Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Tories see red

These are strange times indeed, when David Cameron's latest policy guru is an advocate of 'red Toryism' who criticises Thatcherism and advocates policies based on social justice. Philip Blond is an academic theologian whose work (which is also scathing about Labour's managerial welfarism) has deliberate echoes of the 'third way' between socialism and capitalism advocated by early 20th century Catholic thinkers such as G.K. Chesteron and Hilaire Belloc. Interestingly, the 'distributism' that these writers advocated was as influential on the left (influencing Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement) as it was on the right.

Credit where it's due: the oft-derided Madeleine Bunting has written a fair and balanced article about Blond's ideas, and the interest they are currently stirring up on the left as well as the right of British politics (Jon Cruddas is apparently a fan). She even anticipates the objection that many liberals will have to this revival of conservative communitarianism - that it has a tendency to mutate into authoritarianism (Chesterton and Belloc were both admirers of Mussolini) - suggesting that Blond needs to sharpen up his thinking in this area.

I'd never heard of Blond before, but after reading Bunting's piece I looked him up. It was refreshing, in these bland multi-faith times, to discover that he has produced a thoughtful critique of Islam which many secularists would agree with, and can't be dismissed as simply a product of inter-faith rivalry. Rather less appealingly, he has also argued that only 'real' faith, rather than secularism, can combat the rise of religious fundamentalism.

The combination of faith, conservatism and communitarianism offers a heady mix that could prove very appealing in a time of economic uncertainty and political disillusionment. But the hostility to liberalism, secularism and individualism that goes along with it should be cause for concern. As Bunting suggests, we've been here before. When you add in the tendency of the original distributists to reject modern civilisation (leading distributist Fr. Vincent McNabb believed that 'The city is the graveyard of religion and the machine age is the doom of mankind'), then you have a beguiling but dangerous cocktail. I note that Bunting's fellow anti-modern pessimist, John Gray, is also a Blond fan...

Blond on Blond: the man of the moment has written a letter to the Guardian, pointing out what he regards as a few inaccuracies in Bunting's article. He argues that the localism he advocates is the enemy of fascism, and claims that Chesterton and Belloc were 'Edwardian liberals' rather than conservatives, and refutes suggestions that both were antisemites. And he denies that his emphasis on community overrides a belief in individual freedom: 'I am utterly opposed to any kind of social authoritarianism'.


Paul said...

The key problem with Bunting's article, and by proxy the whole red tory thing, is epitomised in her statement towards the end:

‘politics is (sic) not about intellectual coherence. It’s about articulating raw responses such as fear, hope, desire, particularly at a time like now.’

I don't know about you but I like a bit of intellectual coherence in my politics, a bit of substance as well as style. Where, exactly, is the intllectual substance in red Toryism? Politics is not, for me, about discurive creativity; it's about what happesns to people's material circumstances because of decisions made about and with money and power and stuff.

Brigada Flores Magon said...

Belloc and Chesterton ['two buttocks of the same bum'] were both pretty nasty anti-semites as well, though that came with the Catholicism then [and, it seems, with the SSPX Holocaust deniers returning to the barque of Peter, now.]