Director of Communications, Office Manager, and Research Fellow for Culture, the Bow Group
Nationhood and Culture Lead, the Orthodox Conservatives