September 8, 2023 - 6:00pm

Charlie Higson’s new Bond novel On His Majesty’s Secret Service provoked incredulity and scorn last week, for depicting Bond as a kimchi-eating Centrist Dad and the villain as the Ukipper-on-steroids “Aethelstan”. This in turn prompted a flurry of debate about whether a woke Bond is plausible. Meanwhile, reports this week of a PTSD camp for veterans seemingly operated by the real-world “Aethelstan” offer a tantalising counterargument. 

PTSD Camp Bath is a rehab retreat for combat veterans based on a Somerset farm. Reports allege that the farm’s owners, Jo and Dion Drayson, have links to Darren Edmundson, an activist for Patriotic Alternative, an anti-immigration group originating in the BNP and often found at protests against asylum-seeker housing. Other than this, the most substantive allegation seems to be that the Draysons hold deprecated opinions. On Facebook Dion, himself a 3 Para-veteran and former Ukip candidate, criticises Covid vaccines, war-crime prosecution of veterans, 5G masts, and Muslim ritual slaughter: all the views, in other words, that prompted ex-Kipper and Right-wing microparty leader David Kurten to hail the fictional Aethelstan as a “top bloke”. 

The military, civil, and intelligence services are of course not all the same thing. This recent report is flimsy, and nothing illegal is afoot. But the inference from the political opinions leaking out around PTSD Camp Bath is that however woke Britain’s mandarins may or may not now be, at least some of the British military still very much is not. 

This makes sense. The radical progressive worldview starts from a belief that we can make the world a better place by abolishing hierarchy, ending violence, and transcending the constraints of material reality. But it’s difficult to be a soldier unless you embrace clear-sighted pragmatism, a hierarchical chain of command, and a willingness to use violence. 

And leaving aside the fictional example of Bond, this raises an intriguing question for how a regime premised on the progressive programme can consolidate and sustain power in the real world. For one constant of stable political regimes is that this stability is underwritten, somewhere in the background, by the presence of large men with weapons. Even if they mostly don’t use them, their presence is essential: no independent state can survive long without a capacity to make credible threats of force. 

But is it possible both to recruit the forces required to make such a threat, while also embracing an ideology that views the whole paradigm of military force as immoral? The military recruitment crises visible in standing armies on both sides of the Atlantic suggest the attempt to do so is already creating structural problems. If your regime burnishes its moral credentials by attacking patriotism, while also relying on it to inspire recruits for the army that underwrites that regime’s stability, something will have to give eventually. 

My guess is that what will give is progressivism. It’s possible, I suppose, that the woke might relinquish power rather than give up the commitment to anti-hierarchical progressive pacifism. But it’s more plausible that the ideology will be lightly retooled, in the interests of maintaining power, so as to be less repellent to the kind of men who typically form a state’s enforcers of last resort. Indeed, the Western progressive order’s full-throated embrace of the current American forever war suggests that perhaps they already have.  

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.