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Anthony O'Hear on citizenship


Moral Decline in the UK

Anthony O'Hear, the professor of philosophy at the University of Bradford, had an article on moral decline in the Daily Mail on Thursday: "Citizen Blair" (p12). He was responding to the move to have citizenship taught in the schools. The professor thinks there is a crisis of values amongst the youth of the UK. He says they are roaming the streets out of control, wreaking havoc, and showing no respect to anything or anyone. He cites the recent murder of the Nigerian boy in Peckham.

Some youths may have good intentions but they are vague and without direction, says the professor. They are ignorant of history and they hold Britain to have a past only of imperialism and racism. This idea tends to alienate them from their own country. So the government launch of a citizenship section on the National Curriculum, on 13 December, might have given the professor reason to hope. However, it turns out that it is mere Political Correctness (PC) and it is devoid of proper history, values or knowledge. Instead it is a Youth Culture passport of rights so that all can check whether their rights are being met. It is proposed that 5% of school time be devoted to the topic. It is the modern doctrine of morality that aims at an instant feel-good factor. This citizenship outlook is part of the problem rather than of the solution. PC pap is the factor in the current rootlessness of youth. Youthful concern about world poverty or the environment is all too easily transformed into hostility to trade and to the free market, says the professor. Talk of the evils of war or of racism ends up as hatred of one's own country, he says.

What is needed is a framework of values, by which youth can make sense of the world, says the professor. They can get that from their families. Schools ought to have a strong moral ethos underpinned by religious faith. Citizenship lessons can only take time off what ought to be taught in the schools. One of those proper subjects is history and that is British history. All pupils, whatever their background, can learn what it is to be a citizen from British History rather than from the PC outlook of their teachers' imagination. Everyone in the UK is British, whatever their origins. A study of history would also foster an allegiance to Britain. But do not expect this to come from the government, says the professor, or from this latest citizenship education idea. It cannot even endorse the family as the ideal way to bring up children to be moral, let alone the religious ethos that still characterises the best schools. Instead, this new citizenship is out to rubbish Britishness. The government itself shows contempt for parliament and traditional liberties. It is doing its utmost to break up Britain by devolution on the one hand and by the European Union on the other. It should be doing the opposite of that if it wants to promote loyalty and actual citizenship.

There has been a demoralisation in the UK since 1945. This is largely owing to the decline in deference that is a result of the rise of the crass ideal of equality. This ideal has eroded the deference that contained some respect for others, and the new outlook that has replaced deference contains less respect. The adage has it that "familiarity breeds contempt" and it would seem that equality certainly does. Demoralisation is also the result of the welfare state spoiling the public by giving them many things for nothing and fostering the idea that they should have anything they want. The market, by contrast, encourages us to pay our way and to value what we earn. A hierarchy is haply not needed for what ought to be common decency and a modicum of respect for others. But all too many do want to indulge in the excitement of physically attacking others more for the fun of it than for anything that they can rob. It is not clear that history lessons will restore the civil manners that Britain had from 1850 to 1950 but good parenting might.

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The adage has it that "familiarity breeds contempt" and it would seem that equality certainly does. Demoralisation is also the result of the welfare state spoiling the public by giving them many things for nothing and fostering the idea that they should have anything they want. The market, by contrast, encourages us to pay our way and to value what we earn.