The shocking thing about David Starkey’s public shaming, and silencing, for being ‘a racist’ is that it comes as no surprise. For any white person who refuses to kowtow to the BLM doctrine of white privilege and black victimhood is by definition ‘a racist’ – and must be denounced as such. One only wonders who will be next.
For a historian of Starkey’s calibre, deeply immersed in the lifeblood of our nation’s past, the notion that history should be rewritten according to fashionable political nostrums of diversity, inclusivity and multiculturalism evokes nothing short of disgust. Disgust that anyone should seek to judge or interpret the acts and thoughts of previous generations according to modern-day values and standards; disgust that history should be doctored so that it does not cause ‘offence’; disgust that historical facts should be lied about, or invented, to fit fashionable opinion; disgust that mobs should be allowed to tear down statues; disgust that free speech should be silenced; and disgust that none of our political leaders dare question any of this for fear of being branded ‘a racist’.
The lies are grotesque. That slavery was an atrocity exclusively committed by whites against blacks, a sin for which whites must atone in perpetuity, when we know full well that slavery was endemic in African and Asian society (and in European society prior to the Enlightenment); that the Arab slave trade in black Africans, which so disgusted David Livingstone in its barbarity that he determined to stamp it out, was on a scale that matched the Atlantic slave trade; that the Barbary pirates were still carrying away Mediterranean villagers until well into the nineteenth-century; that there is still slavery in Africa today; and that during the Industrial Revolution, conditions for women and children working down the mines – English women and children – were so dreadful that they were known as ‘white slaves’. There are memorials to this day to the victims – as there are to the millions of victims of the Irish famine. No race or ethnicity has the exclusive concession on historic victimhood.
Then there is the lie that because some individuals and institutions grew rich on slavery, the West itself was ‘built on slavery’. Captive colonial markets and cheap goods certainly oiled international trade and speeded up economic development. Far more important was the growth of capitalism, with roots in the medieval separation of Church and State, the Protestant work ethic, the scientific Enlightenment, and the technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution.
In The Origins of English Individualism, Alan Macfarlane traces the social, cultural, and economic changes that underpinned the early growth of capitalism in England to the late medieval period – i.e. before even John Cabot had sailed to North America or Vasco de Gama to the Cape. If an invisible force field had separated Europe from the rest of the world, the likelihood is that Europe would be exactly where it is today; and sub-Saharan Africa would still be a tribal society ravaged by Arab slave traders.
Then there is the lie that our society is founded on ‘white privilege’, when we know full well that the most successful ethnic groups in Britain today are non-white, i.e. ‘BAME’; and the least successful group the white working class. Which suggests that the underlying explanatory factors have little to do with race or ethnicity, but a lot to do with culture.
Starkey’s points about the history of slavery – that until it was abolished, by us, slavery was the accepted norm, including in pre-colonial Africa – are self-evident historical truths. It is equally self-evident that in this context, his incendiary remark about ‘so many damn blacks’ surviving that slavery cannot have been genocide was intended ironically (if white privilege exists, and all blacks are victims, why should whites change anything?) and was provoked by anger at the anti-historical BLM movement.
Of course, many blacks will be offended by Starkey’s intemperate language. But then, many whites are offended at being continually denounced as ‘racist’, at seeing everything they value in their culture and history targeted for deconstruction and destruction. Many self-respecting ‘non-whites’, especially those who are successfully integrated into our society, like the Chinese and the Sikhs (of whom Churchill spoke so highly), and who enjoy strong feelings of loyalty towards this country, will be offended at being categorised as ‘BAME’ victims – the implication being that if they do not self-identify as ‘BAME’, they are akin to collaborators. And, so, the historian David Starkey, is offended that English history and free speech, his great passions, are being destroyed in the name of anti-racism.
For many of us, David Starkey was, and remains, a national treasure precisely because, outspoken and irascible by nature, he dares to say what he thinks and does not care whom he offends. He is, or was, a gifted communicator, a public intellectual par excellence. In recent years, he has brought his deep knowledge of our constitutional history to bear on the Brexit debate. Controversial and unpredictable, Starkey was always worth listening to. And now, he too has been silenced.
Many years ago, before he became notorious, Starkey pronounced himself broadly in favour of the diverse multicultural society. Being gay, he rather approved of a diversity of lifestyles and values, the freedom to live the life of one’s choice. Multiculturalism meant diversity. But he added that it was not all gain, that it was a lie to suggest that nothing was being lost. He had just been in Ludlow – the quintessential English town, secure in its traditions, its shared memories, its very lack of cultural diversity – and had experienced what was at stake. Well, the loss is greater than he could ever have imagined, and he is the latest sacrificial victim.
Now, we must witness the grotesque spectacle of politicians, publishers, academics, media commentators piling in to express their outrage. No doubt the bishops will follow. Will any public figure come forward to defend David Starkey? Will any fellow historian or academic risk their reputation, career, and publishing contracts, to do the honourable thing – and in so doing defend their own precious freedom?
I am reminded of Jan Masaryk’s words to Lord Halifax in 1938, when he was informed of the final details of the Munich agreement, which would dismember his country. Masaryk, then Czech ambassador in London, remarked that Halifax might be right. The sacrifice of his country might be necessary to preserve the peace of the world. But if so, ‘God help us all’.
(Image Lyndsey Dearnley)