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The recent English controversy over the banning of fox hunting has ramifications that go to the heart of the future of the United States. If there are two Englands, rural and urban, there are two Americas also, the red heartland and the blue coastal fringes. The traditional heart of America is threatened by the radical fringe…

fox huntingBoxing Day, the day after Christmas Day, is traditionally a day on which tens of thousands of people in the UK join fox hunts across the country. This has not changed in spite of the banning of fox hunting in 2004. This past Boxing Day a quarter of a million people joined such hunts. Although they no longer hunt foxes, at least officially, the hunts and the traditions surrounding them continue to prosper. Today, in order to keep within the law, the hunts are “drag hunts,” where hounds follow a chemical trail laid across the countryside, or “trail hunts,” where the hunt follows a meandering, looping trail intended to simulate the unpredictable paths taken by a hunted fox.

Many Americans are no doubt somewhat bemused and mystified by the passions aroused in England over the subject of fox-hunting. Those passions raged in the months and years leading to the ban, culminating in a pro-hunt demonstration of more than a million people in London. The passions remain, embedded in bitterness, in the ban’s wake. I trust, therefore, that my bemused American friends will indulge me while I comment on the subject, and I hope that, after I have done so, they might even understand that the passions are more than mere English eccentricity and that, on the contrary, they go to the heart of the modern malaise affecting my homeland.

A recent study has revealed that more foxes have been wounded rather than killed by the new culling methods adopted since hunting was banned, resulting in the animals suffering long, agonizing deaths. A survey of 600 sheep farmers has shown that shooting and snaring has replaced hunting as the means by which farmers control the fox population. The result, as the pro-hunt lobby predicted, is that genuine animal welfare has been sacrificed for a political victory over hunt supporters. This is a fact that needs emphasizing because, for all the rhetoric about “animal rights,” the campaign to ban hunting was motivated more by class hatred than by a desire to protect foxes. The urban proletariat, and its Labour Party representatives, perceived hunting as a preserve of the rich and as an archaic throwback to the days of feudalism and privilege. In fact, hunting is enjoyed by all social classes in rural England and is an expression of the community spirit that still survives in the countryside, even as it has long since become extinct in the cities. This fact was made glaringly obvious by the sheer enormity of the size of the pro-hunt demonstration by the Countryside Alliance before the ban became law. The rural rich and poor descended on London expressing the unity of the countryfolk of England against the stripping of their ancestral rights by an urban tyranny alienated by the very notion of cultural roots and traditional notions of communitas.

The central issue is not, however, merely a question of tradition versus modernity, though this is doubtless a key and important factor in the tension between town and country; the central issue is connected to what the Catholic Church has termed “subsidiarity”. The principal objection to the banning of hunting is that the urban proletariat had no right to override the wishes of the majority of people in the countryside to pursue their ancient traditions unmolested. No foxes are hunted in Hampstead; or in Birmingham. No stags are pursued through the streets of Liverpool or Manchester. What right, therefore, do the people of these areas have to dictate what the people of Much Wenlock or Moreton-in-the-Marsh can or can’t do in the fields surrounding their villages? Why should the tradition-oriented folk of the English shires be forced to conform to the conventions of what Evelyn Waugh described as “our own deplorable epoch”? Why should the civilized remnant of England be forced to practice the new barbarism of our modern cities? These, as I say, are the key questions that are begged by the banning of hunting.

And, my most revered American friends, in case you have not grasped the connection, the seemingly insignificant issue of fox-hunting has ramifications that go to the heart of the future of the United States also. If there are two Englands, rural and urban, there are two Americas also, the red heartland and the blue coastal fringes. The traditional heart of America is threatened by the radical fringe and there may come a time when the Heartland Alliance will be forced to parade by the million on the streets of Washington D.C. to protect its cherished way of life from the encroachments of compulsory modernity. To a degree, this is already happening, as can be seen by the annual Right to Life demonstration in D.C. on the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling. And, of course, it says a great deal about the intolerant “tolerance” of “progressive” liberalism that there is a right to choose to kill an unborn baby but no right to choose to hunt a fox.

If all this seems a little deranged, another recent story from England will illustrate still further how the liberal lunatics have taken over the asylum.

The following is a true story, though it may seem surreal enough to belong in a Monty Python sketch. A charity game, in which the people of the Dorset town of Lyme Regis attempt to knock each other over with a five-foot conger eel, has been banned because animal rights activists complained that it was “disrespectful” to the dead fish. I kid you not. Read on.…

Conger cuddling, as it is known to the locals, has been staged annually for many years in the town’s harbour (which is featured, incidentally, in Jane Austen’s novels, in the work of Beatrix Potter, in the movie The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and was a favourite holiday resort of G.K. Chesterton among others). The “cuddling,” which also has a charitable benefit since it raises funds for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, involves teams of men standing on six-inch high wooden blocks while other team members take it in turns to swing a 25-pound eel at them. The team with the most people left standing at the end wins. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But not if you’re a humourless animal rights activist. Claiming that the event was “disrespectful” to the dignity of the dead fish, they threatened to launch a national campaign against the cuddling unless it was stopped. In the event, as is often the case in our cowardly times, the threat was enough to put an end to the venerable tradition.

There is, in fact, a real Monty Python sketch in which two men stand on the edge of a harbour taking it in turns to hit each other with a dead fish. No doubt it would be banned if it were broadcast today. Life, however, is stranger than Monty Python. Stranger, funnier and yet more tragic. The same people who complained about “disrespectful” behaviour towards a dead fish would no doubt defend the right of a woman to exterminate a living (unborn) baby. Such is life in our post-civilized age.

This essay is an updated and edited version of an earlier essay which was published in First Things.

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Editor’s note: The featured image is “Breaking Cover” by Philip Reinagle, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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