Chronicling courage

'The issues are tricky: transgender people’s understandable desire to pursue happiness as members of the opposite sex can impinge on people born that way'

Edward Lucas

Standpoint has plenty of enemies, and we are willing to make more. Russian kleptocrats and Chinese imperialists, the sharks and spivs who corrode capitalism’s reputation, lying politicians and self-hating nihilists in cultural and academic life can all expect time in the spotlight. This month’s issue exposes the cost of trans zealotry. The issues are tricky: transgender people’s understandable desire to pursue happiness as members of the opposite sex can impinge on people born that way. One set of issues involves access to women-only spaces, from girls’ changing rooms to Olympic podiums. Another is the point at which invasive, or irreversible, medical treatment should start. Before puberty? In full adulthood? Somewhere in between? The price of error is misery. The plight of the “detransitioners”—people who regret and reverse their transition—highlighted in Helen Joyce’s cover story—is a scandal, all the more so because the absolutists find these victims’ existence too subversive to consider.

Any wild accusations of hateful prejudice for raising these issues will prove our point. For the record, we make no accusation of wrongdoing by those named explicitly or implicitly in this edition. We just disagree with them. Because these matters are complicated, they must be discussed freely, and the outcomes negotiated. We need more than obfuscation and evasion, as illustrated by Stonewall’s response to questions arising from Kathleen Stock’s reporting. Worse is when dissenting voices are silenced by verbal (or physical) mob rule. The chant of “transwomen are women” may be considered a sympathetic affirmation of those who have happily transitioned, but used to drown out opposing voices it becomes Orwell’s “Four legs good, two legs bad!”, with lipstick. Those who stand up to this pressure are brave; they deserve support.

Bravery was also the hallmark of three friends of Standpoint whose deaths in recent weeks bereaved many. Gertrude Himmelfarb, a member of our advisory board since the first issue, almost single-handedly championed the importance of Victorian virtues in modern intellectual, cultural and political life. Without a moral vocabulary, she argued, a society cannot find a moral compass. Roger Scruton, who featured often in our pages, was also a stalwart foe of conventional wisdom, lazy liberalism and the industrialised ugliness of the contemporary world. He survived a shocking attempt to smear his name last year, which he described in our April edition, lamenting the “invention of thought crimes”, in which the presumption of innocence is replaced by a hunger for targets. As Edmund Fawcett notes, Scruton’s uniqueness in British public life was a strength and a weakness. His allies were in the past (or, we may hope) in the future.

Clive James, another member of our advisory board, succumbed to a 10-year struggle with cancer which he waged with characteristic wit and determination. No other critic could hurl brickbats with such force, mostly merited. Standpoint published many of his poems, and essays on subjects including climate change (he was a fervent sceptic), misogyny, and the politics of the Oxford Professorship of Poetry. We are pleased to run an excerpt of Ian Shircore’s fortuitously timed biography

The cost of courage for China’s Catholics is huge and growing, amid a demoralising and scandalous absence of support from the Vatican. Benedict Rogers excoriates Pope Francis for kow-towing to the bullies of Beijing. Even in supposedly safe Britain and the US, it requires bravery to uphold Jewish life and identity—fears that in past decades would have seemed unimaginable. As we commemorate the Holocaust and the liberation of Auschwitz, Rowan Williams and Irene Lancaster argue that education can counter bigotry, while Rosie Whitehouse visits the troublingly neglected place in Paris from which the Nazis deported thousands of Jews, including her husband’s grandmother.

Hopes that British attention will focus on such real threats to our security and freedom once Brexit is finalised remain unfulfilled. Our contribution amid the hubbub is a Megxit-free issue, barring a mention in Peter Hitchens’s lament for the next coronation. Modern Britain, he argues, is too secular and self-doubting to hold a ceremony of the solemnity manifested in 1953. Nick Cohen echoes that, warning us that our sentimental attachment to the fair-minded, patriotic England described by George Orwell is out of date.

Jennifer Arcuri makes her Standpoint debut, writing about technology, a subject in which she once tried to instruct Boris Johnson. The biographer Anthony Seldon gives the prime minister some more topical advice. Most of his predecessors failed because they lacked the vital qualities for success in Downing Street: brains, stamina and most of all vision. At his best, the prime minister shows audacity, determination, erudition and flair. Standpoint has always championed such qualities; may they be his hallmark.

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