Model T

It is odd, spooky perhaps, to discover after the fact, and in conversation with a dead person, areas of agreement one never suspected. This comes from reading, principally; and in today’s case from reading the teaching notes of my father. (Much better organized than mine; he was less susceptible to asides on asides.) Too, a little heartbreaking sometimes, to recall so many things since I lost him, so many little discoveries that have inspired me to run and tell my father; only to realize the years that have passed.

An industrial designer, and a “flyboy” from the Hitler War, of Spitfires and other good things “in the service of his late majesty, George the Sixth,” papa was no Luddite. On the other hand, like my son the electronic engineer, he appreciated Luddites. Once, for instance, he read aloud from a popular science magazine, a mocking quotation from the turn of the last century. An old geezer had predicted that if everyone started driving cars, the world would choke on noise and pollution, with people and animals being run over, and collisions everywhere. Papa noted it was odd to mock a prediction that had come true.

He admired technological innovation, but thought the best could not be brought out unless resistance was constantly offered. It is the duty of the inventor to offer better ways of doing things. It is the duty of the craftsman to defend the way things are done, and to insist there shall be no sacrifices of quality to quantity. It was the duty of “the people” generally to resist change. Thus was “progress” humanized, to the  “classical liberal” mind, which could distinguish between improvement and its opposite — in the days before the “liberal and progressive” lapsed into unchecked depravity.

As my son puts it, “Luddites” are hugely valuable to computer designers, in forcing them to adapt their inventions to human use. Whether or not they enjoy this “feedback,” they should become patient. They should think through the consequences of what they are proposing, and “first do no harm.”

Caught between these generations, I am struck on both sides by the acknowledgement of social solidarity. Without continuity, without a view to common purpose that extends beyond the moment in time and space, evil must necessarily triumph. We must remain a closed camp against it. All the goods in “Western Civ” required, and then assumed, this solidarity.

Even in politics, the concept of the “loyal opposition” expressed this: that our purposes must be constructive, not destructive. The opposition does not exist to defeat a government’s best efforts, but to improve them. They must look for the holes: for the unintended consequences of what has been proposed. By the old Parliamentary arrangements, founded in the Middle Ages, a government was compelled to hear this criticism; to defend itself with wit and vigour on the floor of the House; but also to relent, and amend, and accommodate interests that cross all party lines. Only on those terms was “democracy” feasible.

Or call this “old fashioned liberalism” if you will: the kind Chesterton and Belloc thought themselves a part of. It was a secular expression of Christian ideals. It could not, as they understood, have survived the destruction of an essentially Christian intellectual order. Indeed, it has not.

Words have changed their meanings, almost of their own accord, because the premisses of civilization have changed, and at the heart of it, this rather Christian notion of a “solidarity” which extends across all classes, through successive generations, and beyond any national frontier. As recently as the 1950s, the term “Christendom” could be used, sometimes, without irony.

Common understanding of what is up and down, good and bad, right and wrong, was first directly challenged in the French Revolution; or rather before that, by the atheist philosophes who brought the revolutionary principles of Hell to the surface — opening those spiritual chasms through which demons might walk openly on this Earth.

The polarities were reversed, then in France, and now in an accelerating way across Europe and America. Down becomes up, bad becomes good, wrong becomes right. The whole task of the “liberal and progressive,” as he himself now sees it, is that of social re-engineering: to “liberate” us from the past and its “conditioning”; to remove God from every public place; to replace Christian Hope with the promise that through technology and the unshackling of the human will to power, “men shall be as gods.”

And then, the enforcement of new positive law, to bind everyone to their agenda, in constantly metastasizing detail.

(It is curious how in his notes and diaries, as in his conversation, my father — who was not a church-goer, nor in other outward sense a religious man — so often and unselfconsciously mentioned God. He did this in casual expressions such as, “God is in the details,” or “God sees what you are hiding,” or “the truth is holy,” or what he always said to me on parting: “Go with God.”)

A correspondent reminds me of Hilaire Belloc’s paraphrase of Thomas Aquinas, somewhere in The Cruise of the Nona. “All evil exists in the mistaking or confusing of the means for the end.”

One aspect of our reversal of polarities is technological. To the barbaric savages who have come out on top, technology is no longer means, but monster. It has acquired a capital T.