Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Category: Christian Democracy

On the limits of markets

Markets work, for the achievement of certain purposes, to a certain extent, in certain contexts. When markets are applied to other purposes, or are allowed to go beyond their proper extent, or are applied to wrong contexts, they cause havoc and destruction.

Or, to put it another way, markets are like fire: a good servant, but a bad master. The state’s function is, in part, to be a fire-guard and fire-extinguisher. If we forget that, then instead of being nice and warm we’ll burn the whole house down.

And that, basically, is what happened 1979-2008.


Constitutions and Public Ethics

Traditionally (in the 18th and 19th centuries) constitutions were mainly concerned with: (i) fundamental rights [What are the limits of the state?] and (ii) the basic structures of representative government [How is the state to be governed?].

In the 20th century, the scope of constitutionalism was extended to include: (iii) socio-economic rights and principles [What will the State provide for its citizens, and what is the relationship market and the state?] and (iv) statements of identity, nationhood and culture [Who are we, where have we come from, where are we going, and what are the values that unite us?].

We are also discovering another important function of the constitution, which is defining and upholding public ethics [What are the standards of behaviour that we demand of those in public office, and how can we ensure that those in office exercise their powers in a fair, non-corrupt way?].

We see in recent (post-1945) generations of constitutional design, we see a stronger emphasis on institutions like ombudsmen, auditors, independent electoral commissions, public service commissions etc, which seek to ensure that power is used in justifiable, rational, non-partisan, non-corrupt ways.

But I think the time has come to go further; perhaps more constitutions should, for example, regulate campaign finance and political donations, and prohibit conflicts of interest. This would help tackle these problems. It would make clear the boundaries between what is and what is not acceptable behaviour, and provide mechanisms for the enforcement of ethical standards in public life.

Some moves in this direction have already been taken. The 2010 Constitution of Kenya, for example, includes extensive provisions on public ethics, as did the 2013 draft Constitution for Fiji, and the 2009 Constitution of the Solomon Islands. We do not generally find such provisions, however, in the constitutions of established Western democracies, where it was long assumed that active parliamentary politics, backed by a free media and the rule of law, would be sufficient to guard against corruption.

Such hubris and complacency can no longer be entertained. It has become clear, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, that Western democracies are characterised by gross, systemic corruption: the distortion of policy by the interests of corporate financial capitalism and the richest crust of the population. If we are serious about building a democracy that works for everyone, and that serves the common good not the private interests of those in and near to power, then we must tackle these problems.

Strong constitutional rules on matters such as campaign finance and political donations, on public ethics and on conflicts of interest, may a useful tool – alongside others, such institutions of direct and participatory democracy – that the people can use to help recapture the state from narrow, oligarchic elites.

Starting our first works over.

We are now, after 30+ years of basically unquestioned neo-liberal doctrine, having to re-learn a lot of things that were widely understood in the early and mid twentieth century:

(1) If you want a good society, where most people enjoy the capacity for a healthy, flourishing life, you cannot base that on a system of selfish greed that enriches the few and enslaves and degrades the many.

(2) The market has a place, but it’s place must be limited by a system of law and regulation that reflects public ethics and protects workers and consumers.

(3) Freedom is not achieved by unrestrained competition amongst people with vastly unequal bargaining power, and so trade unions and collective labour agreements have an active role in protecting those in weak positions from abuse.

(4) There are some public services that are good for overall prosperity and well-being, which should be paid for out of general taxation and should be rationed according to need, not price.

(5) A healthy democracy requires a broad equality of wealth, otherwise it degenerates into oligarchy.

(6) The rich should pay more tax than the middle class, and the middle class should pay more than the poor.

(7) People have families. They need some economic stability. Short term or zero hours contracts are not good.

(8) People also need time off and reasonable working hours. A good life involves a balance of work, rest and play. The eight hour day, the weekend,  paid holiday: all brought to you by the combination of social democracy and trade unions.

(9) If you want people to be healthy, they need safe, dry, warm, affordable houses, preferably with a garden.

(10) Risks such as illness and unemployment can befall – and ruin – anyone, and it makes sense to pool these risks on a mutual and reciprocal basis, and it makes sense to use the state to facilitate that risk pooling.

During the last few decades, these propositions have been perceived as more-or-less ‘leftist’ statements, which most politicians dare not utter. But if you go back a little bit further, to the world before 1979, they would have been commonplace notions, which were widely accepted by all but the most extreme and reactionary conservatives.

The challenge for the left today, as I see it, is not to shout at the fringes, but to occupy and reclaim the centre – to drag the whole political spectrum back into a sane place.

No hero-worship, please, we are democrats


This is all getting a bit hero-worshippy for me.

I like Alex Salmond. He’s the first decent leader Scotland has had for more than three centuries. On the whole, he did a good job in running a moderately progressive devolved administration in tough financial times. He strengthened the country. He led us into a referendum that was quite narrowly lost, but which has nevertheless changed the terms of engagement.

For this he deserves credit. But it is credit as a fellow-citizen. He differs from us in function, in that is (was) First Minister, but not in status. He is not ‘the boss’. He’s not omnipotent, or irreplaceable, or infallible.

The picture above, circulated by a fan of Salmond on the day of his stepping down as First Minister, represents an anti-democratic and non-civic form of adulation. It is that hero-worship that leads to exactly the sort of top-down, closed, autocratic politics that we in the democratic movement for Scottish independence are trying to avoid.

So honour him, respect him, admire him – but do not put him on too high a pedestal. He has his flaws and his failings, like all of us. If we mean to enjoy not only independence, but also freedom, democracy, and a form of government that respects the common good (rather than one in which particular persons are elevated to a position of dominance) we should always remember that in a free country, where we enjoy a free and civic way of life, we are governed by our equals.

(That said, ‘High Protector’ is a much better title than ‘Governor-General’, and if we were to become independent, it’s not a bad way of describing a non-executive, symbolic, ceremonial Head of State – an office for which Salmond would be admirably suited.)

Why I am not a conservative


In many ways, I am a ‘small-c’ conservative. I am fairly skeptical of utopian social engineering. I recognise the importance to human well-being of rootedness, tradition, locality, family and (to many) faith. I believe that history and culture must be valued and recognised, not ignored (or, at the other extreme, idolised), and that the traditional social fabric and social morality have an important role in sustaining the good life. I have a mostly Aristotelian and organic view of society, that opposes with equal vigour both the centralism associated with certain forms of socialism, and the atomistic rational-egoist individualism of liberalism.

I’m quite culturally and aesthetically conservative too, with a penchant for real ale, folk and sacred music, gothic architecture, and old books. I’m somewhat (although not completely) suspicious of new technologies, and I’d rate an Amish craftsman, who can make things with his hands, above the likes of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs any day. I’m a bit of an amateur medievalist and I reject the pervasive modernism that thinks the past is to be forgotten rather than learned from.

But none of this makes be a Conservative (in the sense that is now meant) politically and economically. Conservatism of the sort peddled since the Thatcher era is utterly corrosive of the good society. It is nothing more than doctrinaire neo-liberalism put into the service of a rapacious, selfish, greedy oligarchy. Nothing destroys society faster, or is more harmful to the good life, than that.

If we had a moderate, centrist Christian Democratic party – one that embraced the major aspects of Christian Social Teaching within the framework of a mixed, regulated, social-market economy, and that took seriously its duties of full employment, social justice, subsidiarity, environmental stewardship, and peace – then I wouldn’t need to be such a ‘raving lefty’. I’m only on the left because the political spectrum has veered so far to the neo-liberal oligarchic and imperialist right.

Likewise, I wouldn’t need to be such a red-bonnetted ‘Tom Paine’, if only we had a decent written constitution (broadly comparable to the constitutions of most other Northern European countries). Such a constitution, founded upon ‘common right and freedom’, would enable our country and our communities to democratically manage themselves for the common good, while protecting the rights that are essential to an open society and to human dignity.

