Friday, 19 March 2010

A Third Way

I am not sure how helpful it is to speak of a "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Certainly there is a broad ground between the extremes of individualistic capitalism (where persons are all in competition with each other) and collectivistic socialism (where personal initiative is suppressed in favour of the social unit). That middle ground is something to do with cooperation and subsidiarity, but this is not enough to define a clear alternative between the two great ideologies, since the milder forms of capitalism and socialism could both lay claim to that territory (especially in England, where the Anglicans have a longstanding tradition known as "Christian socialism" that is hardly recognized in America).

The Distributism of Chesterton and Belloc has been called a form of
"third way", and you will find much discussion of it on our website, especially in the section on Economy. Another - perhaps complementary - approach is represented by the Center for Economic and Social Justice which I hope to discuss in a future posting. Phillip Blond, the founder of the ResPublica think tank, represents the best hope for radical communitarian thinking to enter the political debate in Britain. His views were summarized in an article for the New Statesman in September, and more recently in this op-ed piece by David Books in the New York Times. Here is a controversial sample of his argument:
"To understand why the legacy of liberalism produces both state authoritarianism and atomized individualism, we must first note that philosophical liberalism was born out of an 18th-century critique of absolute monarchies. It sought to protect the rights of the individual from arbitrary abuse by the king. But so extreme did the defense of individual liberty become that each man was obliged to refuse the dictates of any other—for that would be simply to replace rule by one man’s will (the king) with rule by another. As such, the most extreme form of liberal autonomy requires the repudiation of society—for human community influences and shapes the individual before any sovereign capacity to choose has taken shape. The liberal idea of man is then, first of all, an idea of nothing: not family, not ethnicity, not society or nation. But real people are formed by the society of others. For liberals, autonomy must precede everything else, but such a 'self' is a fiction. A society so constituted would be one that required a powerful central authority to manage the perpetual conflict between self-interested individuals. So the unanticipated bequest of an unlimited liberalism is that most illiberal of entities: the controlling state. Even the most 'communitarian' liberals—from philosophers like Michael Sandel to politicians like Ed Miliband—cannot promote community without big government. They see the state as the answer, when it usually makes the problem worse. The legacy of liberal individualism is the restoration of the very absolutism that it originally sought to overthrow—a philosophical tragedy that can be summed up as: 'the king is dead, long live the king.'"
Picture: The old House of Commons at Westminster as drawn by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson around 1810, from Wikimedia Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment