Sunday, 28 June 2009

Radical Orthodoxy

On 11 July at St Benet's Hall in Oxford the Chesterton Institute based at Seton Hall, NJ, is running a conference on Distributist responses to the economic crisis. One of the speakers is Phillip Blond, who is associated with John Milbank's (shown here) 'Radical Orthodoxy' movement. What is all this about, and how does it related to the British reception of the forthcoming social encyclical, 'Caritas in Veritate'?

Here is Milbank's perceptive analysis of the economic crisis from his fascinating book The Future of Love. He talks of the danger that as a reult of the crisis 'State bureaucratic oligarchy would now start to fuse with the "private" oligarchy and monopoly of capital. Hilaire Belloc's "servile state" would start to emerge.'
'With the current apparent collapse in 2008 of the finance and debt-fuelled domination of neoliberalism in a crisis of the "non-realizability" of abstract assets through linkage to more material ones, this specter now looms. State control of banking could easily dictate greater state direction of production and a greater use of technology - yet still in the interests of the market and still involving an extraction of surplus-value from the dispossessed who do not equitably share in the profit of industry, but are bought off with "wages" and "salaries" (p. 96).'
Milbank stands within the tradition of non-statist Christian "socialism", alongside other types of thinkers who 'characteristically stress subsidiarity (the distribution of money and power to appropriate levels, not necessarily the lowest) and the break-up of central sovereignty through the operation of intermediary associations.'
'These theories can appear as relatively more "left" or "right", yet all in reality question the left/right distinction in its secular form. In relation to the latter, Christians must pursue a politics of seeming paradox from apparently "opposite" vantage points. Thus some within Radical Orthodoxy will follow Phillip Blond in his espousal of a new British form of "Red Toyism". Others, currently the majority, will follow my own brand of "Blue Socialism" - socialism with a Burkean tinge, now common to many on the left, including some within the centre-left (anti New Labour) British Labour Party "Compass Group"' (p. xvii).
But he rightly adds that 'these differences may not be what matters' in the debates concerning
'the role of nuclear and extended families, of co-operatives, of trade guilds, of mutual banks, housing associations and credit unions, and of the law in setting firewalls between business practices, defining the acceptable limits of usury and interest, and the principles that must govern the fair setting of wages and prices. Above all perhaps they concern how we can turn all people into owners and joint-owners, abolishing the chasm between the mass who can only earn or receive welfare and so are dependent and the minority who own in excess' (ibid.).
More philosophically, Milbank argues that we need a new sort of market, and a new sort of politics, in which economics and politics are no longer defined in isolation from each other (exclusive regard for the power of money, or the power of law). Does this sound fantastic, he asks? 'No, the fantastic is what we have: an economy that destroys life, babies, childhood, adventure, locality, beauty, the exotic, the erotic, people, and the planet itself' (p. 263).

And speaking of the New Distributists, a particularly fine new introduction to this important strand of Catholic social thought has been recently published by IHS Press. Titled Beyond Capitalism and Socialism: A New Statement of an Old Ideal, and edited by Tobias J. Lanz, it contains powerful statements by twelve of the most impressive Distributist thinkers alive today.

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