Unfortunately, however, we are not in that position. We are stuck with a grossly oligarchic political and economic system, which, according to its corrupt nature, has no regard for social justice, democracy, or the environment, and which uses its hegemonic power to maintain itself for the benefit of a rich and privileged few. I cannot be content or complacent to live in a society where the lives of so many are scarred by inequality, exclusion, poverty and insecurity.

So, in opposing that oligarchy, I am compelled (in my own small-c conservative, warm beer, village green way) to take my stand on the left. This is not, however, the ineffective ‘Guardianista‘ left of individualist, bourgeois liberalism, with its petty symbolic obsessions, its hotch-potch philosophy of Hobbes and Bentham, and its self-defeating mantra of ‘more choice’. We’ve been there and seen that doesn’t get us anywhere. Although most of those Guardianistas would probably regard me as socially conservative and maybe a bit of a traditionalist dinosaur (I don’t even like much modern art), what I have in mind is much more radical than anything they can imagine.

The left I embrace is a Christian left, perhaps even an ‘Aristotelian-Thomist’ left: a type of left-wing radical politics that says ‘there is such as thing as society’, there is such a thing as the common good, and there is such a thing as ‘righteousness’ in economic life and in politics. It is that righteousness for which I hunger and thirst. Achieving that righteousness embraces political action through democratic means (works of justice) with social action (works of charity), and roots both in a community through which faith, hope and love are sustained. That’s my vision.

(Vive le révolution! Aux barricades, citoyens! And all that.)

Foodbanks, Justice and Charity

The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the whole people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice and charity shall inform all the institutions of the national life.” (The Constitution of Ireland, Art. 45)




Justice and charity are both necessary. Both contribute, hand in hand, to ‘tikkun olem’ (the repairing of the world) and to ‘shalom’ (the establishment of righteous peace). Charity meets immediate needs; justice rectifies a broken legal-political order. Charity helps the world as it is; justices changes the world into what it should be. As it was illustrated to me as a child, charity is helping people out of the river, whereas justice is putting fences along the banks so they do not fall in – or, sometimes, stopping people from doing the pushing.

I think that we are all called, in our different ways, to do both acts of justice and charity. Not many of us can rightfully say, “oh, I only care about charity, so I’ll donate to the local foodbank, but not be politically active”, or, on the other hand, “I only care about justice, so I’ll write books and get involved in campaigns, but not do anything about immediate needs.”

But that’s not to say we should all be doing the same things. There are a myriad of problems to be solved, needs to be met, and injustices to be rectified, and we cannot all carry the weight of the world: we just need to find the corner to which we are called and lift that bit. The issues that move me most are in the areas of poverty and inequality, as well as democracy and human rights. My wife, as well as being a much more consistent pacifist, has a stronger calling to help people with special needs, lonely old folks, and animals. One of the issues in our household on which we are still seeking further clarity is whether a portion of our monthly giving should go to an animal welfare charity, or whether all of it should be spent on relieving human needs.

All of which brings me to the subject of foodbanks. As what was once a humane and democratic ‘cradle to grave’ welfare system has reverted to Victorian punitive parsimony, foodbanks have been steadily on the rise. Not only those ‘sanctioned’ for minor infractions of a harsh and inscrutable benefits system are queuing up at their doors, but also the ‘working poor’; as the bedroom tax kicks in, and the prices of privatised utilities rise, ever more people find themselves living in the sort of real, absolute, hopeless poverty that has no place – no place – in a civilised and free nation.

Those who meet these needs are the glue that holds society together. They not only give out tins of cheap (and probably not very nutritious, but that’s a whole other story) soup and beans, but also, in many cases, provide a bit of chat and a friendly face. This opportunity to treat people not as hopeless causes, or as soulless numbers to be processed, but as beloved human beings, with an irrepressible spark of divinity in each one, can go some way to removing the stigma and indignity that adds unnecessary insult to the injury of poverty.

Yet, for all this, foodbanks should not exist. A decent living, without having to beg or depend on charity, ought to be guaranteed to all citizens, not as a favour, but as a right that stems from their membership of the res publica. When democracy, and not plutocracy, controls how economic decisions are made, there will be sufficient for everyone’s needs.




Most of my work to date on this subject has focused on the question of how these covenantal commitments to a country where (in the words of a good old song) ‘all the sons of Adam find breid, barely-bree an paintit rooms’ can be expressed on a constitutional level, as the foundational law of our new state. This is a subject I discuss, in general terms of constitution principle, here and here.

However, I am increasingly keen to take the conversation further into the specifics of policy, at the sub-constitutional level, in order to explore how in practical terms the resurgent evil giants of want (poverty), disease (health inequality), squalor (poor housing), ignorance (lack of education), and idleness (unemployment) can be driven decisively from our land.

I’m particularly interested in opening a discussion on the idea of a basic citizens’ income that would keep everyone – unconditionally – above the poverty line.


PS. This is the file that inspired this post. It has very good points in it and is well worth a read: http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/FaithInFoodbanks-Signs-of-the-times.pdf

The Anatomy of Oligarchy

We all know that ‘they‘ are to blame. It’s a platitude, almost a cop-out, but its still sadly true. They make the rules for their benefit, they break the rules when it suits them.

But who are they, and to whom does this lazy shorthand of a third person plural pronoun refer?

In essence, they are the relatively small number of people with effective influence over decision making. In Britain, active policy-making and agenda-setting power is in the hands of, at most, a few hundred people: ministers, senior civil servants, senior judges, the Palace, and very highest levels of the armed forces, police and security services – together with other powerful individuals such as media barons and those with serious financial power.

These few are advised, assisted, supported – and sometimes constrained – by perhaps a few thousand more, including backbench parliamentarians, mid-level political donors, major business owners and landowners, the senior members of the public sector nomenklatura, the educational establishment, the legal establishment, the church establishment, and the staffs and clients of various lobby firms and think-tanks.

These are the ‘establishment’, the ‘deep-state’, the ‘power-block’. Some of them are born into this, some of them work their way into it. Some of them are quite rich, some are very rich, and some of them are richer than you or I can imagine. 

They are not necessarily unified or homogenous – sometimes you see infra-elite disputes, such as when a judge stands up to the government or an archbishop criticises a prime minister – but they do have a fairly large degree of interlocking social interaction and common educational backgrounds, giving them, for the most part, a broadly similar outlook on life.

From this position of power and privilege, they have a tendency to act mainly for the benefit of themselves and of people like themselves: the economic and social elite of perhaps a few hundred thousand people – the richest 1% or so of the population, who have much to gain from the perpetuation of existing state structures and economic and social inequalities, and potentially a lot to lose from real democratic change.

There is no ‘grand conspiracy’ behind all this (although there is quite a lot of macro-level corruption); it’s just how oligarchy works.

But we know that such oligarchy cannot and will not remain forever: Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, not theirs. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The poor shall be filled with good things and the rich sent empty away.



The Principles of a Radical Alternative

In a previous post, I discussed the futility of the Labour Party and the absence of both bold policies and sound principles on the left.

This post does not discuss policies. It does, however, set out to elucidate some principles, some basic ideological foundations on which a critique of neo-liberal capitalism can be articulated and a better alternative built.

So here goes:

(1) The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation

(2) Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all.

(3) The choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens. The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them.

(4) Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.

(5) Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.

(6) It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the ‘rule of law,’ in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men.

(7) In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person.

(8) By common good is to be understood “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”

(9) The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential elements:

(a) First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Society should permit each of its members to fulfill his vocation.

(b) Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.

(c) Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means thesecurity of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense.

(10) Each human community possesses a common good which permits it to be recognized as such; it is in the political community that its most complete realization is found. It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.

(11) Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to “provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families.”

