The Moral High Road

A few days ago, I watched Nuremberg (2000) on YouTube. The whole film is available for you to watch online or download.

From 1 hour 32 minutes to 1 hour 50 minutes, there is a dramatic cross examination of Hermann Göring who takes advantage of procedure to manipulate, monopolise and forward his arguments. Justice Jackson is brought to want to offer his resignation after the blows of Göring’s bloated arrogance, the judges following procedure and his own tactical errors. His aide Mrs Elsie Douglas handles Jackson in very simple terms, inviting him to bring out his own interior thoughts and values.

… if their values are stronger than yours, if they believe in their ideals more than you believe in yours…

Jackson then talks with the British judge who reminds him of his thoughts of moral superiority in prosecuting this trial.

– Do you see Göring as a statesman?

– No, I do not. I see him as reprehensible – and inhuman.

– Then treat him as such – the vile, conniving, fascist bastard that he is.

I once found this frightening recording of Göring, and you don’t need to understand German to discern his ability to crush and manipulate at will. Just his tone of voice conveys this psychopath’s personality.

These ideas came into my mind as I read Remainers should get ready for what this political chaos may bring.

This game can’t go on for very much longer and it won’t. Very soon, something will give and, depending what that is, it could create some real opportunities for remainers. So whilst it would be entirely premature for them to expect victory, remainers should learn lessons from the Brexiters when they didn’t expect their victory: they didn’t plan for it and so when to their and everyone else’s surprise they had their prize in their grasp, they didn’t know what to do with it. The consequence may now be that it slips through their fingers.

What is the essential point of fighting against Brexit? As I have mentioned before, two essential paradigms are opposed, both in the minds of politicians and ordinary voters: the revival of nationalism and a fear of the outside world (unless that outside world can be controlled), and on the other side, a healthy cosmopolitanism concerned for human rights and the welfare of the weak. If we are shaped by the latter world view, how do we conceive the idea of shaping the UK as a viable, credible and positive member of the EU?

Surely, there are practical benefits from membership of the European Union. One is freedom of movement: my right to live and work in France, Germany or Spain or any of the other European countries – and the right of people from any of those countries to live and work in the UK. Obviously, the concern is people from third countries getting into Europe via a country with slack immigration requirements, and then their being able to claim the same status anywhere of European citizens. To begin with, most of those immigrants are undocumented and illegal, not legitimately claiming refugee status. Obviously that issue has to be clarified – but without abolishing all freedom of movement.

The other main issue is discerning what really is “the will of the people”, an ideological euphemism or something real about whether a person’s vote is like the conditions of a mortal sin or any positive moral act: serious matter, full knowledge and full consent. In a context like this, we need to be clear and credible about our motivations for leaving or remaining. What is best for the country, above all for human beings and only then for the economy and business?

Whether we are Leavers or Remainers, we need to consider the purity of our own motives and their perceived motives. Are their values stronger than ours? Do we believe in our ideals more than they believe in theirs? If no-deal Brexit is something like our country declaring war on itself or shooting itself in the foot, then we have the moral duty to resist by all moral (and legal if we don’t want to get into trouble with the police) means at our disposal. Another thought is whether our adversaries in the ERG are true statesmen with the good of the country at heart – or whether they are vile, conniving, fascist bastards. Are the accusations of dark money and corruption true? If so, this is very serious, and it is our patriotic duty to fight and push our MP’s to such a position of resolve and determination to do what is right.

A very important thing for us to do is make judgement from facts, and not try to extract truth from opinion. We have to develop a critical mind, which partly comes from education, but also from a spiritual life that seeks the good, the true and the beautiful. Sometimes, events and facts bring us to change our minds and come to terms with a new truth. Most things we believe in turn out only to be possible or probable, not absolute. I have had written dialogues with those close to me who see things in a different way from the way I see them. My question is why they believe in what they do hold as true. Did they believe a lie – or did I? Are we all confused by the present shambles of British politics, the lies and corruption? What can be verified? We may never know for certain.

As for other matters in my life, like autism, we need a philosophical approach, an ideal to look towards. The European Union isn’t perfect. Nothing is. But, the founding ideas were born from the Nuremberg Trial and the lessons learned from defeating the Nazis and the fascists. There are two essential paradigms: one of competition and the absolute rights of brute strength, the other of compassion and the rights of all human beings and the natural environment in which we live. The latter must prevail as an ideal and be ever perfected and strengthened like our life of virtue and prayer as Christians.

What are those ideals at the foundation of the European Union? They are resumed briefly in this EU in brief. The project is eminently humanist and cosmopolitan, which appeals to anyone who has emerged from his cocoon to discover the world.

The first ideal is to put an end to war and genocide, to make sure that Nazism and fascism can never again happen or find fertile ground in our countries and continent. The second is to ensure our rights to freedom, life and the pursuit of happiness. Others concern our right and possibility to live by our work in decent conditions, our education and encouragement to use our rational faculties. If peace is to be maintained, we need to have our cultural identity as English, Germans, Greeks or whatever, and for our countries to live in harmony on common agreed principles.

Would it really be such a loss if the UK went over to the Euro? We already changed our money system in 1971, and the half-crown coin or the tanner are now a distant memory for me. Trade and banking would be so much easier, and we ordinary people wouldn’t be changing money as we crossed the Channel.

If the Church is semper reformanda, to be constantly reformed, then so has any country or union of countries. I don’t know about everything going on in Brussels. People I am inclined to believe tell me that there is less corruption and dark money than in the British Government. There are lots of lies and fables about square or straight bananas, or about some Orwellian scheme to bring about the 1984 dystopia. The UK already has one in its new “ministry of truth”! As I recommended above, we need to be ready to come to terms with changing our minds if new evidence convinces us.

