I’ve been in France for a few days to check up on the damage done by the recent hurricane. All seems well apart from a couple of missing roof tiles; those who built farmhouses a couple of hundred years ago knew how to read the landscape in order to protect themselves against the prevailing weather, however extreme.
As in Britain, it’s obviously been an unusually cold winter in Western France; there has been no snow in this part of the Vendee, but consistently dry, Siberian winds and hard frosts. The daffodils are not yet in flower in the garden, and the buds on the roses bushes are tightly closed against the cold. It will be a late spring this year in the west – not a lizard in sight!
I am amazed, though, at the toughness of our young olive trees, only planted five or so years ago and barely above head height, which have come through the winter completely unscathed. It’s too far north for much fruit but they look fantastic.
But while in the Vendee I’ve made the mistake of tuning into BBC Radio 4 on long wave to catch up on the news from Britain.
From the “other” side of the channel, the British media seems particularly focussed in this pre-election period on the criminal justice system.
There’s an understandable concern (although to what extent orchestrated by the tabloid media, I’m not sure) over the safety of the public in the wake of the possible re-offending of one of the child killers of the toddler James Bulger, and the chilling and murderous activities of a previously convicted sex offender who lured his latest victim to her death via Facebook.
There’s also a vital debate continuing about the desire of the present government to hold on to the DNA records of potential offenders or to store those of the entire population (has anyone seen the Tom Cruise film Minority Report – perhaps not so far fetched as when it was first made?)
But to cap it all there was a report on the preposterous and unenforceable proposals for all dog owners to be forced by law to microchip and insure their animals in case they attack someone. We are told this is aimed primarily at those who keep and train dogs for the purpose of intimidation; obviously they are precisely those who will be law abiding enough to comply with any new regulations.
All in all, we have a snapshot of a highly confused and anxious society, and a State convinced it has a duty to intervene more and more minutely into the lives of its citizens, as we know from the current equality bill.
That would be less worrying (or would it?) if we could trust our elected rulers and representatives to be balanced, sane, tolerant paragons of justice and civic virtue. The fundamentally stupid and politically illiterate question that is being asked more and more frequently is this: if you haven’t done anything wrong, what do you have to fear? The leaders of the Soviet Union and its satellites could have posed the same question to those they oppressed for generations.
What makes representative, “democratic,” government civilised is the system of constitutional and legal checks and balances which provide the means of preserving our traditional liberties both in the face of an over mighty executive and the oppressive expression of majority opinion, together with the basic assumption upon which those freedoms depend that the law exists for the innocent and the guilty alike and that one is innocent unless one can be proved guilty after open and due process of law. Not in today’s Britain for much longer if the surveillance society has come to stay. If the prevention of crime (whether it is an infringement of the criminal law or "security related") is considered to be of overriding importance, then our freedoms are inevitably at risk from the consequent trade-off.
The modern secular 'liberal' culture assumes, as a mysterious and inexplicable act of faith, the basic goodness of human beings and is therefore profoundly shocked to the point of disastrous overreaction when it discovers we might not all be so good after all and, accordingly, in order to save us from ourselves, seeks to open windows into our minds to control not only our wrong actions but also our “wrong” thoughts.
The Christian society (or at least the society influenced by Christianity - I'm not sure the former has ever existed or can ever exist)) assumes that the image of God in humanity has been to a degree obscured by original sin and puts in place the moral and social sanctions to guard against the perversity of our desires and the deceitfulness of our hearts, whilst insisting that our conscience and our thoughts belong to ourselves and to God and not to the State.
What do we do now? Traditional social constraints on bad behaviour have largely disappeared – laughed into oblivion by the liberal secularists. All that we have left is the increasingly heavy hand of the law, formulated by the panic- driven control freaks who are our contemporary politicians.
Out here in the French countryside all this seems very far away, as do the troubles of Anglicanism and the imminent exodus (or extinction) of its Anglo-Catholics. I’m more than half tempted to keep it that way