But on pages 357 to 360 he produces one of those blinding-light moments that finally link up and solidify long strands of thought.
What is the blinding-light moment? It is that a liberal society aims to make individuals autonomous, by severing the natural connections existing between people, but that this then leaves individuals dependent on the state.
This is not a new insight - I've made the same point many times myself, as have others. But it is expressed well in Hitchens' blog post:
Michael Booth concludes that Swedish Social Democracy 'was driven by one single, over-arching goal; to sever the traditional, some would say natural, ties between its citizens, be they those that bound children to their parents, workers to their employers, wives to their husbands or the elderly to their families. Instead, individuals were encouraged - mostly by financial incentive or disincentive, but also through legislation, propaganda and social pressure - to ‘take their place in the collective’, as one commentator rather ominously put it, and become dependent on the government’.
But he notes that this can also be truthfully described as liberating Swedish citizens from each other allowing them to become autonomous entities.
But of course (and this conclusion is mainly me) they are only autonomous within the embrace of the strong state, which substitutes itself for family, employer and all other social ties, and seizes most of their wealth in return for requiring a loyalty and submission as great as any imposed in feudal times, in return for ‘social protection’. Thus did the peasant whose hovel lay in the shadow of his Lord's castle offer up his fealty in return for safety.
He quotes the Swedish author Henrik Berggren:
‘The Swedish system is best understood not in terms of socialism but in terms of Rousseau…Rousseau was an extreme egalitarian and he really hated any kind of dependence – depending on other people destroyed your integrity, your authenticity – therefore the ideal situation was one where every citizen was an atom separated from all the other atoms…The Swedish system’s logic is that it is dangerous to be dependent on other people, to be beholden to other people. Even to your family’.
Hitchens has another passage following through on this idea. He notes aspects of the decline in British society, such as permissive attitudes to drug use, and writes:
What were all these things about? Why, personal autonomy. Their central slogan was ‘I can do what I like with my own body and nobody can stop me. How dare you tell me what I can do with it?’
The paradox, well understood by Aldous Huxley, is that the person who proudly yells this battle cry also meekly accepts that in return he must surrender his mind, his privacy and his wealth to the power of the parental state.
In Michael Booth’s book, it all came together in an intentional, deliberate pattern. These things are connected. And it is the absence of the Christian conscience which makes them possible, and which is their enemy and rival. The new all-powerful parental state, the war against the married family, the scorn for conscience, the loud demand for personal autonomy and the rage against those who suggest it is in any way limited by morality or law, are all one cause, reborn in the West since the collapse of the USSR and advancing fast on all fronts. I saw it in Moscow and after my return from there, but instinctively. As so often, my instincts were right, and it has taken long years for my understanding and knowledge to catch up with them
There is just one thing I'd like to add to Peter Hitchens' observations. There are traditionalists who instinctively recognise the dynamic that Hitchens describes and who, quite rightly, think it important to uphold non-state institutions like church and family. So they become good churchmen and family men. I don't think this enough. When fathers stand only as individual men, they have little control over the torrent of influence that comes from the larger institutions of society, such as the mass media, the schools and the universities. Defending family or church requires organising together as fathers to shape the larger institutions, wherever this is possible.