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The loneliness of the long distance guardian of public morality


The Times 3 November 1916 p6

The Times 3 November 1916 p6

15 comments to The loneliness of the long distance guardian of public morality

  • You can’t censor matters of taste.

    When you do, you end up with virtue signallers like Rev. Barber being able to dictate what you and I may or may not enjoy. It’s not far from their to the cancelled Christmases of Cromwell’s protectorate.

    I have no problems with folks like the Rev. Barber or even Mary Whitehouse, but I find the very concept of them being able to dictate what I may enjoy at the theatre, at the cinema or on TV utterly repugnant.

    Sure, the Romans in Britain was a tasteless pile of shit, but the way to deal with that is the absence of subsidy and allowing people to protest with their feet.

    If they choose to support a theatre through attendance or patronage, that is a matter for them, their consciences and their wallets / purses – NOT some dodgy vicar, not the reincarnation of Mary Whitehouse, nor the “Outraged of Tunbridge Wells”.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Well, someone has to go to dance halls and pretend to be a moral guardian! I actually approve of what Mary Whitehouse did, because it seemed to be that the Beeb was engaging in social engineering, actually encouraging promiscuity, on the back of compulsory licence fees, and with it having a monopoly.
    At least, when Channel Ten, here in Sydney, introduced ‘Number 96’, with nude females sometimes appearing, in the 70s, you could watch more wholesome shows on other channels! And the advertisers were paying for it!

  • Paul Marks

    The Reverent Barber was following in a long tradition.

    Both Plato and Aristotle taught that it was the duty of the state to make people “just and good” by (for example) controlling entertainments – and the later Roman thinker Cato the Elder (Cato the Censor) agreed.

    I disagree – with Gladstone and others I think that “of one thing I am certain – it is not to the state that we should look to for the improvement of morality”

    But that does not mean that concern for morality should be laughed at – for example out-of-wedlock births are not a joke (they are a great cause of poverty and lack of male role models for children) and sexual transmitted illnesses are not a joke either (and neither are certain forms of cancer that women are prone to).

    In short the 1960s attitude to men like the Reverent Barber in 1916 (that they were hypocrites who were most likely buggering boys in their school) is mostly wrong – there were degenerate hypocrites who presented themselves to be guardians of public morality, but most were quite sincere. Sincere but wrong.

    But of course the date of 1916 is important.

    If people should take personal responsibility for the possible consequences of “dirty jokes” (possibly leading people astray and so on), what about taking personal responsibility for mass slaughter?

    In 1915 Douglas Haig had managed to blame the Battle of Loos on his commanding officer (and thus take his job) – Denis Winter and others argue that Haig was lying, that the reserve divisions were where he (Haig) had asked for them to be and that it was Haig’s idea to launch the ten thousand men into a suicide attack on the second day of the Battle of Loos, getting eight thousand of the ten thousand men killed or wounded (with the Germans having hardly any casualties from this attack).

    But – let us assume that Haig was telling the TRUTH. That the reserve divisions were not where he had wanted them to be (that he had wanted them to be much closer) and that the suicide attack of the second day was the idea of someone else.

    That still leaves 1916 – where Haig had no Sir John French to blame.

    On July 1st 1916 some twenty thousand British solders were killed and some thirty thousand wounded.

    This is rather more important than a few dirty jokes in a review. Who took personal responsibility for July 1st 1916? Nobody did – the British establishment failed in their moral duty, totally and absolutely failed. Not just in their military understanding (that is a technical matter), but in their MORAL duty to take personal responsibility for their actions.

    I can understand a religious argument that suicide is forbidden to a Christian – although many Christians have, in fact, done the honourable thing over the centuries in response to terrible failings.

    However, there is no religious argument against resignation. And Douglas Haig did not resign his post after July 1st 1916. Indeed no one resigned or was punished – apart from a few officers who did NOT send their men into suicide attacks (such officers were sent home in disgrace – with the implication that they were cowards, which their service records show was a lie).

