Once you perceive communitarianism to be the dominant ethos in English political culture, you start seeing it everywhere. As has been extensively reported, the new Tory government is rushing to pass even more draconian anti-terror legislation.
“For too long,” Cameron announced, “we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.’”
The people of Britain will lose even more freedom of expression, and even more of their privacy, all to target “extremism”. Really any sane person could write at length about the myriad dangers and multiple stupidities this legislation presents, but the question remains, exactly what is extremism? Radio 4’s Today programme asked the Home Secretary, Theresa May, the very same question. May could not answer.
“People who seek to divide us” was one of her attempts. “People who seek to undermine British values” was another. “We are together as one society, as One Nation,” she added.
That is, plainly, the language and atittude of communitarianism. Question, division, doubt: these things can not be tolerated. Ironically, the real impetus for all this truly awful legislation is probably our subservience to America, but that’s another matter. The government’s justifications show how Britain and British politics works.
Communities (whether real or imagined) are justified and defined by the external threats (whether real or imagined) they resist. Labour’s campaign error was to see threats which were internal. The Tories are, cunningly, effectively creating one which sits outside the electorate. There will be arrests, of course. Many, many arrests. But actual danger? There has been less and less of that since 7/7, and nothing to justify laws like this.
“We just wanna be togevva,” as that bloke used to say, in the advert for that building society. Remember building societies? We have lost what made us truly communitarian. Now we are just a tangle of fears and desires, drifting on a sea of lies.
EDIT TO ADD: See also Charles Moore’s post-election editorial in The Telegraph. “Over the past five years, in Britain as a whole, we have learnt how a country that forgets to defend itself properly starts to lose a sense of its identity. In the next five years, that sense must be restored.” Italics mine.by