Sunday, March 18, 2007

"A lesson in real morality"

Mark Steyn continues the celebration of the life of William Wilberforce, and the Victorian Age whose identifying characteristics owed so much to the causes he championed. The history of Britain in the 19th century is evidence that a thoroughly corrupt and decadent society can be reformed. There is nothing inevitable about social disintegration. The primary vehicle of reform then was religious revival.
...[T]he life of William Wilberforce and the bicentennial of his extraordinary achievement remind us that great men don't shirk things because the focus-group numbers look unpromising. What we think of as "the Victorian era" was, in large part, an invention of Wilberforce that he succeeded in selling to his compatriots. We children of the 20th century mock our 19th century forebears as uptight prudes, moralists and do-gooders. If they were, it's because of Wilberforce. His legacy includes the very notion of a "social conscience": In the 1790s a good man could stroll past an 11-year-old prostitute on a London street without feeling a twinge of disgust or outrage; he accepted her as merely a feature of the landscape, like an ugly hill. By the 1890s, there were still child prostitutes, but there were also charities and improvement societies and orphanages. It is amazing to read a letter from Wilberforce and realize that he is, in fact, articulating precisely 220 years ago what New Yorkers came to know in the '90s as the "broken windows" theory: ''The most effectual way to prevent greater crimes is by punishing the smaller.''

The Victorians, if plunked down before the Anna Nicole updates for an hour or two, would probably conclude we're nearer the 18th century than their own. ....
Source: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Mark Steyn :: Victor Victorians. A lesson in real morality

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