Who is My Neighbour? A Foreign Policy Plea for Post-Brexit Britain

As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, we would do well to consider our alliances, especially as other more malignant Empires loom on the horizon.

We need to talk about empires.

As today we begin the complex process of untangling ourselves from the European Union, this is more important than ever.

Integral to the movement for leaving the EU has been the strong desire for national sovereignty and the rejection of a perceived European empire. Britain’s laws and borders remain, in the final analysis, under the control of the British people.

At the same time, I think we might be losing sight of the foreign-policy implications of Brexit. An important part of striking out on this new path is the relationships we will have with other nations. And I’m not sure we’re talking about this nearly enough as much as we should.

Even in the month of January, as we prepare to leave the EU, we have already seen the importance of Britain’s cultural and military alliances emerge twice.

First of all, there was the US killing of Gen Soleimani in Iran. Amid rumours that the UK wasn’t consulted prior to the attack, serious questions were asked of the state of the Special Relationship.

Then just this week, the government voted to accept the limited use of equipment from Chinese state-backed company Huawei, in the UK’s 5G network. The decision was taken in the face of US warnings and the threat of changes to the existing networks of intelligence sharing. Real cracks are beginning to show in the Anglo-American alliance.

Even as post-Brexit Britain celebrates its freedom, then, it cannot escape the urgency of its global relationships.

Because while the nation-state rises, empires aren’t going anywhere.

Who, in the end, will we call our neighbours? Countries that share our values or countries that do not?

The Rise of the Nation-State

Since the referendum result, there has been a fairly understandable focus in the UK on our relationship to ourselves.

We’ve begun to consider how the different parts of the UK relate to one another. And this is no bad thing.

This internal focus is largely the result of the fact that the nation-state has risen once more to the fore of Western politics.

2016, with the EU Referendum and the election of Donald Trump, was a cataclysmic year for national sovereignty. Of course, there have been a wave of national populist movements both preceding and following Brexit and Trump. But these two moments constitute a watershed which signalled that a profound change in the geopolitical landscape was afoot.

Among other things, the Brexit vote heralded a victory for the Somewheres. The Brexit vote was a revolt of those who benefited the least from globalisation against those who have benefited the most.

Brexit was also, in many cases, a repudiation of a perceived European empire. As Ed West puts it,

Rather than longing for imperial greatness, a majority of English Leave voters don’t even care if the Union breaks up. Leavers are not generally keen on foreign intervention, either; if anything, as Tom Holland put it, they’d just like to go back to the Shire and smoke pipe-weed.

While it is the Brexiteers that are frequently accused of being pro-empire, imperial ambitions are more often to be found among some of the liberal elite in Brussels.

There are legitimate fears that an empire without borders has already overrode national sovereignty and the freedom of nation states to determine their own course. The Brexit project is the rejection of a new world order and the full embrace of the free nation-state.

A World of Empires

At the same time, I’m wary of the fact that we might be ignoring the rise of other empires that are far more dangerous.

For all that the nation-state has been making a come-back, we still live in a world of empires.

The 2010s saw China become a major geopolitical player. Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative has already connected China with parts of Europe and Africa. Judging from the first month of 2020, James Kirkup’s prediction that the Western response to the rise of China will define the 2020s seems entirely reasonable.

With the Huawei case, the UK has already found itself caught in the new Cold War between the US and China. Will we choose the Pax Americana or the Pax Sinica?

Even more worryingly, imperial powers are joining forces. Russia and China frequently vetoed UN Security Council resolutions to deliver aid to Syrian civilians. Around Christmastime, I was shocked to read that China, Russia and Iran were involved in join naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman.

Assuming that we are never going to get rid of empires, shouldn’t we seek to ally with like-minded powers against the rise of such dangerous regimes? My fear here is that in focussing purely on freeing ourselves from the European project (or, as some would see it, empire), we are naively blindfolding ourselves to other empires with extremely malignant and despotic designs.

A Modest Proposal

Very few Leavers are talking about this, however. British parliamentary sovereignty appears to trump any concerns over the rise of the Chinese empire.

And this does make sense. After all, Brexit is about focussing on levelling up all of Britain. On reaching out to those left-behind places. In post Brexit-Britain, the national takes prominence. As Danny Kruger put it so well in his maiden speech this week, “our first loyalties are to the people we live among”.

