Paul Johnson: The Sickness Of The West

  • Date: 25/02/10

The world is groaning beneath a mountain of debt, but that’s not the real problem. History shows repeatedly that debt can quickly be paid off once confidence is restored and men and women set to work with a will. But for that to happen we must have trust in those who lead us.

Trust is missing. We do not trust–and with good reason–either our elected leaders or the corporate elite who constitute the top echelons of society. Seldom in modern history has the lack of trust, now verging on contempt, been so deep, universal and comprehensive.[…]

The collapse in leadership is a serious matter, made worse by the fact that none of the main central bank chairmen is well known, liked or trusted.

The Center Has Not Held

More devastating, in a sense, is the loss of trust in entire categories of people who once formed bastions of integrity at the heart of society. In Britain half a century and more ago there were three categories of professionals who inspired general regard: bankers, scientists and politicians.

At the local level the men who ran the banks in the high street were popular and trusted and were regularly conscripted onto every committee that mattered. In the City of London the top people formed a regulatory agency in themselves and dealt swiftly and severely with anyone who fell short of the highest standards of integrity.

Today the word “banker” is a pejorative term. Local managers are anonymous persons held in low regard. City of London magnates are suspect figures. Bankers are associated with unrestrained greed, recklessness and professional incompetence. It would be hard to think of another group that has fallen so fast and so far in public esteem.

The same thing is now happening with scientists. Since the days of Sir Humphry Davy and Charles Darwin, scientists in Britain have been held in the highest regard. Lord Kelvin and Sir Alexander Fleming were treated as secular saints. Nobel Prize winners were honored like prophets in ancient Israel.

Now, as the theory of man-made global warming unravels, scientists are suddenly and devastatingly revealed as fallible, mendacious, self-seeking, criminally secretive, furtively trying to hide their errors, debasing the system of peer review of scientific papers and conspiring to conceal the truth from once highly respected professional publications.

The image of the scientist who puts the pursuit of truth before anything else has been shattered and replaced by a man on the make or a quasi-religious enthusiast who wants to prove his case at any cost. Science is becoming the tool of campaigning warfare, in which truth is the first casualty.

But the fall of the scientist is as nothing compared with the self-degradation of British politicians. I can remember a time when most people would regard it as an honor to shake the hand of their Member of Parliament. Today the initials MP after a surname are a badge of shame. Thanks to the corruption that has spread across the English Channel from the EU bureaucracy in Brussels and the European Parliament in Strasbourg, we now have the most debauched Parliament in the whole of British history.

Full essay

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