Anyone who
has read Melanie Phillips’ newspaper articles and books or who has heard her on
the BBC radio programme, the “Moral Maze”, will know that she is someone of
trenchant views. In this book she has brought together all her
passionately-held convictions to produce a cogent indictment of the popular
ideologies that underpin modern Western society. These include man-made global
warming, Darwinism, multiculturalism, environmentalism and feminism, as well as
a virulent, new form of anti-Semitism. It is a large list, unwieldy within the
covers of a single book and constantly challenging common assumptions and

At the
outset she states, “I am an agnostic although traditionally-minded Jew.”
Arguing from this perspective, she is a supporter of the Judaeo-Christian basis
of Western civilisation. Indeed, she believes that our current metaphysical
muddles and consequent social problems have arisen precisely because of the
repudiation, on the part of the left-wing liberal intelligentsia which
dominates the media, of the objective truths and values that religion once provided.

from the Enlightenment, which detached reason from faith, Phillips sees Western
society as characterised “by a profound and widespread irrationality” where
commonsense has been turned on its head. Some of this has taken the form of
believing that the world is controlled by dark conspiracies of covert forces,
an example of which includes the conviction that 9/11 was deliberately
orchestrated by a Jewish cabal within the Bush administration in support of
Israel and against Islamism.

example is the “scientism” that believes that science alone can answer all the questions
in the world, including those concerning love, law, morality and beauty. So
keen is scientism to exclude all questions of God that Richard Dawkins, its
most celebrated spokesman, once told the author he was prepared to admit that
life on earth might have been created by a governing intelligence from another
planet; anything, including little green men, rather than accept the
possibility of a supernatural Creator.

The danger
of this approach is that in attacking such manifestly crazy ideas, the author
is vulnerable to the charge of cherishing her own conspiracy theories. Is there
an anti-Israeli ‘conspiracy’ on the part of the media to always support the
Palestinian “victims” against their Israeli ‘aggressors’? Is this linked to a
deeper, more pervasive anti-Semitism that the Holocaust did not eradicate but
only drove underground, to emerge in a different but as hostile a form today?
Phillips certainly believes so. Answering the obvious question, why there are
so many left-wing Jews within this modern political and cultural mafia, she
suggests there is a psychopathology at work (though she does not explore this
further) and that most are “secular, deracinated, deeply alienated from the
faith of their forefathers.”

Quite a
large chunk of the book is concerned with a defence of the state of Israel and
its history. “The Jews’ aspiration to their homeland does not derive from the
Holocaust; it derives from Judaism itself: the religion, the people, the land.”
Again, the Jews did not drive out the Arabs when Israel was created in 1948;
the refugee problem was brought about by Syria and the Palestinians themselves.

the merits of Phillips’ case here, and they are considerable, I feel this
question should have been dealt with in a separate book. The whole Middle
Eastern question is too complex, if not intractable to sit easily alongside her
more general criticism of the irrationality behind modern laws or the way
“scientism” has driven faith underground. Arguing rightly, that the concept of
science developed within a Western Judaeo-Christian culture, not within
Buddhism or Islam, and describing Dawkins as “the Robespierre of evolutionary
thinking”, she asks, how can people so devoted to reason be so irrational? How
can the West mistakenly believe that reason can exist detached from the
civilisation that gave it birth?

The book is
a splendid and stimulating read when it is pricking the sinister or shallow
nostrums of the age such as the “speciesism” of Professor Peter Singer, who
believes human beings should not be given priority over animals, or the
adulation given to the election of Barack Obama, who stood for “hope, love,
reconciliation, youthfulness and fairies at the bottom of the garden.” Where it
is flawed is the author’s belief that an objective morality (she defines this
as the Mosaic Law) can survive when the beliefs that underpinned it have
largely vanished.

 She is a social conservative, who wants
to “repair the Judaeo-Christian principles underpinning Western civilisation”
and to “uphold the dignity and human rights of every individual and the primacy
of truth and reason.” Naturally one is sympathetic to this, but how can it be
achieved in a post-modern society where everyone has his own subjective version
of truth, “dignity” is now part of the vocabulary of euthanasia and “my rights”
trump every other consideration? Phillips states that “objectivity” has been
replaced by “ideology”; true, because there are no common principles guiding society
or behaviour any more. The author would like to live in “a secular state in
which moral rules still apply”. America struggles to hold the line here but
that is because of the powerful influence of religious groups (I won’t call
them the “religious right” because as Phillips rightly says, the Left demonises
and thus dismisses all traditional morality as “right-wing”).

As with all
her writings, this book deserves to be read. Caustic and clear-sighted, Melanie
Phillips does not pull her punches. Above all, she invites a rational debate
over what kind of society we want to live in, as opposed to the society we have
landed ourselves with, which so often, as she skilfully demonstrates seems to
have turned reason and common sense upside down.

Francis Phillips writes from Buckinghamshire,
in the UK.