But we can’t forget our global ties, particularly to other long-standing allies who share our values.

Ultimately, I happen to think that these two points are not mutually exclusive—we can uphold national sovereignty by exiting the EU while still actively seeking out partnership with those states who stand for democracy and freedom.

There are two important questions here, though, that must be faced with open-eyed realism:

1) First, will other like-minded nations always want to interact with us?

The Huawei debacle has imperilled our relationship with an important ally. In Global Britain, we must not risk losing friends over the need for short-term, pragmatic, economic and technological gains.

2) In the wake of rancorous debate over our state as a nation, will our government give enough consideration to issues of foreign policy and our alliances with other nations around the world?

I welcome the swift actions taken by the government to level up all parts of the UK. At the same time, if we are to become Small Britannia, with a strong commitment to building a better Britain, we risk overlooking the part we can play in having a positive global influence.

I am not primarily talking here about being an economic powerhouse, as important as that is. Sadly, in those instances when politicians do consider “Global Britain”, it is invariably in economic terms. To only think about our role in global markets is short-sighted. After all, man cannot live on spreadsheets alone.

Nor, when I mention global influence, am I talking about intervening militarily at every possible juncture, as necessary as that is in certain scenarios.

I am speaking rather of the role of persuasion. In reducing our global influence to the military or markets, we lose sight of the various forms of soft-power that we possess. What of the cultural heritage which we can humbly but firmly offer to those willing to engage with us? I believe that when invited, we have a duty to convince others of the virtue of the values we have tried and tested over hundreds of years and which now form the bedrock of our constitutional democracy—the rule of law, the universality of human rights and the accountability of parliament. While we far from perfectly embody these values, we have a lot to offer.

Something good and important will be lost if we do not consider how we support those (for instance, in Hong Kong), who seek similar freedoms under totalitarian imperial regimes.

Roger Scruton, who died last month, was a passionate proponent of national sovereignty. Yet he was also globally-minded, supporting dissidents in areas under the Iron Curtain and setting up an underground university in Prague.

National interest and global influence often represent competing priorities but they need not always be mutually exclusive alternatives. While the balance is rightly shifting towards the national, in post-Brexit Britain we must not lose sight of our role in the world, and those in it that we would call our neighbours.

The Church: Where Somewheres and Anywheres Find a Home

Epiphany, the great Universalist feast of the church, is as good a point as any to to re-consider the defining cultural issue of our day: the relationship between national and international identity.

Late January finds us racing through the season of Epiphany, the great “universalist” feast of the church.

For those unfamiliar with it, Epiphany is the point in the liturgical calendar at which the Western Church celebrates the coming of the magi to the baby Jesus. Those unacquainted with the ins and outs of the story will know the moment immortalised as it is in the carol, We Three Kings Of Orient Are.

At Epiphany, learned astrologers “from the east” enter the Christmas story, breaking into what has up until now been a parochial and particular narrative, taking place in backwater Bethlehem of Roman Judea. The magi have come to represent the brightest and best minds of their day. These great scholars of the Gentile world make the long trek before offering the fruits of their learning at the feet of the King of Israel. At Epiphany, the universal and the particular collide.

Epiphany is therefore an appropriate juncture at which to re-consider the local and international scope of the Christian faith.

At the first Epiphany, the relationship between national identity and global identity loomed large.

Plus ça change. As then, so also now the relationship between the national and the international remains the key issue of our time. As David Goodhart has put it, in Britain the split between those who were brought up in and committed to a particular place (the Somewheres) and those whose ties stretch beyond the limits of a specific geographical locale to encompass the globe (the Anywheres) is the defining cultural divide of our age.

For these British Isles, the 2016 EU referendum forced us to come face-to-face with the Somewhere v Anywhere question in important and sometimes uncomfortable ways. 

To whom do we belong? The question is as blunt as this. 

Epiphany seems a natural point at which to consider this stark question head-on.

What might the Christian say in response? 

A False Choice

Discussions surrounding national and global identity have been uncomfortable because of the terms in which the EU Referendum was presented to us. As Graham Tomlin has noted, the choice in the Referendum was, broadly speaking, between an exclusive love of the local (one’s fellow countrymen and women) and an exclusive love of the universal.

In many ways, this is a false choice.

For Christians, the great love command of Christ in Matthew’s Gospel consists of the injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself” as well as the demanding and challenging directive to “love your enemies”.