(12) The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: “The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around.” This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love.

(13) “Participation” is the voluntary and generous engagement of a person in social interchange. It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person.

(14) Participation is achieved first of all by taking charge of the areas for which one assumes personal responsibility: by the care taken for the education of his family, by conscientious work, and so forth, man participates in the good of others and of society.

(15) As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. The manner of this participation may vary from one country or culture to another. “One must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest possible number of the citizens to take part in public life in a climate of genuine freedom.”

(16) As with any ethical obligation, the participation of all in realizing the common good calls for a continually renewed conversion of the social partners. Fraud and other subterfuges, by which some people evade the constraints of the law and the prescriptions of societal obligation, must be firmly condemned because they are incompatible with the requirements of justice. Much care should be taken to promote institutions that improve the conditions of human life.

(17) It is incumbent on those who exercise authority to strengthen the values that inspire the confidence of the members of the group and encourage them to put themselves at the service of others. Participation begins with education and culture. “One is entitled to think that the future of humanity is in the hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for life and optimism.”

(18) Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.

(19) Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society.

(20) Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects.

(21) Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother.

(22) The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be.

(23) This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us.

(24) The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated.

(25) Their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.

(26) Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work. It also presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled by negotiation.

(27)  Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this.

Not a bad place to start, I think.

Now, anyone know where I got this from?

Why not blame the poor?

“In a few short years, the people with all the money – the ones that lost our money in wild casino-like gambles – have managed to convince the general public that the people to blame are society’s disadvantaged. We erupt with fury at a poor person with a Sky TV and forget entirely about the banker with the 10m pension fund.” <– Some guy on the internet, who gets it.

“I mean, your society’s broken, so who should we blame? Should we blame the rich powerful people who caused it? No, let’s blame the people with no power and no money and these immigrants who don’t even have the vote, yeah, it must be their fucking fault.” <– Iain (M) Banks, Scottish author.

So why not blame the poor? Why not join in the tabloid ranting and the right-wing demonisation of ‘layabouts, benefit cheats and immigrants’? Why continue, against the grain, to stand up for the solidaristic principles and redistributist, welfarist policies of a social democracy?

Here’s why:

(1) Because in blaming the poor you are blaming the victim and the scapegoat, not the perpetrator. The poor kid whose mother is trying to keep her dignity at the food bank didn’t deregulate the banks, speculate on staples futures, or deal in dodgy credit default swaps. There’s a basic principle of justice at stake here.

(2) Because people at the bottom are hurting – and we have a moral obligation, as human beings, as social creatures with a moral conscience, to serve and protect them. We can add to justice an equally basic, and perhaps even more fundamental, principle of compassion.

(3) Because it is too easy, and too judgmental, to dismiss ‘the undeserving poor’ as ‘feckless and improvident’. Perhaps many are, by the standards of middle class respectability. I’m not going to dispute the facts (although they are disputable). But if some of the behaviours of the very poor are self-destructive, think for a moment how hopelessness, scorn, exclusion and the grinding daily unrelieved reality of poverty would make many good, otherwise strong people turn to self-destruction. Who, in such despair, can be blamed for spending a slice of the little that comes their way on pleasures. We do not blame the rich man for fecklessness and improvidence of having three cars, when he can only drive one, although this is probably the greater waste.

(4) Because blaming the poor doesn’t help. The problems of the budget deficit cannot be solved by taking from those at the bottom by cuts to already meagre social spending, but only by taking from those at the top, by raising taxes and closing the loopholes that the rich, and rich corporations, exploit. And before anyone complains that this is ‘theft’, consider for a moment how the rich got rich in the first place. If you think it was by ‘hard work’ you haven’t been paying attention. If hard work made one rich, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.

(5) Because the deep problems of poverty, unemployment, unequal health outcomes, low wages and slum housing require an active, responsible democratic government, with a strong public-service ethic. This is the one universal institution a community has to achieve common goods and manage common resources. Private charity is a vital component, and can do much to ameliorate and assist, but there have to be changes to law and policy as well, if we are to prevent and resolve rather than just react and patch.

