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Marking 60 years of British decline


It's not easy being British.


The country has lost its way.  And should you be on the streets, you don't want to lose your way, lest you encounter the roving bands of intoxicated thugs that spill out on the streets as a regular part of social life.  Britain has embraced the machinery of the totalitarian state more than any other democracy, with the entire population under general video surveillance on the streets and squares.  The theory was that Britons who had forgotten how to behave might behoove themselves to do so if the nanny state adopted the tactics of the police state.

It has done precious little for reducing crime, or even apprehending criminals.  The nursery is as unruly as ever, regardless of the nanny's oversight.  Not that the streets aren't video friendly.  After beheading soldier Lee Rigby on the streets in Woolwich, the jihadi assailants conducted a makeshift press conference with pedestrians while the local constabulary made their leisurely way to the scene of — what, exactly?  The crime?  The humiliation of Britain?  Or perhaps the British future, lying beaten and degraded in the street?  It's tough being British today, for those who live there and for those of us who carry a special affection for her from overseas.

So the thanksgiving service on Tuesday for the Queen's coronation jubilee was most welcome.  Sixty years ago, on June 2, 1953, the whole world watched.  Britain was better then, and to remember that, and the Queen herself, who goes from strength to strength, more admirable now after 60 years of exemplary service than as a young queen, was most welcome.

"A nation watched," preached the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.  "It was the first time the whole nation had watched anything as it happened.  But this they saw.  Pomp and ceremony on a rainy, June day, wrapped in time and custom — very British."

The new archbishop wanted to say that Woolwich — a fortnight ago — was not Britain.  The real Britain was 60 years ago.  He didn't say exactly that, but it sounded like it.  When he did get around to speaking about Woolwich, he said it was Britain at its best — "in the courage of passersby and police" — which it was not.  The best of Britain was being feted on the diamond jubilee but no queen lasts forever.

It was, though, a fine sermon from Archbishop Justin, for he went beyond just saluting the royal standard.

"And here, in the grace and providence of God, is the model of liberty and authority which our country enjoys," Archbishop Justin said.  "Liberty is only real when it exists under authority.  Liberty under authority begins, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, with our duty to God, 'whose service is perfect freedom.'"

And if our liberty is for something, then that something had better be worthwhile, something enduring, something ennobling, something worthy of aspiring to excellence.

The British homiletic style tends to be reserved, but the Archbishop was rather emphatic, hammering the same phrase a half-dozen times — "liberty under authority."  In 1953, that would have been widely accepted, that our freedom is freedom for something, not just the absence of restraint.  And if our liberty is for something, then that something had better be worthwhile, something enduring, something ennobling, something worthy of aspiring to excellence.  That something would be proposed to us by an authoritative tradition which, having tested the alternatives and found them wanting, was able to propose a worthy purpose for our freedom.  The Christian gospel, to which the Queen pledged herself 60 years ago, proposes the great good news that this desired something is actually a someone, God himself, incarnate in Jesus Christ.

Any sense of that is severely attenuated in today's Britain, where authority is thought to be a threat to liberty.  Contemporary Britain, like so many other Western cultures, proposes liberty as an end in itself, unmoored from any firm foundation, and undirected toward any great mission.  And so freedom runs amok in the streets, and the state authority, having long lost any capacity to propose an authoritative standard, installs video cameras to record the resultant chaos.

"We celebrate today not liberty by itself, which in human weakness turns to selfishness, but liberty under the authority of God," Archbishop Justin continued.  "We are never more free, nor better than when we are under the authority of God.  The coronation was an ordination, a setting aside of a person for service.  Once anointed, her Majesty received symbols, symbols so monumental that they are only bearable by the grace and strength of God."

The symbols of liberty under authority were all present in Westminster Abbey on Tuesday.  What they symbolize is absent almost everywhere else.



Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Marking 60 years of British decline." National Post, (Canada) June 20, 2013.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

The Author

desouza Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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