The more I write about Britain’s moral, educational and cultural decline, the more I run up against that decline in action.
For the past few weeks I have been re-launching my 19-year-old book The Abolition of Britain. This, my first venture between hard covers, has defied its many enemies by surviving in print for almost two decades. Now I’ve added an afterword which can be summed up as: “I told you so when there was still time to do something. Now it’s too late”.
When I first wrote this careful account of how cultural and moral revolution had affected everything in this country from sex to prayers, noted agents would not handle it and major (and minor) publishers would not publish it. One even wrote me an angry letter denouncing me for even suggesting the idea to him.
When I eventually found an agent prepared to take on something so toxic to the zeitgeist, the late and much-missed David Miller, he was astonished by the hostility he met. But in the end Naim Attallah’s Quartet bravely took the risk, the Mail on Sunday (for which I was not working in those days) agreed to serialise it – and it went on to sell many, many thousands and to be published in the United States.
I still remember a long day in a chilly west London warehouse just before Christmas 1999, signing huge piles of copies before despatch, until my wrist and fingers were so tired I could barely continue. I say this not to boast – well, not much – but to contrast it with the ignorant abuse, misrepresentation and plain obstruction I received from the cultural elite.
I was told at the time that I was “harking back to a golden age”, that I “longed to return to the 1950s” and that I was opposed to central heating. In fact I have no wish to return to the 1950s, which I remember well as an unlovely era of gristle and chilblains, smelling strongly of overflowing ashtrays and damp mackintoshes. And I have central heating at home.
Nobody who had actually read the book could have said any of these stupid things about it. But ever since, all those who would have gained most by reading it have used these false claims to persuade themselves never to open it. Since then I must have said or written (in prominent places) 10,000 times that I have no wish to return to the past, but that I felt we had chosen, and are still choosing, the wrong future. Nobody paid any attention.
They actually wanted to ignore what I was really saying. They saw the worrying future as a price worth paying for the temporary pleasures of the present. This is why, some years later, I abandoned plans for a book to be titled “How to Change your Mind”. Why write a self-help manual explaining to people how to do something nobody wanted to do?
During my relaunch, I have found that this silly “back to the 1950s” rubbish still persists. First on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and then on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, famously dominated by that astonishing figure of our times, Piers Morgan, I was interviewed and challenged by people who genuinely think the book is a nostalgist plea.
This was most farcical on Piers Morgan’s show, where I was simultaneously assailed for things I hadn’t said by two presenters and a guest historian, who told me I was insane. I do love this sort of amateur Freudianism, but thought I would object to it. And this led to a great moment of revelation.
I’d complained at the beginning that I had had “geysers of slime” directed against me when I first wrote the book. But it seemed that the Morgan gang thought I had been referring to them as “geezers of slime”, and so reckoned that calling me mad was just recompense for this. Against such total misunderstandings even archangels fight in vain. All I could do was laugh and hope somebody out there watching realised what was happening.
I must enjoy it, really, though it doesn’t always feel that way. Or why would I now be publishing another book which suggests that our reverence for Winston Churchill and the goodness of World War II might be a bit misplaced?
Perhaps most dangerous of all, I criticise Britain’s deliberate bombing of German civilians. An amazing number of people say both that it wasn’t deliberate (oh yes it was) and that it was justified (oh no it wasn’t). How long will it take, do you think, before I am falsely accused of wishing that Hitler had won?
Yet was there ever anything worth saying or writing which did not bear these risks? Again and again the moment comes, as you study the archive, or just put two and two together, when an unwelcome and distressing conclusion forms in your mind. It would be so easy to suppress that conclusion, knowing what would happen if you pursued it and brought it into the light. But it would be wrong.
Peter Hitchens is a columnist for The Mail on Sunday