Monday, July 07, 2008

David Cameron on Morality

I think the time has come for me to speak out about something that has been troubling me for a long time. I have not found the words to say it sensitively. And then I realised, that is the whole point.

"We as a society have been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people's feelings, in order to avoid appearing judgemental, we have failed to say what needs to be said. We have seen a decades-long erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect for others, deferring gratification instead of instant gratification.

"Instead we prefer moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgments about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour. Bad. Good. Right. Wrong. These are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely dare use any more.

"Of course as soon as a politician says this there is a clamour - "but what about all of you?" And let me say now, yes, we are human, flawed and frequently screw up.

"Our relationships crack up, our marriages break down, we fail as parents and as citizens just like everyone else. But if the result of this is a stultifying silence about things that really matter, we re-double the failure. Refusing to use these words - right and wrong - means a denial of personal responsibility and the concept of a moral choice.

"We talk about people being "at risk of obesity" instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise. We talk about people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it's as if these things - obesity, alcohol abuse, drug addiction - are purely external events like a plague or bad weather.

"Of course, circumstances - where you are born, your neighbourhood, your school, and the choices your parents make - have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequence of the choices that people make.

"There is a danger of becoming quite literally a de-moralised society, where nobody will tell the truth anymore about what is good and bad, right and wrong. That is why children are growing up without boundaries, thinking they can do as they please, and why no adult will intervene to stop them - including, often, their parents. If we are going to get any where near solving some of these problems, that has to stop.

"And why would a different government be any different? Not least because we understand that the causes of our broken society lie not just in government policies but in our national culture.

"Changing our culture is not easy or quick. You cannot pull a lever. You cannot do it top-down. But you can give a lead. You can give a nudge. You can make a difference if you are clear where you stand.

"Imagine if there was a Government that understood, really understood, that encouraging personal and social responsibility must be the cornerstone of everything that it did and that every move it took re-inforced that view.

"Saying to parents, your responsibility and your commitment matters, so we will give a tax break for marriage and end the couple penalty. Saying to head teachers you are responsible and if you want enforceable home school contracts and the freedom to exclude you can have it and we will judge you on your results. Saying to police officers you are responsible and the targets and bureaucracy are going but you must account to an elected individual who will want answers if you fail. Saying to business, if you take responsibility you can help change culture and we will help you with deregulation and tax cuts … but in the long run they depend on the steps you take to help tackle the costs of social failure that have driven your costs up and up.

"It is the responsibility agenda and it will be the defining thread of any government I lead.”

Cranmer can hardly wait. The whole speech is worth reading. The problem, of course, is that politicians are as fallen as all human beings, and any political agenda which attempts to get 'back to basics' (remember that?) on issues of morality risks falling at the first hurdle when one politician fails to live up to the standards set, the media exposure is relentless, and the Party is overwhelmed with accusaions of hypocrisy.

Do all Conservative politicians even agree on what is good or bad and right or wrong? And if they do not, how can they be expected to cohere around policies predicated upon religio-philosophical concepts mired in the zeitgeist of relativism?

As laudable as this is, Mr Cameron will need a party of Cliff Richards if it is to have any hope of success and any credibility with the electorate. If he wants to 'be the change', the Parliamentary Party will have to subscribe to these moral standards. Mr Cameron needs to sit down with a a few tomes of Rawls, or at least surround himself with those steeped in these politico-religio-philosophical complexities.


Blogger Livingsword said...

Welcome to post modernism…..absolute truth hangs dead in the grip of this tolerant murderer…the question is can this life be resuscitated or resurrected…I believe so…when the dark age of this assassin shows how impotent it really is….thus swings the pendulum…

7 July 2008 at 17:42  
Anonymous Peter said...

Your Grace,

Why ought Mr Cameron sit down with a few tomes of Rawls? Which Rawlsian ideas ought he take on board?

Cameron's speech doesn't sound too politically liberal to me.

7 July 2008 at 18:16  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Peter,

Rawls offered potential solutions to the tension between Christianity and political liberalism; between the assertion of moral frameworks and the liberty of democracy.

7 July 2008 at 18:53  
Anonymous Iohannes said...

Would not Roepke be better than Rawls?

7 July 2008 at 19:33  
Anonymous Morus said...

Is this really you, Your Grace?



Raws offers precisely nothing useful for the reconciliation of Christianity and political liberalism.

When the former is coherent it is philosophically incommensurable (though can be accidentally compatible) with the latter.

May I humbly suggest that you go back and re-read Alasdair MacIntyre's 'After Virtue'?

Good speech though...

7 July 2008 at 20:30  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Morus,

One must remember where these politicians are at, and first present them something with which they are familiar, and then develop it further.

Cranmer is aware that Shadow Cabinet members are familiar with Rawls, and MacIntyre would be alien and alienating.

Rawls argued that since there is no reasonable religious, philosophical, or moral doctrine affirmed by all citizens, the conception of justice affirmed in a well-ordered democratic society must be a conception limited to what he called 'the domain of the political' and its values.

That is, indeed, an acceptable starting point for politicians. When they have bitten the hook, one may steadily reel them in.

7 July 2008 at 22:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

politicians over the last decades have opened a pandoras box of laws that have contributed to the attack on family values.
To watch them come to terms with the results of this is like watching blind men stumble in the dark.
God knew well what was in man when he set up his laws, we are now reaping what we have sown!

7 July 2008 at 22:05  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace touches on the very heart of the matter , i find it ironic that on day when rowan williams is warning , the orthodox must not split , we do not hear the liberal wing admitting they see the same problems.

it is not my fault that they have gone down the broad an comfortable road , the "right" of the so called right wing has been muffled by sensativities , they have been sidelined.

some see dangers , but buisness as usual is just as dangerous if not more as i see it .

salvation and the "victory" are not contained in a pop song, but in ones dedication to seek and understand god.

today i heard the statement "if jesus was with us today he would not allow women to be treated unequally" i might be tempted to suggest to such people that if jesus were with us (and i think his spirirt always has been) he may just kick the chairs and tables of general sysnod over and ask "why have you abandoned my people in whom i have put there care in your trust??"

the genral synod makes banquet out of a louse and two veg and tells us they are keeping true to the bible.

paul was beaten and tried for his faith , this lot have about as much stomach for the fight against evil as a crack addict has a chance of avoiding his next score.

they seem to have forgotten that they are here to defend the faith , yet we find them definding weak and vaugue scriptural concepts. if rowan williams thinks the communion can bear weakening that sacrifices the needs of the poor in spirit further he is mistaken .

7 July 2008 at 22:12  
Anonymous Sir Henry Morgan said...

He can make all the fine speeches he likes, but as long as we are a part of the EU he wont have the power to do anything concrete to walk the walk he just talked.

7 July 2008 at 22:40  
Blogger Miss Snuffleupagus said...

Well said Your Grace! Except for the bit about holding schools to account by their results... That is wrong on so many levels that I can't explain it here. Hold them to account by all means, but not by their results. And this isn't because it isn't fair on schools. It is because it destroys the very sense of individual responsibility that you so desire.

7 July 2008 at 22:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Macintyre is much better than Rawls. Virtue needs to be restored to the body politic - starting with expense accounts. Cameron is Anglican-lite. I don't hold out much hope from the Tories, not when gay agnostic libertarians like Alan Duncan hold sway.
Conservatism without Christianity is hollow and self-defeating - remember John Major's sad last years.

7 July 2008 at 23:03  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

We are all doomed anyway.
People will pay a king's ransom for the darkest vile debauchery, and while I do believe the best things in life are free, as the saying goes, you can't even give them away mate!

7 July 2008 at 23:55  
Anonymous Peter said...

Your Grace,

My thought is that Rawls' thought is not compatible with Cameron's entire project in this speech (and hence, your endorsement of Cameron's speech would seem to leave no room for Rawls).

For example, Cameron claims that:
"Instead we prefer moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgments about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour. Bad. Good. Right. Wrong. These are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely dare use any more."

Rawls *wants* this moral neutrality. If we are Rawlsians, it is not for the State to decide what is right or wrong, for what would be to favour particular comprehensive doctrines. In wanting rightness and the good to take a primary role in our political discourse, Cameron is articulating a perfectionist line. Now, maybe that's OK - maybe we should be perfectionists. But this is completely incompatible with Rawls.


8 July 2008 at 00:23  
Anonymous Peter said...

Your Grace,

In my final paragraph above, I mean "for that would be to favour particular comprehensive doctrines".


8 July 2008 at 00:25  
Blogger Homophobic Horse said...

Toddlers who dislike spicy food are now racist

This is it. Liberalism is sick and evil.

8 July 2008 at 00:40  
Blogger ENGLISHMAN said...

Ok ,Dave,so i have the right to say,that the dispossession of the indigenous population of England,by a tidal wave of foreign parasites,and the destruction of my culture is wrong ,and should be stopped forthwith.This is my duty as a citizen of England,and part of my political franchise,to speak out when i see that my country and my childrens future is in jeopardy,but this is clearly not true,because any attitude other than the marxist view brings instant violent repercussions from searchlies and urinate against freedom,and dave is a signitory to the searchlies organisation,so this speech is just political posturing,what he means is that you can talk about right and wrong,but only on a few subjects ,and only if we allow you to,and as our toddlers have found to dislike any foreign food instantly makes them racists,so stuff it dave,and get bact to your parliamentary trough,because we have heard it all before.

8 July 2008 at 14:51  
Anonymous some english bloke said...

" Bad. Good. Right. Wrong. These are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely dare use any more."
Fine Dave, now go and sort it out.

You make it sound as though you are not part of the very political class that has sunk us so low.

You could make a start today since Brown is now in the habit of adopting almost anything sensible that your Tories propose.

" N0.1. supposed sensibilities of foreign minorities will no longer be allowed sway public policy."

9 July 2008 at 05:04  

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