We can imagine the love to which Christ calls his followers as a set of water ripples that move outwards from the point of impact.

Our love moves outwards like a set of ripples in water

At the immediate centre of the ripple effect are those we have a duty of care towards—our own selves, our family and friends. This is the love of the local, the love of those close knit ties of family and loved ones. It is beautifully expressed by the conservative intellectual Sir Roger Scruton, who died this month, as oikaphilia, the love of home, the love of this particular place and the people within it. This is a love for our streets, neighbourhoods and nation.

A beautiful autumnal day in West Cambridge, the place I currently call home.

Yet if we love only those “like us”, our love is defective. As Jesus puts it, “if you love those who are like you, what credit do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that?” In other words, in only loving your own, how are you different from those around you?

For Jesus’s command “to love our neighbours” is also the call to love those who are not like us, those we involuntarily bump into each day.

It is also a command to love our enemies, those who intentionally make life difficult for us. This is an ethic that flies in the face of its day, where goodness was derived through comparing one’s actions to “ordinary decent folk”.

Jesus calls out such an attitude by radically rooting his moral directive in the very character of God himself— “be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”.

Jesus’s love command shows up the exclusive choice between national and transnational identities for what it is—a false choice.

Nationalist and Globalist Idolatry and Disdain

A love for the local and a love for the universal are, in themselves, natural, good and beautiful impulses.

They can also spill over in some unhealthy and damaging ways, however.

As I see it, those of us who love the nation and those of us who favour a more global identity have both committed the sins of idolatry and prideful disdain.

What do I mean by this?

Put crudely, nationalist idolatry and globalist idolatry can be defined as attributing all sense of worth, identity and meaning in the nation-state or some transnational alliance. The disdain that follows on from this is the scornful attitude that hardens our hearts to the views of those we disagree with. Expressions of idolatry and disdain in recent years, and there have been quite a few, have been committed by those on both sides of this divide.

We need reminding, to return to my point above, that Christ doesn’t call us to exclusively choose between the love of those like us and those not like us (or the love of near and the love of far, if you will). The love of the “one from afar” does not lessen the need, the duty even, to care for the one who lives near. And the reverse is equally true.

Those who voted for Brexit rightly feel a sense of disappointment, when some of those who voted to Remain treat them as objects of scorn, derision and disdain for loving these British Isles.

Love for home, after all, can be the basis for loving the other. Giles Fraser uses the example of the love he has for his children to make this point:

There is no inconsistency here if we start to think about our rootedness in, and love for, a specific community — our community — as being the basis for our love of others; its grounding, rather than its contradiction. I may love my children more than yours. But it is precisely because I love my children as I do that I understand and value the love that you have for yours.

Likewise, my patriotism, my pride and commitment to the historical and cultural specificity of my own community, is not a denunciation of other people’s. It is the reason I appreciate why others will want to do the same. This too is love. Perhaps it is too much eros and not enough agape for some. But it is love, nonetheless.

Fraser is essentially saying that love expresses itself as the universal through the particular.

Love, if it is to maintain any semblance of coherence, sense or meaning, must always be particular. This is where the “citizen of the world” identity can fall into utopian idealism (utopia, of course, literally meaning “not a place”). A universal love of man easily becomes abstract and void of meaning if it loses the particularity of place. As Doestoevsky put it so well, “The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular”.

At the same time, those who voted to remain in the EU can rightly feel a sense of sadness when some of those on the side of Leave ridicule them for valuing their connectedness with those from outside these British Isles.

So, if we agree that our love either for the nation or for a transnational entity sometimes require keeping in check, then how can this be achieved? 

A Way Forward: Finding a Home in the Church

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to find me offering the Christian tradition as a possible way through this complex problem. The Christian faith offers a resource or map for re-orientation, allowing us to see where we are and how, with the help of past thinkers, we might get back on track.

As I see it, the Christian faith has the tools to avoid the twin excesses of nationalist and globalist idolatry while also acknowledging that our desire for a universal and national sense of belonging can find meaningful expression. 

The Christian tradition avoids these excesses by sublimating (not erasing!) all identities to Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek”, as Paul would have it. Geographical identity, while of great significance, is no longer of ultimate significance.

The Christian faith, when done right, can transcend and re-orient our nationalist and globalist impulses with the challenge of an ultimate identity marker— “in Christ”. When we come to see our identity “in Christ” as all-important, national or international identity take their rightful place.

