Editorial for #166: All in This Together?

Pace George Osborne, we are not in this together. An editorial in The Tablet (27/04/13) notes the Von Hugel Institute’s mistaken assertion that the ‘Big Society’ reflects many features of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). The Von Hugel assertion was music to the ears of Ian Duncan Smith who claimed his policies were based on CST. He became the poster boy for CST’s impact on current political and social policy. Paul Ryan, US Republican vice-presidential candidate and disciple of Ayn Rand, made a similar claim. Smith’s demagogic boast that he could live on £53 a week sounded worse than hollow. It was insensitive and arrogant.

The devil can quote Scripture. The neo-liberal Right can quote CST. The Left has not read it.  CST can be read by Right, Left and Social Democrat. It is interpreted through the prism of their respective ideological presumptions.  After all it was born in the diseased entrails of a rampant capitalism yet to be corralled. Its authors, our Popes, wanted to teach society to act ethically, morally and with collaboration between the classes.

CST is not a clear-eyed, radically prophetic instrument to slay the dragon of a governmental policy which cripples the well-being of the weakest members of our social body. It does not call for radical social change towards a society more justly organised and legislated for. Its implicit hope is that present society can run more ethically. The last years have given us scandals caused by parliamentarians, bankers, clergy, police, journalists, carers and medical professionals. Can this society possibly be a moral society?

During the 1980s this country went on a shopping spree that stopped in 2008 when the last bubble popped. Despite Gordon Brown the boom busted. During her term in office Margaret Thatcher said that: economics is the method; the object is to change the soul.  Ian Duncan Smith is a poster boy for that soul-changing experience.

 

The late Prime Minister is not to blame for what has happened. In her blind individualism she clearly articulated a trend, a sign of her times, a course of events in which we went shopping, inflated bubbles and put our trust in our plastic gods.

We became children of Dawkins’s selfish gene, eponymous title of a 1980s best-selling book. We are a materialistic, war-like, classist and sexist society. The “gap”, always there, has become permanent and continues to widen and to deepen. The evil has become systemic. It poisons the soul of our culture and society. Goodness stubbornly persists in so many different and beautiful ways, but will it prevail?

CST cannot help us navigate the messy terrain of social relationships, marginalisation, sexual minorities, class interests, political parties, christian and local communities etc. We need a leadership, political and religious, which thinks first of the poor, first of peace, first of the planet, first of the person—in a word, first of the Common Good. CST is an aid towards the development of that leadership, but it is not sufficient.

Frank Regan