    What is more important – a failure to take personal responsibility for a few dirty jokes, or a failure to take personal responsibility for getting 50 thousand British soldiers killed or wounded in one day?

    The moral indignation of the Reverent Barber was misplaced.

  • Alisa

    but the way to deal with that is the absence of subsidy and allowing people to protest with their feet.

    Of course – but from that excerpt it is apparent that theaters required a license, even if they were not (yet) subsidized.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Rev. Barber will shortly be succeeded by the Mullahs, who frankly are a lot more scary.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray, November 4, 2016 at 12:34 am: indeed, as you say, the beeb were (and are) engaged in social engineering (and worse – Saville, John Nathan Turner, etc.), using our taken-by-law money. IIRC, the theatre showing ‘The Romans in Britain’ also received subsidies. These points, I suppose, make it wholly legitimate, from this blog’s point of view, that Mrs Whitehouse should deem herself, or any voter, entitled to argue for regulation of those cases, though I’m unsure her rhetoric always made clear the distinction.

    She was not successful. The beeb made her an object of relentless mockery – rather as the OP article, I think, slyly does the reverend. (Loath as I am to give any leeway to the PC, I might be persuaded Mrs W was an easier target than some.) It sent a useful message to others; don’t challenge the social engineers if you fear mockery.

    As Alisa says, ending the subsidies is the way to solve it.

  • Of course – but from that excerpt it is apparent that theaters required a license, even if they were not (yet) subsidized.

    Theatre licensing in the UK has a long and turgid history, but this was more about controlling content and behaviour than anything else (as licenses could be revoked by the Lord Chancellor) under the Theatre Licensing Acts in 1737, 1843 and finally in 1968 by which formal censorship was abolished.

    The modern form of government subsidy for the arts only really started in 1940, with the establishment of CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), prior to that theatre was reliant upon ticket sales and private patronage.

    CEMA was the predecessor of today’s Arts Council of England.

    As a libertarian, I find both censorship and subsidy of the theatre to be an anathema. If the theatre can find neither an audience, nor a patron to stage it’s plays then that is a pretty good indicator that it is an act of pure self-indulgence by the playwright / theatre producer. The National Theatre being a prime example of this sort of idiotic behaviour.

    If they want to piss their own money away on garbage then fine, but why should taxpayers be forced to cough up for their personal hedonism. If a theatre cannot survive without subsidy then it should bloody close.

  • NickM

    Censorship and subsidy are flip sides of the same coin.

    I frankly don’t understand subsidy. At all. I never really did. I mean dear old Shakespeare was a businessman. He is seen as the epitome of the theatre so why does his work need subsidy when it didn’t in 1600AD? Why? And no I don’t get the whole, “Quality needs subsidy otherwise you get nowt but Big Brother and similar dross”.

    I really don’t get it now. I watch quite a bit made by, for example, Sky who somehow seem to manage stuff that knocks the BBC (and C4) into a cocked hat. Yeah, I pay for it but my choice. That and Sky has to compete on an uneven playing field.

    What I’m saying is I never understood it but I really, really don’t now considering the quality on offer from commercial TV. The BBC’s “uniqueness” is batting on an increasingly sticky wicket and C4 is terrible.

  • Censorship and subsidy are flip sides of the same coin

    You mean in the sense of “He who plays the piper calls the tune“?

    Maybe, but while taxpayers foot the bill it is the Arts Council England (or whomever) that actually determines what will be subsidised and why. Far too much of it is just the usual politically correct leftist crap.

  • Mr Ed

    Wasn’t Keynes the main champion of subsidy for the Arts?

    It wasn’t the Lord Chancellor who regulated the theatre in England and Wales, it was the Lord Chamberlain, who in recent times has not been a politician, and we had the slightly more absurd situation where an unelected peer regulated the theatre without being part of the government as opposed to being a political appointment of an unelected peer who might at least be subject to some indirect Parliamentary pressure.

