This letter was published by the The Women's Quarterly in No. 23, Spring 2000. Parts that were edited in the published version are enclosed in red brackets. Editorial additions are simply in red.
I find it a little disturbing that Rhoda Koening ("Rude Britannia", TWQ, no. 20) attributes the growth of bad manners in Britain entirely to "materialism." Back when the UK suffered from laissez-faire capitalism, it grew into one of the most polite and considerate societies ever. When the Labor Party took over in 1945, class envy and an entitlement mentality began to take over. By the time Mrs. Thatcher came to power, Britain was being called the "Sick Man of Europe[,]." [and] English soccer fans had become the terror of the sport.
Those developments, I would say, were the result of socialism, not of "consumerism." Adults now, as you know well from the U.S., are still often embodiments of 1960's radicalism; and in England the Laborites are back in power. Ms. Koening should have had a clue about [that] this from the New York [City whence] she fled. What turned [NYC] New York into the wasteland it had become by the 1980's? Laissez-faire? Or, perhaps, the nastiest of the leftist shibboleths (e.g. rent control) that have ever been applied in the United States. New York was not a Babylon of consumerism; it was Moscow-on-the-Hudson, steadily constructed as such since the end of World War II. A clue about this in Britain is evident in Koenig's own story: She could not find a politically correct term for the "lower class" neighborhood near her own -- class warfare does not allow disparaging, or even accurate, characterizations of the oppressed.
[When dissimulating socialists (i.e. Democrats) in the United States are still on the offensive, it is long past the time when any of their terms of debate ("materialism," "consumerism," "compassion," etc.) can be accepted. Virginia Postrel doesn't seem to be among your directors, but you could probably get similar feedback from Sally Pipes.]
Kelley L. Ross
Van Nuys, California