Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Blair on the media: is this what happened with clerical sex abuse?

Tony Blair's memoir is almost entirely devoid of any reference to his Catholic faith. But it contains some very interesting analyses, not least of contemporary media mechanics. Monitor is struck by the following passage on how the media generates a "scandal": is this what has happened with clerical sex abuse?

Then, in April, there was Charles Clarke and the foreign offenders who on completion of their sentence should have been deported and removed from the country and weren't. This was serious, but Charles made the mistake of trying to be too open too early, when the full facts could not be known -- the problem, as with many such things, had existed for a long time, well before we came to power -- and he suffered a mauling with bad consequences for me, him, and the government.

As with any such issue, what happens is that the spotlight suddenly shines in a corner that has lain dark for ages. That's fair enough; but what then occurs is that a complete ex post facto attitude is imposed on it, so that you end up with a ludicrously exaggerated sense of wrongdoing. So when the foreign offenders' 'scandal' is uncovered, it leads the news and this is perfectly sensible; but then because the media focus is so intense, every detail becomes another headline as if the politician in charge, in this case Charles, has literally been doing nothing else for months on end and is therefore incompetent in not having sorted it all. Then, for sure, someone pops up and says: Ooh, I warned them all about this (usually in paragraph 193 of some memo) and then the frenzy develops into hysteria.

Anyway, you have to go through it, and by the end I became quite deft at dealing with these kinds of furore. Basically you have to get on top of the detail quick, and then grind people down with fact, context, rebuttal, explanation and the art of blinding with science.

'The politics of atheism'

Writing for the Australian ABC 'Religion and Ethics' site, Professor John Milbank, one of the leading exponents of Catholic social thought in the UK, ponders the rise of atheism in the politics of the Left.

Marxism was the first current within socialism to think of economics in entirely materialist terms and so to regard capitalism as a necessary phase of development. The Chinese Communist Party is witness to how easy it is for this to mutate into the idea of the final necessity of Capitalism after all.

But pre-Marxist socialism was mostly religious, and the Labour Party up until recently continued this legacy. Sometimes we think of religious and moral socialism as the "soft option."

But to the contrary, it was this legacy - inspired by Methodism, Anglicanism and Catholicism, and not by hyper-Augustinianism - which seriously hoped to render all economic practice moral. It sought a just distribution in the first place, and, prior to Anthony Crosland's revisionism in the late 1950's, not just an ameliorative "redistribution" that was entirely predicated upon the promoting of capitalist growth.

The truth is that the differences between social democracy and neo-liberalism are in the end trivial, and that both sides have covertly to borrow from each other. This is because the worst ravages of an amoral market have to be plastered over by the State, but in the end the main game for either ideology is producing 'wealth' that is defined indifferently to questions of true human flourishing.

It is for this reason that a secular Labour Party today tends to abandon its critique of a market where things and money dominate people ('capitalism' if you like) and defines itself instead as against all tradition and in favour of unfettered personal choice.

A programmatic atheism is at work in the growing hostility to the Crown, to the House of Lords (which needs reform, not total mutation into a second House of Commons which would likely be a less radical body), to the Churches, to the family and to group-rights, and in favour of foxes, exclusively metropolitan life-styles and absolute value-pluralism.

Indeed, it can sometimes appear that for sections of today's Left, as for past totalitarianisms, a naturalistic atheism is the main program. This is why political categorisation is increasingly made in terms of attitudes to sexual issues, to traditional cultures and to religious belief, rather than to issues of substantive economic justice. 'Culture wars' have come to displace older debates about just distribution.

But the evidence of history is that the politics of atheism drifts towards a nihilism of the rule of power alone. The evidence is equally that advocacy of the sovereign power of the individual soon gives way in practice to the absolute power of the amoral market and of the sovereign State whose only purpose is itself.

In the face of this drift of the Left towards secularism and away from radicalism, there is today a remarkable counter-tendency that is a real source of hope. This is a new tendency of religious bodies, and especially of the Catholic Church, in despair at the nihilistic drift of secular politics, more directly to articulate and enact its own political views, often outside current conventions of what counts as Right or Left.

These views, as exampled by Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate, refusal to be resigned to the notion that there is any aspect of human life where justice cannot be implemented.