Sunday, 28 June 2009

Radical Orthodoxy

On 11 July at St Benet's Hall in Oxford the Chesterton Institute based at Seton Hall, NJ, is running a conference on Distributist responses to the economic crisis. One of the speakers is Phillip Blond, who is associated with John Milbank's (shown here) 'Radical Orthodoxy' movement. What is all this about, and how does it related to the British reception of the forthcoming social encyclical, 'Caritas in Veritate'?

Here is Milbank's perceptive analysis of the economic crisis from his fascinating book The Future of Love. He talks of the danger that as a reult of the crisis 'State bureaucratic oligarchy would now start to fuse with the "private" oligarchy and monopoly of capital. Hilaire Belloc's "servile state" would start to emerge.'
'With the current apparent collapse in 2008 of the finance and debt-fuelled domination of neoliberalism in a crisis of the "non-realizability" of abstract assets through linkage to more material ones, this specter now looms. State control of banking could easily dictate greater state direction of production and a greater use of technology - yet still in the interests of the market and still involving an extraction of surplus-value from the dispossessed who do not equitably share in the profit of industry, but are bought off with "wages" and "salaries" (p. 96).'
Milbank stands within the tradition of non-statist Christian "socialism", alongside other types of thinkers who 'characteristically stress subsidiarity (the distribution of money and power to appropriate levels, not necessarily the lowest) and the break-up of central sovereignty through the operation of intermediary associations.'
'These theories can appear as relatively more "left" or "right", yet all in reality question the left/right distinction in its secular form. In relation to the latter, Christians must pursue a politics of seeming paradox from apparently "opposite" vantage points. Thus some within Radical Orthodoxy will follow Phillip Blond in his espousal of a new British form of "Red Toyism". Others, currently the majority, will follow my own brand of "Blue Socialism" - socialism with a Burkean tinge, now common to many on the left, including some within the centre-left (anti New Labour) British Labour Party "Compass Group"' (p. xvii).
But he rightly adds that 'these differences may not be what matters' in the debates concerning
'the role of nuclear and extended families, of co-operatives, of trade guilds, of mutual banks, housing associations and credit unions, and of the law in setting firewalls between business practices, defining the acceptable limits of usury and interest, and the principles that must govern the fair setting of wages and prices. Above all perhaps they concern how we can turn all people into owners and joint-owners, abolishing the chasm between the mass who can only earn or receive welfare and so are dependent and the minority who own in excess' (ibid.).
More philosophically, Milbank argues that we need a new sort of market, and a new sort of politics, in which economics and politics are no longer defined in isolation from each other (exclusive regard for the power of money, or the power of law). Does this sound fantastic, he asks? 'No, the fantastic is what we have: an economy that destroys life, babies, childhood, adventure, locality, beauty, the exotic, the erotic, people, and the planet itself' (p. 263).

And speaking of the New Distributists, a particularly fine new introduction to this important strand of Catholic social thought has been recently published by IHS Press. Titled Beyond Capitalism and Socialism: A New Statement of an Old Ideal, and edited by Tobias J. Lanz, it contains powerful statements by twelve of the most impressive Distributist thinkers alive today.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

What Ails Modern Society

by Peter Maurin (Catholic Worker)

What ails modern society
is the separation
of the spiritual
from the material.

When religion
has nothing to do with education,
education is only information;
plenty of facts,
but no understanding.

When religion
has nothing to do with politics,
politics is only factionalism:
“Let’s turn the rascals out
so our good friends
can get in.”

When religion
has nothing to do with business,
business is only commercialism:
“Let’s get what we can
while the getting is good.”

And when religion
has nothing to do with
either education, politics or business,
you have the religion of business
taking the place of
the business of religion.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Reith Lectures

The social encyclical is due to be signed at the end of June. In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than sharpen your mind by reading or listening to the 2009 Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4. This year's lecturer in the prestigious series is Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, and his lectures, entitled A New Citizenship, are about "the prospect for a new politics of the common good". (The Radio 4 website has podcasts and transcripts available.) Outlining the subject matter for his lectures, Professor Sandel said: "The Reith lectures have a storied tradition of engaging the life of the mind and the public square. At a time of political change and economic turmoil, we need new thinking about the common good: What, in an age of globalisation, are the moral limits of markets? What should be the place of moral and spiritual values in public life? How is biotechnology transforming our relation to nature and the environment?"

The lectures are being broadcast both on Radio 4 and the BBC World Service. The first ever Reith lecturer was the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1948, who spoke on "Authority and the Individual". Professor Sandel is the author of Liberalism And The Limits Of Justice (Cambridge University Press, 1982, 2nd edition, 1997), Democracy's Discontent (Harvard University Press, 1996), Public Philosophy: Essays On Morality In Politics (Harvard University Press, 2005), and The Case Against Perfection: Ethics In The Age Of Genetic Engineering (Harvard University Press, 2007).

Also well worth noting and reading is a series of articles by Mick Brown in the Telegraph Magazine, called 'High Street: High Noon', looking at the recession and the world that is emerging from the ashes. The first article looks at the High Street in Chester and goes on to examine the impact of alternative economics in Totnes - fascinating!