Such was the title of Edmund Burke’s 1770 pamphlet, in which the great Whig pondered the nature of the contemporaneous grievances and public disorders.
Those were rather different from today’s. Burke had in his sights a cabal of rival Whigs whose closeness to George III, he felt, distorted the proper relationship between court and parliament.
Today’s discontents, on the other hand, go beyond such particulars. They target, explicitly or implicitly, the legitimacy of both court and parliament, indeed the validity of our whole civilisation.
Burke wrote at a time when modernity was making its first tentative steps, and the people were still unaware of the very possibility of wider discontents. However, they were soon to learn.
The thunderously proclaimed promise of equality was understood, as it was supposed to be, in the widest possible sense. Equality was presented as a sacred right; inequality, as its egregious violation.
Any grievance, no matter how trivial or unfounded, was seen as an affront. And every affront was regarded as a mortal sin, committed not just against any specific individuals, but against an abstract notion, a secular God of Equality.
That was an awful parody of Judaeo-Christian morality with its commandments proscribing murder and adultery in the same breath, or rather on the same tablets. In the eyes of men, murder was a terrible crime, while adultery was just par for the course. But in the eyes of God both were equally sinful.
The four revolutions defining modernity, American in 1776, French in 1789 and two Russian ones in 1917, were all perpetrated against the least tyrannical governments in those countries’ history: those of George III, Louis XVI, Nicholas II and Russia’s first attempt at liberal democracy.
The mild nature of the regimes they hated didn’t matter to the revolutionaries. The God of Equality had been offended, and he was athirst. Discontents, once planted, had sprouted luxuriantly, and all it took was adroit operators to exploit them to full potential. Such individuals aren’t thick on the ground, but there’s never any need for many of them. A couple of dozen or so can do the job, provided they are sufficiently devious and ruthless.
The God of Equality eventually created a widespread view of the world as inherently unjust, but whose injustices could be corrected by concerted action, be it a violent revolution or purposeful attrition.
If the masses are thoroughly brainwashed to see themselves as victims of injustice, their discontents can be easily channelled into destructive conduits. This is exactly what we are witnessing at present.
Whether it’s global warming or nuclear energy or the indignities allegedly suffered by women and some races, what’s at issue isn’t the proclaimed grievance. It’s a demand for the redress of the inherent injustice of the world, apostasy to the God of Equality.
If the world is seen as fundamentally unjust, then those who succeed in it have taken advantage of those who don’t. They can be easily targeted as objects of derision, rancour or even violent hatred.
When such is the point of departure, the destination is always in sight. That could be Jews to some, capitalists to others, white or straight people to some others, men to others still.
Pet hatreds naturally cluster together – no one is limited to just one. Thus those who hate capitalists often also hate Jews, and indeed equate the two groups, as Marx and Hitler did. Those who see women as an oppressed minority are practically guaranteed also to hate globe-warming, air-polluting capitalism.
And can you imagine a genuflecting champion of Black Lives Matter who isn’t certain that women are oppressed, and money-grubbing capitalists are destroying ‘our planet’? I can’t, because such an animal doesn’t exist.
That’s why it’s pointless engaging such people in a rational, fact-based discourse on their proclaimed grievance. Their underlying faith is impervious to reason or facts. They worship the God of Equality who commands them to hate every heretic and apostate.
While one can argue with opponents, one can only ever fight enemies. That explains the advice I recently gave to a friend of mine, who was upset as a result.
He was about to appear on a radio show, arguing with a fire-eating equality zealot. My friend was trying to anticipate the likely arguments, one of which could have been that the Israelis’ treatment of Palestinians and our treatment of blacks are no different from Hitler’s Holocaust.
What would I say in response, my friend wanted to know. “Go f*** yourself,” I replied without hesitation. “What kind of answer is that?” asked my irate friend. “The only possible one,” I replied. One can respond reasonably only to a reasonable statement.
The statement my friend anticipated not only was unreasonable but it also had nothing to do with the sentiment overtly expressed. Underneath the actual words was a scream of hatred brewed on discontent. Christians are taught to love their enemies, but that doesn’t mean letting them get away with murder.