HISTORY: by Hal G.P. ColebatchNews Weekly
How King Alfred's reputation fell victim to political correctness
, October 12, 2013
In the 1990s, the University of Alfred in New York decided that it would commission a statue of King Alfred the Great. This was opposed by one Dr Linda Mitchell, a professor of medieval studies, who protested that “if the university is claiming a dedication to diversity, it would be foolish to choose a symbol so exclusive and effective in emphasising the dead white male power structure in history”.
In Winchester in Britain, Alfred’s ancient capital, it was reported that King Alfred was considered out-of-date, and focus groups sought a more up-to-date image for the town. Eloise Appleby of the Winchester Tourist Board was quoted as saying: “King Alfred represents the past. His image is not forward-looking enough for today’s cut-throat commercial market place. Winchester is a town with many creative artists and new buildings.”
Alfred, incidentally, as well as being a great warrior and administrator, was in fact England’s first major patron of the arts.
Many people come to Winchester precisely because of its associations with Alfred, Arthur and other figures of high and heroic chivalry and romance, rather than for the presence of creative artists. (And what a strange use of the term “cut-throat” in connection with Alfred, who had to deal with the real thing in that department! It was he who beat the great army of Vikings against impossible odds).
If Alfred has a counterpart in modern fiction, it might be Aragorn in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, one of the most popular pieces of modern culture.
It was reported in the Winchester Daily Echo newspaper (June 17, 2003) that local people were angry that King Alfred would be dropped from the city’s logo. Ms Appleby was quoted as saying: “We want to show that there are other symbols, such as the Luminous Motion Monument in the cathedral grounds.” (This was a particularly ironic display of ignorance, since Alfred can be credited not only with establishing the rule of law and the Royal Navy, but with inventing the modern lantern. His name means “elf-counselled”).
In keeping with this, King Alfred’s College, Winchester, in 2004 adopted the lacklustre name “University College, Winchester”, later changed again to Winchester University. When I mentioned this in The American Spectator (April 2008), the then pro vice-chancellor of the university, “Tommy” Geddes, replied in an astonishingly hysterical and vituperative letter, suggesting that in ascribing the change to political correctness I was suffering from a “fevered imagination”.
The name King Alfred’s College has a ring about it, however distant, of civilisation as a heroic achievement. One cannot say the name without calling up a mental picture, even if fleeting, of the lonely king struggling to restore peace and learning in a country sunk into the barbarism of the Dark Ages, England’s deliverer and an exemplar down the ages of valour and nobility.
A.F. Freeman, the Whig historian, called him the most perfect character in history, and 1,000 years of revisionist scholarship have found nothing to tarnish this reputation. “It is as if,” London mayor and writer Boris Johnson has said, “we are determined to send him back to the Dark Ages from which he rescued us.”
The point about the anti-Alfred campaign is that it reveals the truth one always suspected about multiculturalism and political correctness. It is concerned not with making Western European or Anglo-Saxon culture and values one set among many on a rich field where a hundred flowers bloom, or even just with pluralistic toleration, but with destroying those values and attempting to ensure that they are never expressed or commemorated.
The recently-retired Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Lord Jonathan Sacks, in an article in the London Times, commented: “Multiculturalism has run its course, and it is time to move on. It was a fine, even noble idea in its time. It was designed to make ethnic and religious minorities feel more at home, more appreciated and respected, and therefore better able to mesh with the larger society. It affirmed their culture. It gave dignity to difference.
“And in many ways it achieved its aims. Britain is a more open, diverse, energising, cosmopolitan environment than it was when I was growing up.
“But there has been a price to pay, and it grows year by year. Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation. It has allowed groups to live separately, with no incentive to integrate and every incentive not to. It was intended to promote tolerance. Instead the result has been, in countries where it has been tried, societies more abrasive, fractured and intolerant than they once were.
“Liberal democracy is in danger.…”
The campaign against Alfred is one relatively small symbol of this, but already there are areas of London and other big British and American cities that are unsafe for a person of British ethnicity to enter. We are seeing some early foreshadowings of this in Australia.
As part of the campaign by Britain’s left-dominated teachers’ unions against anything smacking of patriotism, children in British schools under the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown Labour governments were, incredibly, encouraged to write stories about historic battles and wars, not from a neutral or objective standpoint, but from the point of view of Britain’s enemies.
Britain’s role in the slave-trade is dwelt upon, but not the fact that Britain was the first major nation to abolish slavery, spending up to 40 per cent of its navy’s budget on anti-slavery patrols.
Conservative columnist Peter Hitchens described this anti-patriotic education as slow-motion suicide.
Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer.