Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Archbishop of Canterbury delighted with the Big Society – and the mainstream media are mute

With war in the Middle East, and earthquake, floods and nuclear meltdown in Japan, the news that peace has broken out between Lambeth Palace and Downing Street has not made a single column inch of news reporting anywhere. Whenever there is disagreement between these great institutions of state, commentators scramble to exaggerate the rift; if it is not seismic, it is profound. Accord between a prime minister and an archbishop is a tedious dog-bites-man matter.

But it ought not to be: in fact, praise of a principal policy of a Conservative government by the Archbishop of Canterbury is quite distinctly a man-bites-dog story, eminently worthy of reporting. In a speech entitled ‘Big Society - Small World?’, Dr Rowan Williams firmly embraced the way the concept of the Big Society has opened up a serious debate on our political priorities, whilst acknowledging that it is as nebulous as the Holy Trinity, having ‘suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which ideals can be realised'. The whole speech merits reading, but you will need to concentrate, for it is an academic lecture delivered in an academic institution: it is characteristically irreducible to sound-bites and slogans.

The Archbishop praised the conceptual foundations of the Big Society, which have perhaps been most eloquently articulated by Dr Philip Blond at ResPublica; in particular, he emphasised the far-reaching possibilities of the development of local co-operation and 'mutualism' throughout the entire spectrum of political action, and stressed the interdependence of the local, the national and the international spheres.

Dr Williams suggested that theology has a key role to play in defining our need for a proper appreciation of 'character' and the notion of 'empathy' and that the pursuing of national goals without defining what sort of people we are or want to be cannot be of much value without this:
"If we live in a milieu where a great many signals discourage empathy and self-scrutiny, and thus emotional awareness, we shall develop habits of self-absorption, the urge for dominance, and short-term perspective. Our motivation to change anything other than what we feel to be our immediate circumstances will be weak, because our sense of ourselves as continuous, reflective agents will be weak. And the clear implication of all this is that without an education of the emotions – which means among other things the nurture of empathy – public or political life becomes simply a matter of managing the competition of egos with limited capacity to question themselves"
Whilst welcoming localism – that is, lauding the thesis of Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell – the Archbishop quite reasonably urges that the relocation of governance is not simply a bureaucratic shift: it needs to be related to considered thinking about how civic character is formed and how social relations are shaped. On this, he affirms the visible communities of the established Church which, with its committed presence in every locality, has its own role in affirming the importance of civic responsibility:
"If the Church is actually nourishing empathy, mutual recognition, then it is nourishing people who will continue to ask difficult questions in the wider public sphere, questions – for example – about how the priorities are identified when cuts in public expenditure are discussed, about the supposed absolute imperative of continuous economic growth, or about levels of reward unconnected with competence in areas of the financial world."
Why is “Archbishop agrees with Tory right-wingers” not news-worthy?

On the international level, Dr Williams stressed that whilst the Big Society vision recognises the dangers of excessive centralism in creating dependent rather than creative political culture, the answer cannot be found in reliance on the market, and we need also to consider that:
"A 'Big Society' model for international development will aim to strengthen not government in isolation but the self-confident nurturing of local political capacity through civil society that will in due course support a lasting participatory politics at national level. What is required, in other words, is an engagement with the government of developing countries that will work seriously at building a healthy political culture through the encouragement of local initiative."
This is perfectly in tune with David Cameron’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ agenda; it is contiguous with Dr Blond and Pope Benedict XVI.

Dr Williams also urged support of microcredit institutions: "...the small-scale investment needed to give impetus to small businesses is best handled in this mode; and the running of microcredit schemes is itself a profoundly important learning vehicle for those involved". He also suggests the possibility of using revenue raised from a tax of financial transactions to ‘offer an integrated resource for local and co-operative ventures’ and the revenue could be handled by a 'Big Society Bank'.

In speaking about the ideals of the 'Big Society' concept, the Archbishop emphasises that this does not mean we should be opposed to national infrastructures:
"Localism does not mean the dissolution of a complex national society – let alone a complex international network of societies – into isolated villages. It means, for one thing, the familiar principle of 'subsidiarity', so important in Catholic social thought – the principle that decisions need to be taken at the appropriate level."
He gives the example of the need for national resourcing and monitoring of factors such as health and education and, on an international level, the need for international regulation and monitoring of microfinance initiatives in order for them to have any sort of long-term value. He concludes with an exposition of the religio-political and politico-philosophical opportunities presented by the Big Society:
“My concern is that we use this opportunity to the full – and particularly that we do not treat the enthusiasm around some sorts of localism simply as a vehicle for disparaging the state level of action to secure the vulnerable, nationally and internationally. It is welcome that there is a concern to think about relocating power; but, as we have seen, for this to work well depends on being reasonably clear as to what you want power to do – which includes the ‘backwash effect’ of serious localism in re-energising national and international policy, to the extent that it is building real civic virtue.”
Lefty Archbishop embraces Tory Right? Lambeth Palace lauds Conservative Party policy? Anglican Church affirms Catholic Social Teaching? His Grace cannot remember the last time there was complete accord between Downing Street, Lambeth Palace and Rome. But not a mention in the media – not even by the religion reporters of The Telegraph or The Times: once again, the facts are completely ignored: the Archbishop of Canterbury is muted; the Established Church sidelined.

And His Grace does not think this is entirely down to wars and rumours of war; or because flood, famine and fire have stolen the spotlight. It is deliberate and purposeful, and that purpose is clear to those who have ears.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Dreadnaught said...

Lefty Archbishop embraces Tory Right? Lambeth Palace lauds Conservative Party policy?... But not a mention in the media

Kind of puts all this internecine theo-political froth and blather into perspective though. Like it or not, there are far more pressing issues on the collective mind of the populace.

Even so, this is possibly a bad day to bury good news.

22 March 2011 at 11:16  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

It's because he's entirely incomprehensible.

If the media are anything like me, when they see something from the ABC they'll probably sigh and then think I'll possibly wade through that later. Then you get through the 1st paragraph and think ... er ... no, I've got better things to do with my life.

22 March 2011 at 11:20  
Anonymous Caedmon's Cat said...

Perhaps it's simply down to my Christian anarchist perspective, but I'm sure that I'm not the only reader of this blog who's deeply suspicious of the initiatives of Big Government - especially when they happen to have the blessing of Big (Roman and Anglican) Religion as well…
I wonder whether this 'Big Society' idea is anything more than a Common Purpose-driven cultural, economic and political restructuring exercise, designed to conform to a pattern laid down by the Brussels cabal? After all, Caedmeron is only obeying orders from his foreign masters - as his predecessors.

22 March 2011 at 11:28  
Blogger The Gray Monk said...

It merely confirms what we have all known for a very long time - the Media are anti-Christian. Now had this been said by the Mullah in some Islamist Mosque, they would have run it on the front page. Because they cannot use it to show how 'out of touch' and non-PC Christians and the Archbishop are supposed to be, they won't even mention it.

22 March 2011 at 11:59  
Blogger Arden Forester said...

Rebel Saint, it's what Jeremy Paxman calls "clear as mud", which is his latest retort to perceived clarity coming from politicians.

22 March 2011 at 12:12  
Blogger Lord Lavendon said...

I would add to the Rebel Saint's comment that the whole "big society" concept is also entirely incomprehensible.

Although now Cameron has got a touch of Blair, we'll be too busy with our crusades against the "mad dictator of the month" to bother about what happens in the domestic sphere.

22 March 2011 at 12:19  
Blogger Ruth Gledhill said...

Yes I was mute, along with the rest of the mainstream media, although not by design. I did read it all, and did think it noteworthy that the Archbishop of Canterbury was praising the Big Society so eloquently. On a quieter news day, I am sure I could have got something in The Times but there is rather a lot happening in the world at the moment.... But if an opportunity arises, it is certainly lodged in my mind as something we should make mention of in The Times.

22 March 2011 at 12:30  
Blogger Ruth Gledhill said...

ps Gray Monk is wrong. His comment shows a lamentable although perhaps forgivable failure to grasp news values for one so holy.

22 March 2011 at 12:33  
Blogger Gnostic said...

So Beardy and Cameron are finally on the same page. Pity it's written in a combination of incomprehensible BS and gobbledegook.

22 March 2011 at 12:34  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

I think the idea of the ‘Big Society’ has caught our Archbishop of Canterbury completely of guard.

For years he has presided over a church within which the liberals have questioned all authority – and that questioning has undermined the Church’s authority – for the technique (questioning all authority) is the standard response in our schools, universities, government and society.

The Archbishop wants us to question the Government: we are good at that. But the price of questioning (and undermining) is that we have lost the ability to think: to develop in geometry you must accept first principles. We are trained by the liberals to desist from doing just that.

We are no longer a confident people.

What does build character? Obedience, orderliness, diligence, loyalty, deference, cheerfulness, gentleness, contentment, gratitude, truthfulness, servanthood, and hospitality (and that’s just the beginning).

But these character traits are difficult to instil in the next generation whose members clamour for their rights in the yelling street – and in school – where once corporal punishment was administered (banned under human rights) the chemical cosh is liberally distributed (I wonder what the long-term effects will be upon an entire generation of the children of self-appointed liberals?).

Good character traits are developed through overcoming hardships. Pain is God’s megaphone through which he speaks to a deaf world.

If our vicars could tell us once more the difference between right and wrong it would help; but many of them seem unsure or at least not confident.

‘We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it — whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a ‘virtue’, and it is this quality or character that really matters. (If the bad tennis player hits very hard, not because he sees that a very hard stroke is required, but because he has lost his temper, his stroke might possibly, by luck, help him to win that particular game; but it will not be helping him to become a reliable player.)’

(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

The Archbishop wonders where power ought to be located.

Does our Church not know?

It is found through the cross in the death and resurrection of our Lord: He redefined power.

That’s political too, you know?

Ask any dictator: what’s the point of killing your opponent if he is going to be raised from the dead?

22 March 2011 at 13:07  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

Britain used to be a Big Society without even knowing it but intrusive government—European, national and local—has regulated community spirit out of existence. Why the need for so much regulation? Because we are no longer a socially cohesive nation, thanks to the mass importation of different peoples, cultures and religions.

The Conservative Party needs to make up its mind. On the one hand (and following the best practice of the Frankfurt School), it fragments and destabilizes society by means of immigration and attacks on the traditional nuclear family; on the other, it seeks to impose a Big Society to slow down the rot. One could be forgiven for thinking that this latest wheeze is simply more Frankfurt School methodology: constant change to create confusion.

Rebel Saint (11:20) is right. We have one Archbishop expressing accessible thoughts in incomprehensible prose while the other expresses accessible thoughts in an incomprehensible accent.

22 March 2011 at 14:16  
Anonymous John Thomas said...

I find myself in agreement with many comments here. Yes, the Abp can be difficult to grasp. Why is it that academic, very very clever people can be bad communicators, in that they seem to use complicated language/arguments so often (I almost said "prolixities", but not wanting to be a bad communicator, I considered that word a bit abstruse).
Ruth Gledhill seems to be suggesting that the media are notanti-Christian/Church, and you may say that as she is on the inside, she should know, not us ... but if it still really seems anti-Christian to us on the outside (and it certainly does), then the media are failing to communicate, or failing to see, and suppress, the impression they give, which, for them, is quite a failing, is it not?

22 March 2011 at 14:33  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

It appears that the private sector is far more astute than the Archbishop regarding the Big Society idea, in that it will not work in a society that the liberals have turned cynical.

Top Man clothing chain is selling T-shirts with such messages as ‘Eff Off’ and ‘Dickhead’ to youngsters.

The entrepreneurs know far more about the next generation than do our church leaders, teachers, government and civil servants – but not psychiatrists.

22 March 2011 at 14:59  
Anonymous MrJ said...

It is remarkable how many pronouncements for or against the ECHR and in that connection a proposed new UK document misleadingly being referred to by the name "Bill of Rights", are as confused or ill-informed about it as pronouncements about marxism or AV Etc., to the point that it seems that some of this must be due to a wilful attempt to achieve some covert purpose by stealth.

Blogmaster Cranmer is among the exceptions. But there are at least two members of the newly appointed "commission" who may be considered to be under grave suspicion: the learned Baroness and Baron Kennedy and Lester (whose reputations as skilled advocates in "human rights" litigation are widely recognised).

For instance, to judge by Graham Wood's comment above (20 March 2011 10:49) he may be among those who have become misled about the status of the existing Bill of Rights as part of this country's laws.

One of the worst confusions is the failure to disentangle the shortcomings of the judiciary and the judicial process in courts of law and tribunals from the malign effect of legislation passed at the behest of governments and party whips in recent decades. The main burden of responsibility for the present state of affairs undoubtedly falls on the latter.

But one matter that deserves critical attention is: how and by whom are judges appointed, and law commissioners, and all who are entrusted with influence and authority first in the making of the laws, and secondly in deciding upon the enforcement of the laws in cases which become binding under the principle of "precedent".

Commentators elsewhere have mentioned the danger of using the term "Bill of Rights" (other than to name the one of historic fact) in paving the way for letting the laws and customs of the constitution be supplanted with something less potent under the rule of law for securing protection from acts of official abuse or misgovernment by public authorities or agents of any kind.

22 March 2011 at 15:29  
Anonymous not a machine said...

I rather think your first paragraph from Dr Rowan Williams is what I have been trying to get at for some time , and is beyond the place where I had gotten to. Very interesting indeed
"and the clear implications of this is that without an education of the emotions- which means amongst other things the nurture of empathy-public or political life becomes a matter of managing the competition of egos with limited capacity to question themselves" Amen to that arcbishop ,Amen to that .

I am perhaps with Johnny Rottenborough on his views on the frankfurt school , but whilst the frankfurt school is the modus operandi of socialism , i have been concerned for some time , that so intercepted has been the primary nurture unit of the family by the manic egos of the left , that it will be a hard job to allow it to be reowned again by the family itself and influenced by the churchs teaching .
I make this distinction , not as someone who thinks the church has had all the answers , but in the face of a society that is no longer holding the values of life and death, law and order in the natural ordered way that perhaps the term "melieu" does not quite cover .

but perhaps we are getting towards an idea that immerson in a selected emotional mass media world , may lead to some limited and fake constructs about who we are other than consumer and charitable giver . Indeed we may be missing the bigger world of growing by gods influence and so not attaining wisdom where in old age we have discerned what is the truth we wish to tell.

22 March 2011 at 18:21  
Anonymous Rarm said...

Your Grace
To presume to complete ....

.... let them hear.

NIV, ©2011
Mark iv:9 and iv:23
Luke viii:8 and xiv:35

22 March 2011 at 20:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Your Grace", Big Society is surely about rekindling the motivated, public spirited person who is the creative , opposite of the unproductive individual with the meaningless life.
The latter fills their unsettling void with endless luxury cruises, speculative real estate and lots of last-minute holidays. Sensual selfishness breeds pride: pride stands on its rights: "rights" breed dissension and dissension breaks society.

Surely, the Big Block to the Big Society cannot be tackled politically? It is the shrunken heart, dulled by endless TV programmes on the sensual delights of holidays, travel, eating, making money, buying houses. They are all designed for one thing: to make us think about pleasing just our "Self".

22 March 2011 at 21:31  
Blogger Nixon is Lord said...

Who cares what the man says, one way or the other? What ANY archbishop says hasn't meant a damn thing since the 1690s.

24 March 2011 at 04:07  
Anonymous Tony B said...

So he praises something that lacks definition? How then, does he know it's worth praising?

24 March 2011 at 07:08  

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