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‘Civilisation’—who needs it?


EVEN WHEN IT IS making one of its generally excellent documentaries on art or history the BBC these days cannot help but have its presenters slip in a bit of propaganda promoting multiculturalism, diversity or mass immigration. In the first episode of a recent series, Art of France, Andrew Graham-Dixon took us through Seine-Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris, to view the “truly varied faces of this modern nation”, ie, the mainly Muslim faces of North Africa. France, he later said, has always been “a nation of mongrels,” which is just a version of the “nation of immigrants” mantra repeated by those who usually don’t live in areas populated by immigrants but are happy for others to do so.

It was not always the case. The landmark documentary, Civilisation, produced in 1969, exhibited a true old-fashioned attitude to the matter in hand, with the patrician Kenneth Clark in his tweed suits and often askew ties strolling about ruins, galleries and churches, enunciating in his very upper class accent his views on the products of civilisation. In the epilogue he made it clear he regarded himself as already a “stick in the mud” and that there were many people who disagreed with his whole approach even then. He himself was dismissive of anything to do with ideology.

It must be that of all the significant documentary series of that period Civilisation became the most provocative in modern times to the progressive establishment, so that in 2015 the BBC decided to right its own ideological wrong and commission a new series with a cast of not one but three experts — Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga. With the rise of conservative and right-wing populism across the west since they started, they must all be feeling even more beleaguered than before. Probably in a similar way to Clark felt when he made Civilisation, with the soixant-huitards of Paris and elsewhere causing trouble and spouting the nonsense which became the standard ideology of the establishment.

So what can we expect of the revamp? Here’s what James Purnell, Director of Radio and Education, says in his blog:

Then, in our spare time after solving the meaning of life and the future of the world, we’ll turn to civilisation. Well, Civilisations — inspired by Kenneth Clark’s seminal documentary series, but in many ways the opposite of the original. Rather than a single view of civilisation, we will have three presenters. Rather than looking at Western civilisation, we will look at many, and question the very concept of civilisation.

After all we can’t have people thinking there is anything distinct or special about Western civilisation, can we? All that Eurocentric intellectual imperialism and what have you.

“In many ways the opposite of the original” – well, I suppose that’s no surprise. Just as it’s no surprise the new version is Civilisations plural. After all we can’t have people thinking there is anything distinct or special about Western civilisation, can we? All that Eurocentric intellectual imperialism and what have you. No, now we must be globalist and remind ourselves how insignificant we are in the west.

But it’s the last little statement of intent – to “question the very concept of civilisation” — that reveals the snake under the rosebush of cultural delights. Because whenever we hear someone of Purnell’s ilk talk about questioning the very concept of something we know their real aim is to destroy it or demean it.  How lucky we are to have these ultra-civilised, multi-credentialed academics to do the job for us.

I’m sure that however fascinating the remake will be, the overall takeaway will be a diminishing of belief in the concept of Western civilisation. And as Clark made clear, a civilisation that has no self-confidence will fall. Clark also subtitled his series “a private view”. We can anticipate the revamp will not be so modestly framed but will be an overt lesson in ideological correctness from the establishment.

There are none so blind as those who will not see, of course, and the makers of Civilisations are unlikely to acknowledge the crumbling of their own civilisation as a result of the very ideology they promote. The Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, held up by Andrew Graham-Dixon as some kind of true exemplar of French modernity, has recently suffered weeks of rioting and violence, and the creation of no-go zones at the hands of the multicultural, varied-faced mongrels whose presence they so love. And just as the progressives cavil at the concept of civilisation so they won’t accept that its opposite, barbarism, also exists and may be heading for their own streets.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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