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October 10, 2005

Blair's Britain "Deeply Decadent" - finds Social Affairs Unit study Decadence: The Passing of Personal Virtue and Its Replacement by Political and Psychological Slogans (Ed. Digby Anderson)

Posted by Michael Mosbacher

Decadence: The Passing of Personal Virtue and Its Replacement by Political and Psychological Slogans
Edited by Digby Anderson
ISBN 1 904863 04 3
Hardback, 20

Tony Blair's proposed campaign to restore "respect" is way-off target if an analysis of Britain's moral condition published today is correct. The moral decline is deeper and wider than a loss of respect. And it is confused by the rise of new "bogus virtues". According to Decadence, published today by the independent Social Affairs Unit, Britain has traded in an old morality, which had served it well for centuries, for a new, experimental, quasi-morality. The old morality had well-known virtues such as courage, love, prudence, fairness, and honesty. These are increasingly being replaced by new untried ones such as anti-discriminationism, environmental concern, equality, self-affirmation, a "caring" attitude, and a "critical" mindset.

The old, discarded virtues, writes the study's editor Dr Digby Anderson, were genuine virtues; they required specific behaviour of individuals. The new ones are quasi or bogus virtues, even vices in some cases. Some, such as equality, are political policies not features of personal conduct. Environmentalism is an arena in which virtue may be exercised not a virtue itself. Transparency in business or politics is a way of revealing virtue or a vice, not a virtue in itself and no replacement for honesty. Self-affirmation would once have been regarded as a vice.

The Blair government has failed to champion the genuine virtues. Indeed it has subverted them by endorsing the new bogus virtues. This revolution in standards does not in itself, notes Anderson, mean that our actual behaviour is worse. It means we cannot see what is good and bad. However a society which cannot see what is good is unlikely to continue doing good - for long.

He likens the exchange of virtues to that of Aladdin's lamp. Britain has given up a dusty but priceless set of standards for a bright but worthless set. A shiny, bauble morality is easier to live by.


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