As followers of Christ, each of us will feel different levels of affinity to the local, the national and the international. Our ultimate sense of belonging, though, is in Christ. All other identities are ultimately penultimate.

At the same time, the Christian tradition also acknowledges our need to be rooted to a place or, as the case may be, our difficulty with finding roots in a particular community (on this latter point, I’d recommend the honest blog-reflections of my friend Aneurin, here). In fact, it is precisely because it acknowledges our desire for a community that is local and universal that the Christian faith can offer a cogent and compelling way forward.

On the one hand, we belong to the church universal (or the “church catholic” as the creeds put it). As one Old Testament scholar has put it, we worship a global God, not a minor local deity. On the other hand, we also worship in a particular church congregation that belongs to a particular place. In the church, then, the universal and the local can meet in a beautiful exchange.

As Giles Fraser has suggested, particularity and universalism have been hardwired into the Christian faith from the very get-go. Jesus was a stalwart Somewhere, preaching to the particular people of Israel a gospel of renewal and repentance. In a startling revelation, Jesus declares, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Paul, for his part, was an Anywhere, preaching that to be a follower of Christ, one need not be ethnically Jewish. The magi are a clear reminder of this as well.

That particularity and universalism are, so to speak, written into the DNA of Christianity should be both a comfort and a challenge to both sides of the debate.

The universality of the church comforts Anywheres and challenges Somewheres with the reminder that we belong to a universal body that spans across space and time.

The particularity of the church congregation is a comfort to Somewheres and a challenge to Anywheres because it reminds us that while the Church is indifferent to geography as an identity marker, the place of the local still matters greatly.

Ultimately, the Christian identity has the potential to re-orient our loves, defanging any overweening sense of national pride while also avoiding an abstract universalism by rooting us in a particular locale. We find ourselves in communities “both diverse and yet together, indifferent to ethnicity yet also rooted in the specifics of place”.

 At Epiphany, then, let us heed the reminder that in the church, somewheres and anywheres can together find a home.

Reading Material

1. David Goodhart, The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics (Penguin, 2017)

2. Graham Tomlin, Looking Beyond Brexit: Bringing The Country Back Together (SPCK, 2019)

3. Roger Scruton, “Conservativism and the Environment” (Conservative Home, March 2013)

4. Giles Fraser, Was John Lennon right about love? Unherd, October 10 2019

5. Giles Fraser, Jesus was a ‘somewhere’. Paul was an ‘anywhere’. Unherd, August 24 2018.

Images

Image of signpost from Shutterstock

Image of water ripples from Vector Stock

Photo of Cambridge by the author

A Year of Protest and Trial: The Saeculum Review of 2019

(L-R Clockwise) Trump’s Impeachment; Maya Forstater’s Trial; Hong Kong Protests; An Extinction Rebellion Sticker; UK Government’s Get Ready for Brexit Notice; Polling Station for the 2019 General Election

Here is my review of four of the biggest events that happened in 2019.

1. Climate Activism

2019 saw the issue of the climate rise to the forefront of UK politics in a major way.

Of course, it had been there throughout the decade in election manifestoes and government policy.

But I think it’s fair to say that 2019 brought with it a more vocal, more active set of actors on the environmental scene.

The most vocal of the climate activist protest groups was Extinction Rebellion who called for the UK parliament to accept that the globe is facing a climate emergency. “The Truth”, as ER see it, is that we are on the brink of a mass extinction.

Among their demands are for the government to recognise this emergency, and, in light of it, to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 (a mere 5 years from now).

Foremost among the climate protest movements was the now-famous, teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. This unlikely hero projected herself to fame by leading and inspiring waves of young protesters across the globe to take to the streets on Fridays. One of the moments of the year was her impassioned speech before the UN Climate Action Summit, in which she levelled her frustration and anger at the inaction of world leaders.

Let me begin with what I take to be the positives from the climate activist movements in the UK.

We need to acknowledge that we are in a significant period when it comes to our future as a planet. Just have a read of the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Global Warming and you’ll see what I mean. When it comes to climate activists, more specifically, there is a fearlessness and a desire to tell the truth regardless of how horrific it appears. I find that impulse brave and commendable (even if I disagree with the 2025 target that is being proclaimed).

