Blair on social cohesion
welfare state rolls on, extending its responsibilities into more and more of social life. Tony Blair wants
to add attitudes and informal personal connections to what’s administered, and to treat criminal law as simply an aspect of
social management: TB’s vision for Britain
Blair’s program follows coherently from the widely accepted basic principles that he states:
“Families have a right to be housed.”
“In today’s world people want a society that is free from prejudice - racism and intolerance.”
“Respect is at the heart of a belief in society. It is what makes us a community, not merely a group of isolated individuals. It
makes real a new contract between citizen and state, a contract that says that with rights and opportunities responsibilities
come and obligations.”
The government is to be directly responsible
for the basic well-being of each individual. Further, the government must ensure
that individual well-being in all its aspects depends on general rational principles (which post-Thatcher can include the
principles of the market) and not on personal affiliations such as membership in particular communities. These principles create
obvious problems. The first principle means that people rely less on themselves, or on their friends, families and neighbors,
and so degrades personal responsibility and connections to others. And the second renders inoperative all particular cultures,
since particular culture exists within particular communities that have the boundaries and internal cohesion that are now held
to constitute impermissible bigotry and intolerance.
So if people don’t have to rely on themselves, cultivate good relations with others, or live up to the standards of any
particular community, what then? Not surprisingly, brutality and squalor — go to Theodore Dalrymple’s Britain and look around. To his credit, Tony Blair has noticed the problem and wants to do something about it.
His choices are limited, however. Thatcher cut back on the welfare state as much as politically possible, and any reduction in
the commitment to inclusiveness and tolerance that today is considered absolutely fundamental to social legitimacy is
impossible. What can he do then but turn to the universal modern resource, technology?
Applied to society, technology means rational social policy and adminstration. It is thought to be applicable to everything
and to make everything possible. So if respect, community and obligation are what are needed, government will step in and say
what they are and tell people how to achieve them. If voluntary private initiatives are the answer, then government will
prescribe them and call them forth as well. Informal connections are to be legislated, state-funded and administered. Does that
even make sense?
The substance of the policy is revealed by the proposed changes to criminal law. Criminal law was once a matter of
vindicating the moral code of the community. It was not administratively rational because it was concerned among other things
with the dignity of those with whom it dealt — including those who might be accused. Until recently in England such an approach was consistent
with a very low crime rate. Blair’s proposed reforms tend to make criminal law simply the coercive side of the administrative
state, and thus efficient social control the sole standard. The moral implications of the system drop out of sight. Under some
circumstances efficiency in fighting crime may indeed take precedence over all other considerations. But when it does it is more
likely to be proof that mutual respect and obligation have disappeared than a way of rebuilding them.
Posted by Jim Kalb at November 17, 2002 12:14 PM | Send
— “Families have a right to be housed.”
Perhaps, perhaps not. What about a family’s right to be fed by government? To have its electricity bill paid by government?
While we’re at it, how about the right to get laid, guaranteed and arranged by government? I mean, they’re chipping away in this direction: prisoners already have been deemed to possess the right to have good-quality porn provided them while in the pokey. Why not the real deal?
Hasn’t this same crowd already seen to it that adolescents have the right to be sexually active without their parents’ knowledge?
Once you start down this road, where do the “rights” end?
Families also have a right not to be excessively taxed. And about THAT, there’s no “perhaps, perhaps not.” How come we NEVER hear about THAT right from Tony Blair?
— “In today’s world people want a society that is free from prejudice - racism and
Yes, but that works both ways. Government has an obligation also to not overwhelm people with massive incompatible immigration. We people want government to stop its practice of importing altogether way too many immigrants who don’t look and act like us, and then telling us that because that makes us feel uncomfortable we are going to have to accept seeing even more brought in to teach us a lesson, and we are henceforth, as punishment for our inquietude, going to be treated as second-class citizens in our own country, the immigrants who neither look nor act like us being given official preference in all things until we the orginal people are extinct. We don’t want prejudice but we don’t want THAT solution either. But Blair only tells us about the prejudice part.