I feel called in my life to pursue the goal of Christian Humanism, as reigned from the time of the Renaissance and has influenced our nobility of spirit ever since. Democracy is a difficult question, since it is authentic and possible only in small entities in which people are educated and have a moral and spiritual basis to their lives. Otherwise it is little more than mob rule. Churchill said in a speech to the House of Commons in 1947:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

Conservative Christians may find fault in what I have to say about equality and inclusiveness. These ideas will mean something when we are ourselves members of a minority (an Englishman living in France, someone with autism, etc.). I said to my wife some days ago that I am the most feminist man she is likely to meet, because I do believe in the ideals Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Pankhurst and others stood for. She seemed to give me credit for that. To go further, we need to build a whole new philosophical reflection on the complementarity between men and women as being equal in their diversity and difference. I will not go into the other “hot button” issues here, but they all need reflection from a humanist point of view.

Since my days with the traditionalist Roman Catholics, I have had to reflect on these questions. I found that many such Roman Catholics entertain ideologies close to fascism. It is the old question of relinquishing freedom to be constrained into salvation. People who think that way are likely to find some nasty surprises at the end of their earthly life. My own thought has been influenced by philosophers like Berdyaev and Tolstoy, and by the Romantics in the wake of the French Revolution, and by the entire humanist movement from Renaissance times. I am as unsatisfied by Socialism as by the various Capitalist systems on offer. There is the old joke about Boris and Ivan in Moscow, one asking the other what was the difference between Capitalism and Communism. The other answers: In one, man exploits man, and in the other, it’s the other way round. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the old conundrum of conservativism and liberalism. This is why I try to look higher and deeper, over the slogans of the man of the crowd. I find it is what Rob Riemen says when he finds the essential difference that makes us noble, that of man’s soul.

Do I believe in these principles of human dignity, peace and freedom more than those with the ideal of power, competition and strength (physical and financial)? I have no simple answers, given the diversity of motivations that give each one of us our beliefs and convictions. The question is open:

What do you believe in?

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6 Responses to The Moral High Road

  1. Caedmon says:

    At the last referendum ‘the will of the people’ showed that a large percentage of the population didn’t care. If people can afford the luxury of apathy they should be considered to be in favour of the status quo. Unless there is some mechanism for taking this into account a new referendum may produce the same result.
    Australian experience with compulsory voting would suggest that if people don’t care they tend to vote ‘no’, which stops a small number of enthusiasts for change from riding roughshod over everyone else.

  2. Stephen K says:

    It’s always problematic selecting some virtue words/concepts over others – and committing to them absolutely, when a virtue like freedom or of strength or of peace etc might not always be the most important to do the greatest good in a given situation. The moral dilemma has always been to define ‘good’ and how and whether there can be ‘greater’ or ‘lesser’ goods in this or that situation. Of course we formulate principles – as a starting point – but we have to be prepared to do the hard yards of weighing things up rather than abdicating responsibility to another, even if it is a convenient packet of principles as if from a Corn Flakes packet.

    I’ve watched Nuremburg (2000) and thoroughly appreciated it, thank you. I do believe that however you arrive at your principles, if you have them and believe they are good, that they uphold truthfulness and protect the weak and vulnerable against oppressors etc, then you must oppose them to any agenda or principles that you judge to be to uphold falsehood or aim to hurt or exploit the weak and vulnerable – for example. Sometimes we have to forcibly resist; other times apparent weakness (remember Jesus before Pilate) may be the greatest strength and the greatest wisdom.

    Our lives are filled from morning to night with moral challenges. We must seek to inform our decisions with the insights of our better angels.

    • In your first paragraph, you cover many of the things Rob Riemen said in his books: the problem of language and the meanings of words. Words and short phrases are taken out of context and made into slogans to say whatever the demagogue wants. It is the nature of ideology as opposed to rational critical thought and spiritual life. Thus, “peace” becomes a euphemism of the dictator’s control over his people. Even “goodness” itself is perverted. One essential message in Orwell’s 1984 was the emptying of human language and critical thought.

      You have not forgotten your moral theology! There are questions of greater goods and lesser goods, whether the end justifies the means. What does the leader of a nation do in time of war in those horrible decisions that may involve killing people? The first thing seems to be seeing ourselves as spiritual souls with responsibility and then have beliefs and values, discerning whether those beliefs and values are noble and altruistic.

      It seems to me that to be good, we have to “cultivate” the garden of our soul, be truly ourselves, and educate ourselves in the use of reason, critical thought and appreciation of beauty. This is why, even though I am so discouraged by the perversity of which human nature is responsible, I seek to put humanism to the fore. The only remedy to evil is goodness.

  3. Stephen K says:

    …. to be good, we have to “cultivate” the garden of our soul, be truly ourselves, and educate ourselves in the use of reason, critical thought and appreciation of beauty.

    Amen!

  4. I believe in Church, State, Marriage and Monasticism.

    • That’s nice and succinct. I would be even briefer in believing in the humanist values flowing from Christ’s teaching.

      The notions of Church, State, Marriage and Monasticism are quite abstract compared with the current realities. Institutional churches are hard things to relate to. I can’t think of a single State I would trust with spiritual or moral matters. Good marriages with children are more and more rare and more pressure is put on the parents to have the children brought up by a quasi-totalitarian state. Monasteries look wonderful from the outside, but most I know of are little more than totalitarian cults. If Christianity only works under totalitarianism, then we have to look elsewhere. Therefore my little ‘formula”.

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