8 comments to The Big Society, Cameron, Nichols, Hayek and the Last Pope

  • mrg

    The final chapter of The Fatal Conceit, RELIGION AND THE GUARDIANS OF TRADITION, contains some powerful insights, but I don’t see anything in it to suggest that Hayek reverted to anything stronger than deism. Here are the final paragraphs (emphasis mine):

    So far as I personally am concerned I had better state that I feel as little entitled to assert as to deny the existence of what others call God, for I must admit that I just do not know what this word is supposed to mean. I certainly reject every anthropomorphic, personal, or animistic interpretation of the term, interpretations through which many people succeed in giving it a meaning. The conception of a man-like or mind-like acting being appears to me rather the product of an arrogant overestimation of the capacities of a man-like mind. I cannot attach meaning to words that in the structure of my own thinking, or in my picture of the world, have no place that would give them meaning. It would thus be dishonest of me were I to use such words as if they expressed any belief that I hold.

    I long hesitated whether to insert this personal note here, but ultimately decided to do so because support by a professed agnostic may help religious people more unhesitatingly to pursue those conclusions that we do share. Perhaps what many people mean in speaking of God is just a personification of that tradition of morals or values that keeps their community alive. The source of order that religion ascribes to a human-like divinity – the map or guide that will show a part successfully how to move within the whole – we now learn to see to be not outside the physical world but one of its characteristics, one far too complex for any of its parts possibly to form an `image’ or `picture’ of it. Thus religious prohibitions against idolatry, against the making of such images, are well taken. Yet perhaps most people can conceive of abstract tradition only as a personal Will. If so, will they not be inclined to find this will in `society’ in an age in which more overt supernaturalisms are ruled out as superstitions?

    On that question may rest the survival of our civilisation.

    • MRG, this is a difficult one.

      When I have spoken to people at the top of the Anglican and Catholic churches, never have I spoken to them in terms of a God that is anthropomorphic, personal, or animistic, although a lot of the ways they get their message out to a mass audience is via this use of language. This tends to be how a lot of people describe God i.e. by putting him/it in very human terms. A lot of religious people do this, some don’t. I believe it is a very grey area between theism and deism and a big gap between using anthropomorphic language to try and get people to understand God. Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas were great philosophers on whose shoulders a lot of the Catholic Church has been built. I sense Hayek was much more in their camp than that of the mystics and I believe this personal statement adds to that interpretation of the view that Hayek became closer to his Catholic antecedents.

  • John

    Excellent article!

    I’ve long believed that, as a Catholic, there is a harmony between my faith and liberty. Indeed, there are some great Catholic libertarians who have helped shape my understanding of this relationship, such as Thomas E Woods.

    My only concern is that Catholicism (and Christianity in general) has been hijacked by the socialists, and their friends, to become almost meaningless and intellectually infantile – perhaps this was the intent of our social engineers? The notion that it is the “Christian thing to do” to ask the government to solve all our problems is, in reality, in complete contradiction to Christianity, properly understood.

    By the way, that quote by JPII in Centesimus Annus is great. It’s just like reading Hayek!

  • Philip

    Excellent article. Let me add two things. The common good is about allowing to come about the sum total of conditions that lead to human flourishing. This is a very long way from central planning. Secondly, it is interesting that Mrs. Thatcher mentioned the concept of reciprocity (which is different from both contractual obligations and charity and also from state coercion): this is quite a theme of Caritas in veritate (the pope’s last social encyclical) and is what a big society is really all about.

  • Chris Cook

    @ Philip

    The French distinguish between ‘contrats de mandat’ – which are the essentially ‘one way’ Anglo-Saxon legal relationships we are familiar with, of Statute Law, and judge made ‘Equity’ – and ‘contrats de societe’ which are reciprocal or ‘two way’ legal relationships entered into consensually.

    Such relationships are more common in the Middle and Far East. Islamic law is essentially consensual, while it is said that there are as many Sumo wrestlers in the US as there are attorneys in Japan.

    I would argue that the Big Society is – or could be – based upon networked interactive partnership relationships defined by protocols entered into consensually.

    In fact, direct instantaneous ‘Peer to Peer’ economic relationships within such partnership framework agreements will in my view make redundant existing dysfunctional enterprise models.

  • Tim Lucas

    @ Toby Baxendale

    I cannot begin to think what it that Cameron will actively insert in any vacuum left by the state. The reason for this is that the solution is one that arises through market forces, into which all market participants have an input. Cameron – similiarly – should have no idea of the best substitute for the service provision in an area where the state withdraws.

    I should also note that unfortunately, in the areas where the state does withdraw, the level of service provision is likely to deteriorate rather than improve, the reason being that the State will have diverted scarce resources into a specific area through its action. On the state’s withdrawal, the effect on overall living standards should be to improve (as more consumer goods will be produced in closer approximation to the demand of customers). However, the specific area from which the government exits will almost certainly find itself poorer provided for.

    Should any government attempt to ‘improve’ a deterioration in standards in an area of government withdrawal through replacing this with a different non-market structure, then the government merely replaces one governmnent construct with another.

    This is not just theory. It is happening. The last government just before its demise (with the subsequent enthusiastic backing of the Tories) set up a structure in which the charities more successful at relieving social deprivation are able to apply for grants through the Serco ‘Flexible New Deal’ contract. This has been held up as an example of the Big Society by Maud and Iain Duncan Smith.

    Just watch how all these excellent charities change their behaviour in order to win more money and so comply with the government’s vision of ‘success’.

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