At the same time, the ER movement has not taken enough care both in terms of the claims it has made and the means by which it seeks to achieve its ends. This is a movement that has, frankly, overstretched itself.

Let’s start with its methods.

This is a movement that has frequently employed questionable means to meet its ends.

I found this out personally over the Summer. Bus routes were not operational due to the protests resulting in tube stations filling to the brim. Faced with no other choice, I taxi’d across town.

I also object to the endangering of people’s lives through trespassing onto airport run ways or using drones to prevent aircraft from flying. And the disruption of public transport, as we saw in Canning Town, was just nonsensical to say the least.

Disruption to major producers of fossil fuels, I can at least understand, even be sympathetic towards. But to obstruct the lives of ordinary citizens (sometimes with tragic results) doesn’t induce my sympathy. To be quite honest, and I know others that I have read and spoken with with feel similarly, it can induce the opposite.

All of this might be excusable if we were facing imminent death. In fact, one would have to applaud ER for its consistency—faced with global mass extinction, the least we could do is endure a bit of mild discomfort to our daily consumption, a scaling-back to our ordinary travel habits, right?

Except, we aren’t.

Which takes us back to to that crucial IPCC Report. Full disclosure: I am not a climate scientist. But I trust this report. It represents an international consensus of expert climate scientists. Importantly, it advises that governments seek to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.

IPCC, Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments (Oct 2018)

So, we are in a crucial period. But we aren’t facing the apocalyptic doom promised by ER and others. As David Aaronovitch has put it,

Some people, of course, get off on hellfire. But it can frighten or alienate more than it energises. So when we look at what Thunberg claims and compare it with what we know of the science of climate change, we have to conclude that she exaggerates.

Most importantly, and as Peter Franklin has argued, we need to begin discussing solutions. More to the point, we need to start discussing realistic, economically sustainable ways of reducing our carbon emissions. William Hague has compiled a list which will be required reading for policy-makers

We also need to acknowledge that progress is being made. 2019 was the year the UK started producing more renewable energy than fossil fuels.

We’re still far off our 2050 target, though. And so we can’t get complacent. And when it comes to the environment, let that be the lesson we take into the 2020s.

Key Articles

  1. IPCC, Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments
  2. Ed West, Why Conservatives Should Capture the Green Movement, Unherd
  3. David Aaronovitch, The disturbing spectacle of Greta the Great, The Times
  4. Peter Franklin, Greens Need to Start Talking Solutions, Unherd
  5. William Hague, The time for denial is over. Conservatives have to take the climate crisis seriously, The Telegraph
  6. Simon Evans, Analysis: UK renewables generate more electricity than fossil fuels for first time, Carbon Brief

2. The Brexit Election and The Re-Alignment of British Politics

On the Brexit front, 2019 seemed to drag on and on without much resolution.

We had a serious of Meaningful Votes on May’s deal. In the first, May faced the largest ever defeat inflicted on a government. Two further defeats followed along with two votes of confidence. May held on both times. Steely resilience characterised her premiership (and, as Matthew Goodwin has argued, her contribution to Johnson’s win in 2019 should not be downplayed).

Fast-forward to the end of October (a lot happened in between of course–May finally stood down, Boris Johnson won the leadership race, faced a series of parliamentary defeats, moved for parliament to be suspended, successfully got a new deal) and we faced a Christmas (or Advent?) Election.

The results were persuasive (at least as far as England was concerned). Johnson got his “stonking majority” and with it the largest Conservative majority since 1987. Labour crumbled, and nowhere more so than in the northern heartlands. You can read more about that important election night, here.

What I want to dwell on, though, is the fact that this election represents a re-alignment of British politics. As Matthew Goodwin, David Goodhart and others have argued, the Conservatives skilfully read the public mood which, in general, leans slightly left on economics and slightly right on issues of culture.

What it means to lean left on economics is fairly transparent; a commitment to public spending on NHS and the various components that make up the safety net of the welfare state.

The meaning of “leaning right” on culture is less apparent. Cultural conservatism doesn’t equate to Victorian social mores, or an illiberal backlash in terms of civil liberties and freedom of choice.

In fact, both assumptions unhelpfully conflate social conservatism and cultural conservatism. Peter Franklin helpfully distinguishes between them in this way:

social conservatism concerns matters of personal responsibility, while cultural conservatism concerns matters of collective identity — i.e. the former is about behaviour and the latter about belonging.

On social matters, most would agree that each individual is deserving of fair and equal treatment, irrespective of their race, sex or sexual orientation. As Matt Singh points out,

on the specifics, there are points where reasonable, non-bigoted people disagree. Besides the prioritisation there’s the question of what equality means in practice (is that formulation racist, is that advert sexist, and so on), to what extent equality has or hasn’t been achieved, what (more) should be done to achieve it, what happens when the interests of different protected groups conflict, and so on.

Leaning right on culture is similarly nuanced. It often constitutes not a resistance to change but a desire for a slower pace of change. On immigration, to take one issue of culture, this is not a drawing up of the drawbridges, but a plea for a system that takes greater care as to who enters one’s borders with a view to limiting the number of people that do.

The 2019 General Election resulted in an emphatic victory for those who lean right on culture.

One of things this means moving forward is the need for bridge figures on the (cultural) left and the (cultural) right. From personal conversations with those on the cultural and social left, I sense that it is important for those who are culturally right to assure the socially left that we will not be witnessing a backlash against hard-fought civil liberties for minorities. How one acts when in power is absolutely key, here. And the burden lies with those in the political ascendancy to offer important assurances in this regard.

With the cultural and social left, on the other hand, what is required is a greater attentiveness to the trends that have got us to where we are as a nation, and careful consideration of the nuances of the positions of those who have voted differently.

What 2019 (and the three or four years previous to it) have shown us is that issues of culture and belonging urgently require discussion. So far, we have as a nation collectively flunked this test. But there is still the distinct possibility of rapprochement. Conversations across difference are difficult, but the alternative—bitter division—is far worse.

Key Articles

  1. Matthew Goodwin, Nine lessons from the election: Boris was lucky – but he also played his hand right, The Spectator
  2. Matthew Goodwin, Why Labour Lost, Triggernometry Podcast
  3. Peter Franklin, Three Myths About Social Conservatives, Unherd
  4. Matt Singh, What does shifting right on culture actually mean? , CapX (the matters Singh considers to be ones of “culture” are better read as “social” issues, under Franklin’s definition).

3. The Maya Forstater Trial

2019 was, as far as I can remember, the year that the transgender debate came to my attention.

I first became aware of the issue when noticing trans women’s presence in women sports (I suspect that sports is the entry point into the issue for many men). I was and am persuaded by the evidence (see, for a start, here and here) showing that even with hormonal treatment, men who transition to become women possess a variety of advantages that come from the skeleton as shaped at puberty. I fully expect this issue will be one that is discussed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Beyond sports, however, the issue has recently risen to prominence with the case of tax expert Maya Forstater, who lost her job for tweeting that a man cannot change his biological sex and for expressing her concern over self-ID law. Forstater subsequently lost her employment tribunal, after the judge ruled that her “approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

JK Rowling tweeted her support resulting in a major Twitter Storm. She also guaranteed that this is an issue that people can, and will be talking about. And for that she is to be applauded.

At this point, I won’t comment any further, except to say this: the problem isn’t in Forstater’s assertion of biological reality (which seems so obvious as to be banal). Rather the problem, as I see it, lies in arbitrary, erroneous and harmful gender stereotypes promulgated and perpetuated by those on the Petersonian right and the trans-activist left. 

Or, as former Olympic athlete Sharron Davies, more positively puts it:

“Whereas gender today is a social construct, an ideology, a feeling, totally changeable, I believe we cannot change sex but can live happily expressing ourselves outside of any stereotypes.”

Key Articles

  1. Sarah Hilton, A Woman’s Place is on the Podium, A Woman’s Place UK
  2. Tom Chivers, Of Course Biological Reality Exists, Unherd.
  3. Ross Tucker, On Transgender athletes and performance advantages, SportsScientists
  4. Is it fair to allow transwomen to compete in female sport?, Fair Play for Women
  5. David Brown, Maya Forstater: I’ve been abused for my beliefs about trans people, The Times
  6. Maya Forstater, I Lost My Job For Speaking Up About Women’s Rights, Medium.
  7. James Kirkup, In just a few words, JK Rowling has changed the transgender debate, The Spectator.

4. The Impeachment Trial

Objective reality not only took a hit on the issue of biological sex. Donald Trump, a man who has endowed us with phrases like “fake news”, is on trial for requesting a probe into Democratic Presidential nominee, Joe Biden from Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky (in return offering him a state visit to Washington).

My take on the whole issue is that Trump appears to have well overstepped the boundaries of his office. Whether that constitutes an impeachable offence will obviously be a matter for the Congress. So far, the House has ruled in favour of impeachment. An overall positive impeachment verdict looks extremely unlikely, however, as the Republican controlled Senate looks set to vote against it sometime in early 2020. With this is mind, the Democrats would do best to reflect on how they might go about winning the hearts and minds of Trump voters ahead of November 5th.

More significant for the Saeculum, is the response of Christian leaders to the Trump impeachment trial. Mark Galli, editor of the evangelical periodical Christianity Today boldly and measuredly called for Trump to be removed from office, either by impeachment or electorally.

To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?

Mark Galli

The response from Trump was swift and revealing. Christianity Today was branded a “far left” periodical. “They would rather a radical left non-believer who wants to take away your religion and your guns”. The President’s reference to “your religion” was, I thought, chilling.

The response from Trump-supporting evangelicals was yet more revealing. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham (a founder of the journal) and hardline Trump supporter, revealed that his father had, in fact, voted for Trump. The very thing Galli had warned evangelical leaders of—the uncritical hitching of the evangelical wagon to that of the Trump administration—was playing out before us.

As Tim Costello of the Australian-based, Centre for Public Christianity notes, “the burning question is, does faith shape one’s politics or does politics capture and determine one’s faith?”

None of this is to deny that Trump has achieved important domestic and foreign policy objectives—his tough stance on China, to take just one example, is admirable and has proven effective so far. To fail to grant that Trump has scored some important victories for, among other things, the US economy and religious freedom is to be severely unbalanced in judgment.

What I find most disconcerting, however, is the uncritical support “rendered” to Trump by the leaders of the evangelical churches in the States. To fail to even feel even a twinge of inner conflict about the character of President Trump is to be equally unbalanced in judgment.

As Mike Bird puts it, such an ideology—such a Trumpology—is lamentable indeed

because it presents a God with partisan mercy, who expects men and women to ignore their moral compasses, to call the wicked good and the good wicked, in order to keep themselves positioned in the court of earthly power.

Key Articles

  1. Andrew Buncombe, Trump ‘asked former Ukraine president to announce Biden investigation in exchange for state visit’, The Independent.
  2. Tim Costello, Can Christian faith be independent of politics? , The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).
  3. Mark Galli, Trump Should be Removed From Office, Christianity Today.
  4. Mike Bird, Trump, Grudem and Hermeneutics, Patheos.

Ten Resolutions for 2020

  1. Resolved to support my wife as she completes her doctorate and starts a new job in the first half of this year.
  2. Resolved to develop habits of prayer, worship and scriptural reflection through Common Worship (MP/EP) and the Lectionary (using Bruner’s Commentary on Matthew for Year A). Resolved to encounter the beauty and strangeness of scripture through reading in Greek and Hebrew as much as possible, and reading and singing Psalms in metre (resources like those from John Bell, Ian White, the Free Church Psalter and the KJV translation in the Book of Common Prayer). In terms of prayer, resolved to remember the nations of the world and the church universal (I’ll probably use resources from OpenDoors and Operation World). Resolved to continue to invest in the local church through attending services in which corporate confession, Word and Sacrament feature as well as participating in prayer and discussion groups.
  3. When it comes to current affairs, resolved to spend more time reading substantial news and comment pieces from major sources (Unherd and The Times) and to support these organisations in their endeavours. Conversely, resolved to spend less time on click bait and Twitter by using the latter for uploading blog posts and answering queries.
  4. Resolved to keep up my use of foreign languages through the use of a mobile application (Russian so as to communicate with family and Hebrew, Latin and Greek for study). I’ll probably use AnkiMobile.
  5. Resolved to read a good mix of fiction and non-fiction. On the former, prioritising British and Russian and for the latter, works relevant to this blog (particularly focussing this year on empire and national identity). I’ll be using GoodReads to track my reading habits.
  6. Resolved to blog at least every other week as far as is possible.
  7. Resolved to volunteer with a local organisation and so invest in local community.
  8. Resolved to endeavour to develop and grow friendships near and afar.
  9. Resolved to make every effort to publish my thesis.
  10. Resolved to support free debate and inquiry in society by attending events like those put on by the Cambridge Union.