— “Respect is at the heart of a belief in society. It is what makes us a community, not merely a group of isolated individuals. It makes real a new contract between citizen and state, a contract that says that with rights and opportunities responsibilities come and obligations.”
But what are the responsibilites and obligations of government? Isn’t government supposed to remain within time-honored boundaries? What are its limits? How much property is it allowed to confiscate, for example, beyond which some rule says it must not confiscate more? How much social engineering in the form of “hate-crimes legislation” and other travesties which are merely a cover for the most virulently rabid hatred against a particular ethnic group the world has ever seen — how much of this ethnic cleansing disguised as social engineering are we going to be asked to put up with against our own group? Does it ever end? Why are government’s proper limits never spelled out by the other side? Are government’s powers and perogatives infinite, and are the choices it makes in regard to the exercise of those powers purely arbitrary and capricious yet always brilliantly conforming to the goal of being detrimental of white Euro Christians?
Isn’t it time people spoke back to Tony Blair and put him and his handlers in their place? Speak up, people! Tell a few MORE of the things people “want nowadays”! Tell him a few of the things he LEFT OUT!
All very good and pointed questions, Unadorned. Given how completely absurd things have gotten in the UK - there is no right to self-defense, for example - what self-destructive gene is present in the British majority that has allowed this sorry atate of affairs? In light of TB’s latest statement of his goal for a socialist utopia, along with everything else his minions like the “diversity directorate” are up to, has the point of no return been reached? I’m beginning to wonder if the only rightful place for Tony Blair is at the business end of a firing squad.
It’s interesting to note the core liberal assumptions of Blair.
He has stripped the individual of any qualities which might give a natural relationship to others. He then has to find something else to create a basis for a functioning community.
He says, for instance, that it is “respect that makes us a community, not merely a group of isolated individuals”.
How strange! Is it really just “respect” which stops us becoming isolated individuals? What about the drives and instincts a man has to find a woman to love and protect, and to father children, and so to form a family? What about the ancestral loyalties men have to their wider family and their nation? What about a man’s spiritual nature and his efforts to build a church to uphold his faith?
Blair seems to agree with the liberals of the 1600s that we begin as disconnected, autonomous individuals and then construct a society on the basis of a “contract”.
It is an impoverished notion in itself, that all that links one man to another, or man and state, is a “contract”.
Mark Richardson is right about the oddity of thinking that respect gives rise to community. The reverse is much more believable. Still, it’s what you have to work with if you’re trying to derive social order from the equal status of all wills.
To explain how seemingly sane people can believe in such a thing I suppose it’s worth pointing out that it does make some conceptual sense. After all, if we accept that will is the fundamental principle of morality, that choice simply as such is authoritative, it seems to follow that since all wills are equally wills all are equally authoritative. But to recognize the will of another as authoritative is to respect the person whose will it is. So radical relativism as to value can give rise at least in theory to an obligation of mutual respect that some might think (and many have thought) could serve as the basis of a common moral order.
I agree of course that such a notion of morality is impoverished to the point of uselessness — for starters, I don’t think you can extract determinate implications from it — but it seemed worthwhile going through the analysis because of the importance of understanding one’s opponents.
In addition to the good points by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Kalb, what’s interesting about “respect” is that it SOUNDS like something more conservative than the usual liberalism, because it’s not just speaking of rights and freedom but of some kind of responsibility owed to others, and thus of standards larger than the self. This neo-liberalism is a fraud, however, since, as Mr. Kalb points out, the respect is not respect for anything larger than the self and its desires; it’s simply respect for the self and the desires of OTHER PEOPLE. The ordering principle of society becomes accommodation to the will of the Other. Further, as we all know, only certain parties get to count as the Other. The rest of us owe respect to the Other, while the Other is entitled to respect from us.