While England was in the middle of tearing itself apart during the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell and his fellow puritans were so profoundly offended by the singing of Christmas carols that they passed an Act of Parliament in 1644 to ban it. Three years later, in June 1647, the Long Parliament passed an ordinance which abolished the celebration of Christmas altogether.
Despite the prohibition, people continued to hold clandestine religious services, as well as to sing their favourite carols. In effect, Christmas went underground, although perhaps not quite underground enough. An MP at the time complained that he had been deprived of a good night’s sleep on Christmas Eve by his neighbours’ noisy preparations for ‘the foolish day’.
By the 1650s, Cromwell had cracked down on adultery, swearing, fornication and drunkenness. Pubs all over the country were boarded up as ‘dens of Satan’, racehorses were confiscated from their owners and fighting cocks, bears and dogs were slaughtered. As Thomas Babington Macaulay would later quip, the puritans were concerned less with the pain of the animal than the pleasure of the spectator. Finally, dancing, playing cards, traditional games and joyous celebrations at country weddings also became illegal activities.
It might not come as a complete surprise that Cromwell and his ilk, who believed that they were part of the elect while everyone else was doomed to Hell, were not universally popular. By suppressing anything remotely pleasurable, they did not endear themselves to the unelected. The daughter of a Wiltshire church warden lamented that ‘we had a good parson here before but now we have a Puritan. A plague or a pox on him that ever he did come hither’.
Unfortunately, there are members of society today who appear to be doing their damnedest to replicate the austere and joyless world of 17th century Cromwellian England. And many of them seem to work at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This week, they have made an important announcement regarding Christmas: ‘Look out Australia, the meat-free revolution is here…!’ Turkeys are out and tofu is in. Apparently ‘it’s never been easier to enjoy a cruelty-free Christmas feast.’
Are the good folk at Peta really driven by a genuine concern for the wellbeing of turkeys or is it something else? Their recent attempt to get Bunnings to replace its meat sausages with vegan versions at its ubiquitous sausage sizzle suggests that there is more to it than that. To paraphrase Macaulay, they are less concerned with the welfare of animals than they are the pleasure of the men who shop for hardware.
Driven by equal measures of intolerance and religious fervour, these new puritans are determined that life in Australia should be devoid of all joy and colour. The American journalist and satirist, H. L. Mencken joked that puritanism is ‘the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy’. This modern-day morality dictates that smoking, drinking, and sugar, things which do make some people happy, are deeply sinful and thus should be expunged from society.
Carnivores beware. The next pursuit on the growing list of transgressions is the act of eating meat. The anti-meat taskforces argue that it is not only contributing to climate change and environmental degradation but that meat is actually being used by the patriarchy to oppress women. Ladies, it turns out that we are being subjugated by steak and tyrannised by T-bones.
This latest insanity has of course been simmering away in the humanities departments of Western universities for decades. In 1990, Carol J. Adams, American feminist-vegan, animal rights activist and Yale graduate responsible for introducing women’s studies into the University of Rochester while she was an undergraduate in the 1970s, wrote a book entitled The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.
The New York Times hailed it as a ‘bible of the vegan community’. In this work, she proposed that ‘male dominance and animals’ oppression are linked by the way that both women and animals function as absent referents in meat eating and dairy production, and that feminist theory logically contains a vegan critique… Patriarchy is a gender system that is implicit in human/animal relationships.’ Adams made the highly questionable connection between meat and gender which has since been embraced by subsequent generations of academics.
Last year, for example the Journal of Feminist Geography published a peer- reviewed study produced by an academic who went to South America to interview all three of Argentina’s vegetarians and who concluded that due to the toxic masculinity of meat, women have to fight back against the patriarchy by rejecting it.
Most recently, Shareena Z. Hamzah, a postdoctoral researcher at Swansea University has recommended in an article for the Conversation that in order for women to stop being oppressed and to wrestle power back from men, society needs to modify its language. From now on, we should cease using meaty metaphors. Idioms such as bringing home the bacon, flogging a dead horse, and the elephant in the room will henceforward be considered hate speech.
All this madness has come about since the humanities rejected their original purpose in the 1960s. Derived from the expression studia humanitatis or the study of humanities, for 500 years, their purpose had been to make sense of and understand the world through the Western tradition of art, culture and philosophy.
In the 1970s and 1980s however, there appeared a range of ‘new humanities’ subjects which rejected this tradition. The new humanities were underpinned by a range of radical post-structuralism and post-modernist theories which had been conjured up in the previous decade by a predominantly French group of philosophers.
Rather than making sense of the world, academics employed in humanities departments are now flooding it with absolute nonsense which is daily encroaching on our lives.
But just as Cromwell and his cronies failed to stop the English from celebrating Christmas, drinking beer and dancing around the maypole in the 17th century, these new puritans will not stop us from enjoying our sausages and steak in the 21st century.
Dr Bella d’Abrera is the Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation at the Institute of Public Affairs.