The Prime Minister’s recent puritanical edicts regarding relationships between ministers and their staff do not have roots in conservative Christianity, but in progressive Leftism which has an historical precedent dating back to the Victorian era.
In 1888, English publisher and writer Henry Vizetelly was prosecuted for obscene libel after he translated Émile Zola’s La Terre. The following year, Vizetelly was fined £200 and imprisoned for three months for having dared to reissue Zola’s novels. This rather dampened the spirits of Vizetelly’s colleagues, who promptly fell into a slump of self-censorship in order to avoid the same fate.
The writer’s arrest and imprisonment came about because he had been targeted by an organisation called the National Vigilance Association which had been formed just three years earlier for the ‘enforcement and improvement of the laws of the repression of criminal vice and public immorality’. Judging from the 27 boxes of minutes, annual reports, correspondence and campaigning files it left in its wake, the National Vigilance Associate was, if nothing else, thoroughly vigilant.
That the National Vigilance Association blossomed during the Victorian century would surprise few. Victorianism remains synonymous with prudishness, priggishness and puritanism. In a recent lamentation penned by Matt Ridley for the Times, he described our current generation of intolerant and censorious millennials as new ‘Victorians’.
Ridley is only partially right. What would surprise most people today is that the most intolerant and censorious Victorians did not hail from mainstream society, but rather from its radical fringes. Counter-intuitively, the puritanical movement was spearheaded by feminists, socialists, and trade unionists.
Today’s progressives have more in common with (mostly female) zealots who were hell-bent on policing the morals and behaviour of their fellow citizens for much of the 19th century in Britain.
The ultimate aim of this moralising minority was the attainment of Utopia. The Victorian radicals were inspired by an anti-sensualist, highly rationalist movement which had emerged amid the excesses of 18th century Regency Britain. Its underlying philosophy, grounded in Gnosticism, was that lust was both a primitive and sensual urge which obstructed the pursuit of equality.
For the feminist, the inequality between the sexes could be overcome if women relinquished such encumbrances as male desire. Indeed, the 18th century feminist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft argued that reproductive inclinations rendered women weaker because they risked becoming ‘prey to their own senses’.
For the Victorian socialist, the working classes could only attain true socio-economic equality through the attainment of ‘respectability’ which was equated with puritanical attitudes towards sex. For example, one particular socialist community in Surrey which adhered to the utopian philosophy of Robert Owen, a 19th century reformer, dictated that married members should not have sex more than once in two or three years.
Victorian progressives were highly skilled at employing both politics and the law by forming themselves into powerful and effective lobby groups. In the 1860s, they organised a number of social purity campaigns to undertake a moral cleansing of society by attempting to abolish a range of sexual activities including prostitution. By the 1880s, feminists, Fabian socialists, and labour organisations had so much control over London that they were referred to as ‘Municipal Puritans’.
Victorian Londoners were compelled to endure years of repression and interference at the hands of an activist minority who dictated the rules and regulations for human relationships. The hounding, arrest and subsequent death of Oscar Wilde was the tragic apogee of this movement’s moral policing.
It is no coincidence that the aggressive puritanism, general illiberalism and political correctness we are witnessing in 2018 is coming not from the conservative Right, but from the progressive Left. As history repeats itself, the most moralising individuals in our society today are feminists, Marxists and other Utopians. Theirs is the voice of an extremist minority; yet their tentacles of influence extend through academia, government and the media. Take a look at any HR code of conduct in any public organisation and one will essentially find a set of ethical, moral and social behavioural codes which the employee is compelled to adopt in the workplace.
According to the managing director of its commercial operations, Formula One’s ‘grid girls’ must be banned because ‘they no longer reflect modern day societal norms’. This is symptomatic of contemporary Victorianism. The #MeToo movement aims to bring all manifestations of male sexuality under control by re-defining normal desires as pathological. It should come as a shock to nobody that the Greens have given Malcolm Turnbull’s Big Brother sex ban the loudest and most enthusiastic support.
Malcolm Turnbull declared at a press conference earlier this month (presumably after gaining counsel from his wife) that ‘most of the ministers… most of the bosses in the building… are men and there is a gender, a real gender perspective here’. By employing the language of identity politics, which is taken straight out of our humanities departments, the Prime Minister is signalling that he believes, as did our 19th century feminists, in the idea of a patriarchy. He believes that men hold power to the exclusion of women, and until this power is equalised, evenly distributed, or taken away from men altogether, Utopia will remain elusive.
We have arrived at a time in our nation’s history when politicians are now dictating what should and should not happen between consenting adults. This is a massive illiberal overreach of government. The fact that it is prepared to sacrifice personal freedoms in the name of equality reveals that the present government is not a conservative, but a progressive one.