A reflection on politics, with particular reference to throwing parties in the upper chambers of Downing Street.
Public dissatisfaction with Boris Johnson’s handling of Christmas parties in Downing Street during the height of Covid lockdowns–and his subsequent duplicity over the details of those parties in response to reporters’ investigations–finally caught up to him. Johnson resigned last week.
Considering the controversy over the strictness of the lockdown, Vladmir Putin’s invasion in Ukraine and skyrocketing inflation Who was there when? Christmas celebrations may seem trivial at first. Many supporters of the prime minster stressed that this Christmas storm was insignificant in comparison to other tempests around the world, which can cause more severe and immediate havoc. Johnson based his prediction on this logic. He predicted that the storm would end and voters would again be asking him to deliver Brexit. Johnson also promised his supporters that he would embrace pro-working class politics and reduce the bitterness of division with his signature charm, which is symbolized by his blonde, tousled hair and the familiar cognomen “Boris”, (his real name was Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson).
In fact, the act of throwing parties in person during Covid lockdown’s most restrictive restrictions touched a nerve in the British body political: it was a feeling that not only was there hypocrisy at play but also that a whole moral order was at risk.
Has the expectation that politicians uphold moral standards vanished? Johnson was not the only one who failed to remember that public morality is something leaders should uphold. Contrary to Johnson’s brash disregard of the harsh measures he placed on the British people the queen was a strong supporter and adhered to all lockdown regulations. She refused any privilege she could get from her office.
Even an offer from Downing Street–no surprise given what was going on behind the scenes–to ease restrictions and allow more than 30 mourners at Prince Philip’s funeral was met with Queen Elizabeth’s disapproval. Queen Elizabeth refused to accept an easement of restrictions, not even for high-status occasions and ones of great personal significance. Her subjects did not have such recourse. Both had funerals. They also mourned the deceased. Why shouldn’t she, when they left without any consolation from their relatives or friends?
Just as her family did in World War II, so too the queen borne the entire weight of any government restrictions of freedoms during a crisis. It turns out that this is exactly what British citizens expected from their prime minister. Johnson assumed that Johnson and his staff were exempted from these rules. This was a telling sign that it wasn’t an inextricable health requirement. After calming the most vocal demands for stricter (and thus more “successful”) locksdowns, Johnson and others in the know laughed at their subjects and continued to live a normal life.
Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, and when Johnson’s sacked senior advisor, Dominic Cummings, began leaking evidence of the rule-flaunting in January (in what we can assume was an act of supreme revenge, rather than his stated motive), Johnson “apologized” in the manner of oleaginous public-relations types: Sorry it comes across this way, etc. Everyone saw right through the lies.
For those who were convinced of the need for severe lockdowns Johnson refused to pay the high costs of his policies. This was an inability to be in solidarity with his neighbor. Johnson not only rejected equality among his subjects, but he also put himself in a position that even the queen wouldn’t consider. Whatever angle the Brits chose, they found his behavior unacceptable and intolerable.
Taking a moment to reflect on the scandal and our morbid fascination in seeing Boris’ Teflon finally melt, and the divergent reactions of the queen and prime Minister–along with the continued public attitude towards these responses–shows more than just public weariness and hypocrisy. British citizens sensed that there was something much more. They sensed that Johnson’s habit of lying, flaunting rules, making and breaking marriage promises, and characteristic movement through life with a shrug of the shoulders and boyish grin, violated their sense of objective morality upon which the success of a nation depends.
It is true that morality of the monarch has a greater impact than the prime minister. Whereas a constitutional monarch is the representative of her nation, a minister–even the prime one–is a mere politician who can be recalled by Parliament and thrown out of office within 24 hours. Ministers in the British system are less representative than monarchs, and have less political consequences.
The president of the United States holds an office which combines the executive and representational functions. This is why it’s so important that a president behaves himself. It can also be difficult for people who are strongly opposed to certain policies to show respect for their office.
Despite acknowledging this, Johnson’s indulgence and laxity had a greater impact than his individual actions. His entire administration was affected. Numerous staff members engaged in dissolute behaviour at these boozy parties, and were caught refusing to accept responsibility when they were. Downing Street was filled with a general spirit of willful indifference. It all betray a lack of faith in objective morality.
