Encuentro, I attended the excellent opening lecture about the Big Society by Phillip Blond of ResPublica. At the risk of caricaturing by oversimplification, and distorting by paraphrase, he made among others the following points.
The Big Society is about creating ownership, and opening up markets. Ownership implies taking responsibility, and taking responsibility implies a need to educate for wisdom and virtue.
To mutualise by creating public-sector cooperatives is a way of avoiding the main problem with privatisation, which is that it merely transfers monopolies from the State to small numbers of private individuals. It is important to devolve power and wealth, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity -- to devolve them where possible not to individuals but to groups. As individuals we are virtually powerless, but as groups we can create new schools, hospitals, guilds...
Individualism is "left-wing". Rousseau's extreme individualism easily flips into collectivism via the notion of the "general will" (made up of many individual wills). Anarchy and totalitarianism are two sides of the coin of individualism. If we are merely individuals with competing rights, we will require a surveillance or police State to ensure order. How do we escape from this dilemma? By realising who we are: that is, not just individuals, but individuals in relationship. To abstract ourselves from these relationships is to fail to understand the nature of the human being.
Europe is "locked in a conspiracy of decline". Bureaucracies proliferate due to suspicion and fear. We can reverse that decline by reviving civil society and creating a culture of trust (cf. trust networks like eBay). But the only way to do that, just as the only way out of the poverty trap, is through education -- education for virtue. Morality is not oppressive or repressive but essentially liberating.
This then connects with the themes of my other blog, Beauty for Truth's Sake. But I wonder if the Big Society, and mutualism and localism generally, can succeed without a profound spiritual impulse. The role of the Spirit in all this cannot be underestimated, and that is the subject of work by Michael Black that I intend to discuss in future posts.