I’m indebted to my friend Pat Kane for flagging this up. It’s a rather compelling blog essay by Maurice Glasman, who confesses to having once (at least) been “a confused secular Jewish left-wing academic”, when he discovered Catholic social thought in the form of several Papal encyclicals.
This, I think, is the core of this thinking, which Glasman sites with Leo XIII, who…
…began his analysis with a simple premise: that human beings and nature are not commodities. Leo, and the popes and other Catholic thinkers who have followed him, argued that creation is not a commodity to be exploited and used as a thing, but rather a sacred inheritance that needs to be nurtured and loved.
The two great looming perils were capitalism, which wished to own all of creation and use its power to dehumanise the poor and exploit the world’s resources, and an over-mighty state that wished to replace society with a centralised bureaucratic domination.
Both market liberalism and statist socialism were hostile to society. Both gave incentives to vice rather than virtue, undermining the relationships and sense of place necessary for sustained human civilisation.
We have lost and need to rediscover the idea that sacrifices and accommodations are required to earn and belong, to be part of something enduring and good. This concept is carried still in the working class, but is at odds with the utility-maximising individualism that still pervades the definition of what it means to be modern and progressive.
Whether or not you agree with any of this, is less important perhaps than the fact it is an effort to step back from the machine of government, which arguably has done for contemporary social democracy by unduly shaping what’s possible, by what’s convenient for the machine.
Earlier in the week, Wolfgang Munchau waxed lyrical about the need for the centre-left to look outside the middle of politics for solution…
I am not surprised the centre-left in Germany and in the UK are struggling to win elections. We do not know whether Mr Corbyn can succeed. What we do know is that his more moderate predecessors could not, at least not since the onset of the financial crisis. That was one of the biggest economic events of our time. It has also redefined politics.
Where does this lead us? From an economic point of view there is nothing extreme in the argument for large investment programmes, especially after years of fiscal consolidation. Yet the only established political party that offers this choice in Europe is Mr Corbyn’s, which is promising £500bn.
In Germany, only the Left party, successors to East Germany’s communists, supports big increases in investment. On the continent you have to go the outer extremes of the political spectrum to find someone to endorse an investment stimulus.
So when an established party, like Labour, offers a shift in macroeconomic policies that have a chance of ending our post-crisis malaise, it should be taken seriously. If the ruling Conservatives mess up Brexit, which they just might, the scheduled 2020 elections could become an open race.
That was before we knew that Mrs May was planning to re-possess the public investment levers so rashly abandoned in the 1980s love affair with pro-private (and anti-public) sector political activism..
And who knew that it would be the Tories who gave the UK the first (albeit mild) taste of worker democracy: something the Labour party, if/when it finally gets its head together should perhaps look to scale.