I'm sure that many Americans were, and remain, somewhat bemused at the passions aroused in England over the subject of foxhunting. Those passions raged in the months and years leading to the ban, culminating in an enormous pro-hunt demonstration in London. The passions remain, embedded in bitterness, in the ban's wake. I trust, therefore, that my bemused American friends will indulge me while I comment on the subject, and I hope that, after I have done so, they might even understand that the passions are more than mere English eccentricity and that, on the contrary, they go to the heart of the modern malaise affecting my homeland.
A recent study has revealed that more foxes have been wounded rather than killed by the new culling methods adopted since hunting was banned, resulting in the animals suffering long, agonizing deaths. A survey of six hundred sheep farmers has shown that shooting and snaring has replaced hunting as the means by which farmers control the fox population. The result, as the pro-hunt lobby predicted, is that genuine animal welfare has been sacrificed for a political victory over hunt supporters. This is a fact that needs emphasizing because, for all the rhetoric about "animal rights," the campaign to ban hunting was motivated more by class hatred than by a desire to protect foxes.
The urban proletariat and its Labour Party representatives perceived hunting as a preserve of the rich and as an archaic throwback to the days of feudalism and privilege. In fact, hunting is enjoyed by all social classes in rural England and is an expression of the community spirit that still survives in the countryside, even as it has long since become extinct in the cities. This fact was made glaringly obvious by the sheer enormity of the size of the pro-hunt demonstration by the Countryside Alliance before the ban became law. The rural rich and poor descended on London expressing the unity of the countryfolk of England against the stripping of their ancestral rights by an urban tyranny alienated by the very notion of cultural roots and traditional notions of communitas.
The central issue is not, however, merely a question of tradition versus modernity, though this is doubtless a key and important factor in the tension between town and country. The central issue is connected to what the Catholic Church has termed "subsidiarity." The principal objection to the banning of hunting is that the urban proletariat had no right to override the wishes of the majority of people in the countryside to pursue their ancient traditions unmolested. No foxes are hunted in Hampstead or in Birmingham. No stags are pursued through the streets of Liverpool or Manchester. What right, therefore, do the people of these areas have to dictate what the people of Much Wenlock or Moreton-in-the-Marsh can or can't do in the fields surrounding their villages? Why should the tradition-oriented folk of the English shires be forced to conform to the conventions of what Evelyn Waugh described "as our own deplorable epoch"? Why should the civilized remnant of England be forced to practice the new barbarism of our modern cities? These, as I say, are the key questions raised by the banning of hunting.
And, my most revered American friends, in case you have not grasped the connection, the seemingly insignificant issue of foxhunting has ramifications that go to the heart of the future of the United States also. If there are two Englands, rural and urban, there are two Americas also, the red heartland and the blue coastal fringes. The traditional heart of America is threatened by the radical fringe and there may come a time when the Heartland Alliance will be forced to parade by the hundreds of thousands on the streets of Washington, D.C., to protect its cherished way of life from the encroachments of compulsory modernity. To a degree, this is already happening, as can be seen by the annual right-to-life demonstration in D.C. on the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling. And, of course, it says a great deal about the intolerant "tolerance" of "progressive" liberalism that there is a right to choose to kill an unborn baby but no right to choose to hunt a fox.
If all this seems a little deranged, another recent story from England will illustrate still further how the liberal lunatics have taken over the asylum.
The following is a true story, though it may seem surreal enough to belong in a Monty Python sketch. A charity game, in which the people of the Dorset town of Lyme Regis attempt to knock each other over with a five-foot conger eel, has been banned because animal rights activists complained that it was "disrespectful" to the dead fish. I kid you not.
Conger cuddling, as it is known to the locals, has been staged annually for many years in the town's harbor (which is featured, incidentally, in Jane Austen's novels, in the work of Beatrix Potter, in the movie The French Lieutenant's Woman, and was a favorite holiday resort of G.K. Chesterton among others). The "cuddling," which also has a charitable benefit since it raises funds for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, involves teams of men standing on six-inch-high wooden blocks while other team members take turns swinging a twenty-five-pound eel at them. The team with the most people left standing at the end wins. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? But not if you're a humorless animal rights activist. Claiming that the event was "disrespectful" to the dignity of the dead fish, they threatened to launch a national campaign against the cuddling unless it was stopped. In the event, as is often the case in our cowardly times, the threat was enough to put an end to the venerable tradition.
There is, in fact, a real Monty Python sketch in which two men stand on the edge of a harbor taking turns hitting each other with a dead fish. No doubt it would be banned if it were broadcast today. Life, however, is stranger than Monty Pythonstranger, funnier, and yet more tragic. The same people who complained about "disrespectful" behavior toward a dead fish would no doubt defend the right of a woman to exterminate a living (unborn) baby. Such is life in our post-civilized age.
(Access contributors' biographies by clicking here.)