BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
, June 25, 2011
by Phillip Blond
(London: Faber and Faber)
Paperback: 309 pages
Rec. price: AUD$31.95
Reviewed by Paul McCormack
Red Tory: How the Left And Right Have Broken Britain And How We Can Fix It is the finest book I have read in a long time for its diagnosis of the root cause of our economic and cultural problems and the ways in which we can rediscover civil society.
Author Phillip Blond, a former theology and philosophy lecturer at theUniversityofCumbria, is a gentleman and a scholar. He has been described as “a northerner shaped by the northern experience”. (InEngland’s economic geography, northerner traditionally means working-class.)
His thinking and writing bear the imprint of a religiously infused social and economic conservatism that is distrustful of both big business and the state. Blond is a committed Anglican, yet his work is inspired by and indebted to a line of Catholic thinkers from Thomas Aquinas through to Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton, as he acknowledges at numerous points in the book and in speeches he has delivered.
The central point of Red Tory is that we need to rediscover the civil state. Blond is scathing of secular liberalism because of its excessive preoccupation with the individual at the expense of society. He dissects the defects of this creed and describes their negative impact on society.
He writes: “Liberalism has promoted a radical individualism which, in trashing the supposed despotism of custom and tradition concerning the nature of true human flourishing, has produced a vacated, empty self that believes in no common values or inherited creeds.
“But in creating this purely subjective being, liberalism has also created a new and wholly terrifying tyranny. For, in order to strip people of their cultural legacy and eliminate the idea that people should enjoy degrees of prestige according to their nature and capacity for virtue, and by making everyone instead the same sort of individual with basic needs and rights, an excess of centralised authority is required.
“The rule of virtuous persons is displaced by the explicit control of a central state, which has a monopoly on the use of violence and must endlessly police, through more or less subtle modes of coercion, both the sanctity of contract and the ways in which one free individual may impinge on the liberties of others.
“In this way the supremacy of the one lone, isolated individual quickly converts into the supremacy of the one unquestionable state authority” (p.145).
Blond is not a Fabian socialist; he is a distributist. As such, his ideas would find their home inAustraliain the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), which has a commitment to this ideal.
Just as Blond is critical of the Left and Right in equal measure, distributism eschews both big government and big business. In fact, its motto could perhaps be best summed up by the title of E.F. Schumacher’s famous 1973 book, Small is Beautiful: Economics As if People Mattered.
Distributism promotes widespread property ownership and favours associations such as guilds (involving employers and employees) and local economies centred upon the traditional family as the first and most important social unit of society.
Blond knows that the state has supplanted the role of community, family and human reciprocity as a result of marriage and family breakdown co-sponsored by a form of radical, ultra-secularist liberalism and centralised corporate capitalism. He understands that “the state disempowers” and that social security such as welfare is based on ideas rooted in socialism rather than true mutualism. He is rightly contemptuous of “the licentious empty pleasure-seeking drones of the 1960s … (with) their legacy of … divided families, unparented children and the lazy moral relativism of the liberal professional elite” (Prospect magazine, issue 155, February 2009).
Red Tory sets out the argument that we must return to the concept of understanding both the state and the market as our servants and not as our masters. He makes this point: “We must restore society, and the individuals who comprise it, over both state and market as the sovereign site of our renewal. Society is more free when served by state and market, and less free when it is ruled by them” (p.285).
Blond has a strong message for conservatives about the importance of the economy. He says: “True conservatism needs to recognise crushing economic inequality and its harmful effects on those institutions which conservatives instinctively cherish.” Aware of the two extremes of socialism and libertarianism, he asserts: “Social harmony does not flow from centrally enforced unity, and social justice does not spring unaided from libertarian indifference” (p. 289).
Unfortunately, the man who launched the book Red Tory, current British Conservative PM David Cameron, does not seem to have grasped the book’s message about liberalism, that is, if his argument for a “more muscular liberalism” as a means to counterEurope’s disastrous multiculturalism experiment is anything to go by.
A doctor does not cure a sickness by prescribing more of its cause as medication. A sickness is cured by something that is stronger than it. In essence, Blond has been arguing for a stronger way to restore civil society through distributism and to thereby enable conservatives to take a genuinely progressive pathway to the centre. And in politics, just like chess, if you control the centre you control the game!
Paul McCormack is a political observer and DLP member who lives and works in Wagga Wagga.