    And in the midst of the rationing and ruin of post-War Britain, Attlee and his gang found the time and (stole) the money to pass an Act allowing the Treasury to give money away to a ‘National Theatre‘.

  • NickM

    The problem is not what the Arts Council does or doesn’t sub it is that it exists.

  • Paul Marks

    John Galt, NickM, and Mr Ed.

    Yes Lord Keynes was the man person behind the Arts Council.

    Although even if it had been set up by Reverent Barber types it would have ended up subsidising the degenerate rubbish it does.

    That is the nature of the beast – regardless of who sets it up.

    Generally state efforts to morally enlighten people end up degrading and corrupting people. Look at “education” – especially in the United States.

    Perhaps the supreme mistake of 19th century liberalism was thinking that systems of state schools would make people intellectually and morally enlightened.

    The thought process that leads to such a bizarre conclusion I do not follow at all- it just baffles me.

    I think it can be traced to such things as the New Hampshire Constitution of 1784 – with the idea that religion should be backed by (local) tax money, to educate the people in their religious duties.

    In the 19th century taxes for religion became unfashionable – but the word “educate” stuck.

    As if Frederick the Great of Prussia (the creator of the first real state education system for “the masses”) had been supporter of liberty.

  • Paul Marks

    Moral responsibility.

    In the United States at least the President is clearly to blame – as the President picks the Generals who command X, Y, Z (on advice – but the President can reject that advice).

    The weakness of the American system is that it is so hard to get rid of a President – Impeachment is a very difficult result to achieve.

    In Britain it is more complicated.

    Was Asquith or Lloyd-George really “in charge of” Haig? It is complicated.

    Certainly Robertson did not speak to the Prime Minister as if he was speaking to his Commanding Officer.

    Indeed an American General who (in time of war) spoke to his Commander in Chief (the President) in such terms might well be sent to a Military Prison.

    In British folk tradition it is the King or Queen (not the Prime Minister) who is the formal Commander in Chief – and that complicates matters.

    Although Winston Churchill, in the 2nd World War, tried to make the position clearer – i.e. that the Prime Minister is the de facto Commander in Chief (even if they are not the formal Commander in Chief).

    In the end “the buck stops with the Prime Minister” – both Asquith and David Lloyd George could have got rid of Haig had they really tried (had they not been so spineless).

    Therefore, they are as morally guilty as he was.

    With Czar Nicholas the consequences of taking personal charge came home to roost.

    After seeing terrible military disasters, Czar Nicholas decided to take personal command – even going to the front.

    However, he was no better at picking Generals or battle plans than the Russian administrators were.

    More disasters followed – for example the destruction the Russian Imperial Guard (school boy question “Why did the Imperial Guard not save the Czar in 1917?” – answer “because most of them died in 1916”), in an engagement where they were sent up three causeways (causeways over a bog) with the Germans in front and on both flanks. Even Douglas Haig never came up with a plan like the Battle of Kovel.

    And so most of the “bravest men in Europe” died.

    The Czar could not escape responsibility for the military disaster – because he had taken command (at least he said he was in command – officials actually made the decisions, some of whom may actually have been German agents), and was actually there (well a couple of miles from there) at the time.

    George the Fifth was not in command at the Somme. Even the most extreme Revolutionary could not blame the King personally for poor tactics – or for not being punished afterwards.

  • Paul Marks, November 5, 2016 at 1:48 pm: “… The thought process that leads to such a bizarre conclusion I do not follow at all- it just baffles me. …”

    Milton Friedman, in his Free to Choose, has a short summary of how the idea of making the state provide schools was sold to the 19th century USA. The UK held out longer. There is of course any amount of more detailed literature but Milton’s discussion might answer your question.

  • Alisa

    I wonder if it made it to the TV the series.