Magazine article The Spectator

The Right Has Won the Argument, So Why Is It So Angry and Sour?

Magazine article The Spectator

The Right Has Won the Argument, So Why Is It So Angry and Sour?

Article excerpt

My father made a surprising remark to my mother and me last week. 'I have the impression,' he said, 'that young people are more intelligent these days.'

'What do you mean, Dad?' I said.

'Just that. Listening to what they talk about, what they know and what they are interested in, I just get the impression that people were duller and more limited when I was a young man.'

Dad, who is 81, has all his marbles. He was not joking and nor is he one of those persistent optimists for whom all is for the best. Dad is no New-Age Seeker, anything but. My father is a philosophical conservative, probably a political conservative too, who never shrinks from describing what looks bleak as bleak. He was simply offering his own observations on modern youth, of whom, being the father of six and the grandfather of ten, he sees plenty.

He did not mean that, in some kind of Darwinian leap, human brainpower has been sharply upgraded over the last few generations. He meant that the lives the younger generation lead and the influences which surround them tend (in a good many cases) to expand intellectual horizons and make people better informed and more interested in a wider world. To the young of today there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than were dreamed of in the philosophy of your own youth.

I suspect my father is right. For me comparisons are harder and do not go back so far. Dad is comparing modern Britain and Catalonia (where my parents live) with south-east London in the 1930s (where he was an apprentice electrical engineer) and wartime service in the Royal Navy. I am comparing the modern Britain where I talk to sixth forms in state and private schools, and meet and interview people of all ages, with a boyhood in the 1950s and early 1960s in the various British colonies where I went to school: whites-only schools until I was 14.

Sport - mostly rugby and cricket - dominated most boys' lives and imaginations then, and I cannot remember that many of my cohorts took any interest at all in a wider world, in the future of the planet, the truth or otherwise of religion or the meaning of life, the moral consequences of the advance of scientific knowledge, or the large ethical questions which it is quite commonplace to hear young people discussing these days. There was (in my recollection) a sort of uniformity about beliefs and ideas, and my classmates would typically have thought that the answers to most big questions were obvious and well known. Interest and discussion revolved more around the immediate things in our lives.

So for what it's worth, I think Dad's right. We could argue about it. But I report the discussion for a different purpose. Why is it that the Right - in politics, in journalism, and to some degree in The Spectator - has become associated with gloom and anger about the world? Why does column after column from right-of-centre columnists aim to leave the reader in a more despairing frame of mind than that in which he picked it up? Why has Tory journalism found its habitual resort in the feeding of fear and the venting of spleen?

I have just about had my fill of commentators who don't like their country, don't like the world, and don't much care for the human race. I read television critics who don't approve of television, radio critics who hate the BBC, social commentators who rage against British society, diarists who despise celebrities, religious correspondents who are sure the Church is going to Hell in a handcart, and as I plough onward through my Telegraph, Spectator and, sometimes, Times, I feel my spirits slowly sinking. …

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