The recent deaths of two prominent writers in these pages, Lord Longford and Brian Brindley, point to an aspect of society that is in sad decline. For centuries England was known as the home of individualism and its colourful travelling companion, eccentricity. Edith Sitwell, in her classic work, English Eccentrics, points out that Catholicism was "a great breeder of eccentrics in England".
Individualism grew out of the love of personal liberty fostered within a respected parliamentary tradition. Now individualism is being increasingly stamped upon by the bureaucrats of Whitehall and even worse, by their Brussels overlords who persecute market traders for daring to sell apples in measurements that people want.
Today we hear less about individuals and much more about "community". Glib and well paid spokesmen for every conceivable "community" infest the airwaves. Anyone foolish enough to endure a full dose of the Today programme will usually hear of a new "community" before the final munch of his breakfast cereal.
The old concept of community was a noble one: a group of people of diverse backgrounds living in a common place and sharing certain common needs and aspirations. Now the tag, "community", is stuck on to the end of any term describing any group. These groups can either possess some unchangeable characteristic, such as race, or some passing fad such as a hobby. Thus we hear both of the "black community" and the "sailing community".
The glory of people such as Lord Longford and Brian Brindley is that they were individuals who sprang out of certain groups, but went beyond them because they chose to live their lives as they wished regardless of passing fashion. Both came from "communities" that we have seen crushed by the forces of "progress" in recent decades. Brian Brindley had been a prominent figure in Anglo-Catholicism. That fasci
nating religious group, so important in English life and culture for 150 years, was largely destroyed by the fad for the ordination of women.
Only a few weeks ago Brian Brindley wrote movingly in these pages about the deep devotion to the Eucharist and to the Blessed Virgin Mazy that is such a conspicuous aspect of Anglo-Catholicism and which continued to enrich his life after his reception into the Catholic Church.
The use of such terms as "community" is often portrayed as a great advance in tolerance. Par from it. It forces a human being in all his glorious uniqueness — of which Brian Brindley was such a conspicuous example — to be classified in a neat little designation. All conscripted members are assumed to share common aims and attitudes. One might as well classify people by their favourite flavour of ice cream and we could then talk about the thrilling radicals in the "Rocky Road Community" or those boring old traditionalists in the "Vanilla Community".
Lord Longford could not be confined to any "community". He had many aspects: writer, businessman, social reformer, fox hunter, foe of abortion and pornography. He was an hereditary peer, a member of a group which has been so reviled by ignorant babblers. Insomniacs can tune into Radio Five almost any night and hear some functional illiterate denouncing hereditary peers. Even that apostle of tolerance, the Prime Minister himself, flung cheap gibes at the hereditary peerage. Perhaps the peers should have proclaimed themselves "the hereditary community".
It is no accident that Lord Longford and Brian Brindley flourished within Catholicism's wide embrace. Catholicism is a tolerant faith that appeals to all sorts and conditions; it has always had a strong sense of community, strongly exemplifled in papal encyclicals. Yet it also has a deep respect for the individual person.
English Catholics in particular, with their long history of persecution, were once members of a real community, usually confined to remote places. It would be sad if modem Catholics followed the fad and confined themselves or shoved others into some narrow "community", which is only another word for a ghetto.