English-speaking cultures since the 1960s have made distinct moves toward moral slackness. It’s easy to mock this observation; the caricature that all who make this observation want to return to the 1950s is, by now, pretty boring. It is impossible to radically remember a past decade in time, and there is plenty about the 1950s that is undesirable to resource. We can not ignore the importance of cultivating self-discipline and recognize that Elizabeth Windsor’s generation did an even better job than the “BoJo .”
BoJo is as guilty of his own impulsive desires as the culture around him that encourages him to follow them. His culture encourages him to “speak your truth,” with the underlying premise that he–like everyone else– is an autonomous self, unbridled by the bonds of duties and corresponding rights with others. Boris, encouraged by his culture, wants to “define [his] personal concept of existence, meaning, and the mystery of life,” as an “right” that lies at the “very heart of liberty.” Boris spent many years pursuing this “right” with all of his might. He is the one who defines meaning.
Our cultures reject any objective meaning other than our own desires. This causes us to act with incredulity when we’re called out for being selfish. This incredulity, given our assumptions, is quite understandable.
Boris seemed incredulous at his actions and those of his administration. This is because Boris had long since given up the virtues honor and piety. He refused to admit his wrongdoing even in the resignation speech he gave last week. He presents himself as a man who is full of compassion, writing self-reflective Biographies about Winston Churchill. Part of him will, undoubtedly, long for this kind of greatness.
But Boris is a post-Christian pagan, one who can recite the Iliad in Greek, but not a pagan proper. Homer knew eusebeia, the inner response to the things of God that shows itself in reverence for those things God has made good. Boris’ postChristian paganism, however, is a completely different kind. It apostatizes at the end of pagannism which Homer and others had completed. looked. The sublime depths and fidelity of marital love are not known by either the adulterer or the virgin, but one can be sure.
To explain the “tragicomedy”, our decline in belief in objective morality C.S. Lewis delivered a series of lectures later bound into the book The Abolition of Man, reflecting on Anglophone cultures’ turn to moral relativism (this was the 1940s). Lewis observed that even though there are many acts of selfishness in post-truth cultures, people continue to seek out the qualities of self-denial which our cultural underlying moral principle (fulfilling one’s own desires is intrinsically right) makes impossible. It is a laughable thing to see philistines among us. We pray for the success of our geldings.
Despite our flawed moral assumptions, it is impossible to distinguish right from wrong. The British people somehow knew that what the queen did was good, and what the prime minister did was bad. They didn’t enjoy the actions of the prime minister, nor did they enjoy the ones done by the queen.
To explain the innate sense that there is an objective morality in the world, Lewis uses the term “Tao” from Chinese philosophy. The Tao can be described as Nature, the Way and the Road. It is also the Way by which all things continue to evolve, the way in which they will ever persist, calmly and in space, and it should be followed by every man. This is the path that every person should follow in imitation of this cosmic and supracosmic progress, assimilation to all activities that conform to the great exemplar
After noticing the many ways that the Tao (or “the law of nature”) is recognized across all civilizations, Lewis continued to state that people who seek to follow the Tao will have the foundation to understand right and wrong. For example, to call children “delightful” or old men “venerable” is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality that demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not.
Lewis acknowledges that he doesn’t enjoy being with children but recognizes it as an inalienable defect. One might also recognize tone deafness to be a defect. Our approvals or disapprovals can be seen as recognitions of objective value, or reactions to an objective order. Emotional states are either in harmony or conflict with reason. This is when we have a feeling of liking for something that should be approved.
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To deny an objective order in the universe, is to stop being human. A political order which denies this objective order would be to end all human existence.
The British were able to recognize in Johnson an indifference toward the objective moral order of our universe. Although he may not have wanted to inflict an entire political system that denied right and wrong on the people, allowing Johnson to remain in power would have been a complicity in this view.
Boris, like Trump, promoted policies that were needed for the national good, even though he was not personally invested in their merits. He served his country well in that way. However, the freedom of Britain from Boris’ abolition, is a sign that Britain is in good health.