Shifting Concepts of Virtue

Islam Versus Europe
October 18, 2013

Recently I’ve been watching Downton Abbey and reading a George Eliot novel. Part of the popularity of Downton Abbey and the endless BBC adaptations of 19th century novels I think is explained by the nostalgic vision they offer of a country before it was conquered. This is pre-invasion Britain: Britain as it was before the African and Asian hordes descended on it and ruined it.

What struck me in both cases, however, was that society was structured around what we could now consider to be a curious definition of virtue: that females should abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage. Of course, very few people would now endorse the view that a woman was immoral, shameful or ruined because she had had sexual contact before getting married. But this ludicrous idea once dominated our society. Anyone stepping across this moral line would be anathematised and excluded.

It strikes me that there are parallels with the modern, elite-imposed concepts of virtue embodied in concepts like racism, antisemitism and islamophobia. These concepts are inherently just as ridiculous as the Victorian notion of sexual propriety, and I’ve no doubt that future generations will see them as such. In the meantime, however, they continue to dominate our society.

If we think of the strait-laced moral codes of the past and how absurd they were, we tend to end up wondering: why didn’t people just laugh at them and defy them? But we could equally well say the same thing about the modern versions of anathema. Why don’t people just laugh at the accusations of wickedness embodied in terms like racism, antisemitism and islamophobia, and defy them?

It’s pitiful, as I look around the field of Islam critics, to see almost everyone hurrying to pin the labels “not racist”, “not antisemitic” on themselves as if these were magical runes that could ward off demons. These are conquered people. The alien takeover of their lands is just the physical analogue of the conquest that has already taken place in their minds. Anyone who takes these anathema concepts seriously is part of the problem.

In each case, the answer to the question of why the codes were not simply defied is the same: fear. But the fear is not groundless. There is no question that lives could be ruined by defying the elite-mandated concepts of virtue in each age, however absurd they were and are. And because most people are either incapable of challenging the ideological preconceptions of the age they live in or disinclined to do it, we go stumbling blindly on until some rupturing event or change of circumstances occurs, making the old moral codes no longer tenable.

Furthermore, there seems to be a mechanism in human nature that causes people to internalise moral codes that are used as the basis for punishment. People find it difficult to think of themselves as being cowards or hypocrites. This mechanism relieves them of that burden. They can avoid sanction by obeying the master’s dictates while telling themselves they’re doing it because they really want to.

We can only hope that as Europeans stare into the very real abyss of alien conquest their mysterious guilt obsessions will fade away, allowing them to begin the process of defending and recapturing their lands.