The most striking work in the spine-tingling show at the National Gallery, ‘Rubens: A Master in the Making’, is the enormous painting of St George slaying the Dragon (Prado). What I like about Rubens is that he always goes over the top. Here, the head of the saint’s charger, and especially the mane, is a creative phantasmagoria of hirsute auxesis, and balancing it is the monster’s crazy head, especially the mouth, already skewered by St George’s lance, and exhibiting catastrophic cavities of such horror that it ought to hang in dentists’ waiting-rooms as an example of what happens if you don’t scour your teeth with a yard-brush.
The dragon is a bestialisation of political correctness, and St George, a ferocious fellow in a magnificent helmet and plume, is giving it hell with his claymore, and rightly so, for the PC fanatics have just declared him Public Enemy Number One. What they particularly object to is not only his dragon-slaying, which is (I quote) ‘a peculiarly nauseating blood-sport, especially since it is aimed at an endangered species’, but, still more, his cross of red-on-white, an emblem of Crusaders and thus ‘unbearably provocative’. From the PC underground HQ in the basement of University College, London, the edict has gone out: get St George and his cross. Among the objects of the campaign are renaming Charing Cross, King’s Cross Station and St George’s Chapel, Windsor, taking down the big cross on top of St Paul’s Cathedral (the Dean has already given his assent to ‘an appropriate ecunemical gesture’) and a general ‘revision’ of Shakespeare to eliminate such ‘unacceptable’ lines as Henry V’s racist slogan ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George!’
Joking apart, there is in fact a determined and carefully thought-out movement to ban from state schools any little girl who wears a cross, however tiny, round her neck. The disposition, among the PC high command, is to blame fundamentalist Christian parents for permitting or encouraging children to wear religious symbols which are an incitement to sectarian violence. I rather doubt if such crosses have much religious significance among those who wear them. I am still haunted by the story I heard a few years ago of a young woman who went into a cheap jewellers and asked for a cross: ‘Not a plain one, but one of those pretty crosses with a little man on it.’ As a child I recall wearing, for some years, a silver St Christopher medal given me by my godmother to keep me safe journeying to and from school — St Christopher being the strong man who carried the infant Christ safely across the river and was astonished by the child’s weight, bearing all the sins of the world. But this symbol, too, is now objectionable, as are all Christian medals, if visible.
It may be asked, who are these politically correct gauleiters who are determined to interfere in the most minute details of everyday life, and apparently have the power to do so? By what right, and with what authority, do they impose an ideology which, increasingly, has a totalitarian flavour? We used to treat political correctness, an extremist form of secular morality which emerged from the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, as a joke, and its activities often reflect humourless puritanism which is itself risible. But I no longer find the thing funny. PC rules have an increasing habit of getting themselves enshrined in statutes, and enforced with rigour on bewildered offenders.
I would like to read a thoroughly researched historical and sociological study of PC and its militants, tracing its growth and the backgrounds of its members. Until this is done, analysis is bound to be impressionistic, but I have a feeling that its adherents spring from the lower-middle-class sources which have provided similar pressure groups in the past, such as the Puritans who made themselves so powerful in early 17th-century England and exercised a good deal of power during the Commonwealth. They were prominent in New England too, and provided the driving force behind the Massachusetts witch-hunting craze which convulsed Salem and other towns at the end of the century. Witch-hunting of ‘racists’, ‘male chauvinists’, ‘bigots’ and other categories of evil-doers forms an important dimension of PC, though it is blended with human rights idealism springing from the Revolutionary Terror of 1790s France, which produced the prototype PC enforcer in the shape of Maximilien Robespierre, and led to the guillotining and murder of so many innocent victims. He was the ‘sea-green incorruptible’, as Carlyle called him, and personal purity has always been the characteristic or claim of those seeking to impose totalitarian norms, such as Himmler and his SS high command and the top echelons of the KGB.
I have the impression that most PC advocates and enforcers in this country are women in their thirties or forties, with some education of a red-brick or white-tile nature, no longer young enough to be much interested in sex but old enough to have acquired a certain modest authority in their work, which is overwhelmingly in the state sector, and often unmarried or childless (a significant section of the rank-and-file is employed in making it difficult to adopt children, an area where PC rules are enforced with peculiar ferocity). I would also describe these women as unappealing physically, non-orgasmic, disapproving and fastidious by nature, embittered by personal misfortune or slights real or imaginary, overwhelmingly agnostic or atheist, women who in an earlier age might well have been nuns but are now fanatics for whom class warfare and hatred of Christianity form a fulfilling creed. They are mainly bureaucrats, in the state-education system, both local and national, librarians, office-holders in the administrative side of the NHS, minor potentates in town halls and government agencies, law centres, environmental pressure groups, charities and other religion substitutes. There are a signicant number on the New Labour backbenches and three or four in the government, though on the whole PC zealots tend to remain anonymous, even furtive. But we are beginning to see the first PC chief constables and judges, ambitious but mediocre individuals who sniff which way the ideological wind is blowing and trim their decisions accordingly.
In general, however, PC is an army without visible leaders, and this makes it peculiarly difficult to attack. It is both nowhere and everywhere, infiltrating all the corners and interstices of the vast bureaucratic state, hydra-headed but not obviously ferocious like the dragon, more serpentine and stealthy, ant-like in intensity, industrious, fuelled from bottomless reservoirs of self-righteousness. In some ways it is a bigger threat to our wellbeing than its progenitor Marxism, because more ubiquitous and less visibly threatening. Its weapon is not tanks or the H-bomb but mind-decay. It relies on cowardice, especially among our so-called leaders. No use counting on bishops to defend Christianity. They are themselves infected by PC, carriers of the disease. We must organise ourselves. To begin with, how about a network of local Crusader Clubs and Societies of St George?