(6) Because every other person, no matter how poor, is a person just like yourself, with hopes, dreams, fears, worries, problems, pains, joys, laughter and tears. If you cut yourself off from them you are cutting yourself off from humanity. You are betraying yourself as well as your fellow-man. What a narrow, selfish, graceless way of living it is, to cut oneself off from the needs of the poor!

(7) Because there are alternatives. We can make a positive difference. Some basics – like universal unemployment insurance and universal healthcare, a bit of Keynesian stimulus and some New Deal full-employment projects – go a long way. We solved this in the 20th century. It’s not hard. It just means reining-in a little bit of corporate greed for the sake of common humanity.

(8) Because the stories you hear in the media about ‘welfare bums’ and ‘benefit frauds’ are often exaggerated and always very rare exceptions. Educate yourself. Look at the reality. For many, many, people, it is already pretty grim – and getting worse.

(9) Because there but for the grace of G-d go you. What would happen, heaven forbid, if you were to have an accident and be unable to work? Would would happen if your employer were to be bought out and downsized, and you found yourself without work for six months? Could you hold it together? Could you pay the bills? Could you keep your home? Could you? Maybe you could. Maybe you are lucky. Maybe you are very lucky and it won’t happen to you. But it could happen to anyone. We all have a great interest in making society as compassionate and as supportive as possible, because we never know when we might be the ones on the receiving end.

(10) Because to turn on the vulnerable and the weak makes one a bully. Those who try to deflect people’s anger and frustration away from the real waste, greed, usury and corruption of the bankers, the speculators and the multi-national corporations, and to redirect these sentiments towards the weak, the vulnerable and the outsider, are bullies. They want us to join them, to be bullies too, to ‘kick downwards and lick upwards’.  But such bullying ends up in the brutalisation of society, the collapse of civic values, the absence of mutual trust and respect. It ends up in militarism, authoritarianism, and, in some cases, concentration camps and gas chambers. Really, we don’t want to go there. The survival of civilisation itself is at stake.

So, that’s why we shouldn’t blame the poor.
That’s we we continue to stand up for social democracy.

And by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, that ye establish Constantinian privilege

Yesterday, the clericalists wanted the constitution of an independent Scotland to maintain the established status of the Church of Scotland.

Today, it seems (from the comments I have received and the conversations I have had) that they deny that the Church of Scotland is established at all. In place of ‘establishment’, they prefer the term ‘recognition’.

This is dissembling. If the Queen must swear upon her accession to uphold the Church of Scotland, and sends a Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly, if Church of Scotland Ministers have privileged access to ‘non-denominational’ public schools, and if the Church of Scotland is recognised by law as a ‘national’ church, how does this not amount to establishment? It is a different form of establishment from that which prevailed before 1921, or before 1843, to be sure, but from a political-legal point of view, it is an establishment all the same.

Still, they don’t like the word, so let us set aside words. Let us assume that they seek not the establishment of the Church of Scotland, but only its ‘recognition’.

These then, are my questions: (i) What purpose does ‘recognition’ serve? (ii) By what authority, or for what reason, do you feel you are entitled to such ‘recognition’?

I have yet to receive answers to these questions.

The reason, I suspect, is that ‘recognition’ can serve no legitimate purpose. Provided that religious liberty and non-discrimination are enshrined in the Constitution (which of course they would have to be, as they are integral to the European Convention on Human Rights), recognition adds nothing to the freedom of churches; it adds only to their status and power. It serves no purpose except to say to all others, ‘We rule here, this is our country, you heretics are second-class citizens.’

I’d also ask, ‘What are they afraid of?’ A secular Constitution, giving equal freedom to all and special privileges – or ‘recognition’ – to none, can harm no-one and nothing. What does a church have to fear from this? What does the work of the Kingdom of God have to fear from this? Nothing. The only thing threatened by a secular Constitution is the false pride of the institutional church.