Friday 31 August 2018

By Every Traditional Radical Criterion

The man who called me a “prophet”, John Milbank, writes:

Jackie Ashley (This fight really matters, May 19) reveals the bizarre bankruptcy of the current British left. 

By every traditional radical criterion New Labour has failed: it has presided over a large increase in economic inequality and an entrenchment of poverty, while it has actively promoted the destruction of civil rights, authoritarian interference in education and medicine, and an excessively punitive approach to crime.

But never mind all that, says Jackie Ashley and her ilk: on what crucially matters - the extending of supposed biosexual freedom and the licensing of Faustian excesses of science - it is on the side of "progress". 

Yet it is arguably just this construal of left versus right which is most novel and questionable. Is it really so obvious that permitting children to be born without fathers is progressive, or even liberal and feminist? 

Behind the media facade, more subtle debates over these sorts of issue do not necessarily follow obvious political or religious versus secular divides. 

The reality is that, after the sell-out to extreme capitalism, the left seeks ideological alibis in the shape of hostility to religion, to the family, to high culture and to the role of principled elites. 

An older left had more sense of the qualified goods of these things and the way they can work to allow a greater economic equality and the democratisation of excellence. 

Now many of us are beginning to realise that old socialists should talk with traditionalist Tories. 

In the face of the secret alliance of cultural with economic liberalism, we need now to invent a new sort of politics which links egalitarianism to the pursuit of objective values and virtues: a "traditionalist socialism" or a "red Toryism". 

After all, what counts as radical is not the new, but the good. 

Professor John Milbank 
Research professor of religion, politics and ethics, University of Nottingham

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