25 Responses to Divide and rule

  1. Vincent says:

    While I don’t deny the importance of individual responsibility I certainly jib at the idea that society dies not have a collective identity. It seems to me that we are inevitably going to be creatures of the cultures within which we live. This is likely to define our values and even, for many, to dictate what is, or is not, moral behaviour.

    Then there is the interdependence of our society. How do we share the cost of common burdens from welfare benefits to the defence of the realm? And indeed – a topical question – what should the level and availability of those benefits be?

    Catholic social teaching uses as an important criterion, the ‘common good’. No doubt we may dispute how the common good is best served but surely we cannot doubt that the ‘common good’ exists. And, if it does, we can usefully discuss the society which has a common good.

  2. Geordie says:

    I find the accusation, from many politicians that Margaret Thatcher was divisive, very strange. Surely all political opinion or conviction is divisive. Some people will agree and some will disagree. In a democracy if the majority agrees then that opinion is followed.
    What worries me is that we don’t have a true democracy. If we had then the present PM would not be able to push through his legislation on altering the definition of marriage. He has no mandate for it.
    Abortion probably would have been rejected in 1967 if the opinion of ordinary people had been taken into consideration, instead of the chattering classes.

  3. ionzone says:

    I honestly can’t make my mind up about Thatcher. Most of what we really seem to remember about her is from parodies and the like. Good? Bad? I don’t know.

    I will say this though: when it came to the Falklands what she did was exactly the right thing, and they will always remember her as a heroic rescuer for it. Of course, the Argentinians remember her as the ‘aggressor’ in that conflict, but seeing as how they were the ones who invaded (as well as how they reacted to the islander’s vote and how they make claim to a group of islands that they have never even inhabited) the world really shouldn’t put much stock in what they say.

  4. John L says:

    Leslie bears away the bell in that discussion. However, views are so entrenched, we will find little consensus and we might best pray for the poor woman and let her rest in peace.
    I claim no great expertise in the Church’s social doctrine. What little I remember of the reasons for which it condemns (condemned?) the evils of socialism suggest to me that Margaret’s support for the individual and the family versus this perversion of the true meaning of society is not so far from the Christian standpoint.

  5. Vincent says:

    One issue here might have been the question of Marxism, Everyone remembers the Church’s concern about Liberation Theology which, it was thought, was contaminated by this. The essence here was the assumption of ‘necessary’ class war in which the proletariat would rise up against capitalism, defeat it – and take over. In such a context ‘society’ becomes an entity in its own right. Thatcher’s defence would have been that there are no inbuilt forces but only people – who must take responsibility for what they do. Scargill, for example, was very close to Marxism. He was to say that the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin explain the “real world”. He left the Labour Party when it abandoned Clause IV. (widespread nationalisation).

    Are there contemporary questions here? Like the ‘bedroom tax’? I understand the ideal of the subsidised householder not being provided with more accommodation than strictly required, but I can’t see how this can be fairly brought about when, in most instances, more closely fitting housing is simply not available. It seems to me that people will be disadvantaged by a situation about which they can do nothing. i would suggest that no Christian should be enforcing this (until enough social housing is provided), even if Ian Duncan Smith is in the thick of it.

  6. claret says:

    I have never been enamoured of the phrase ‘Common Good.’ It sounds laudable enough but on any analysis can have that many connotations that it can be made to fit anything contentious.
    In modern terms we are told hat same gender marriage is a ‘common good.’ Many would consider it so and even those opposed to it might see it as a kind of ‘common good.’
    I am old enough to remember that a booklet ( I think it was actually named ‘The Common Good’) being produced by the Bishops of England and Wales proposing to give advice to Catholics on what to look for when choosing to vote . This was in a general election. It advised against voting being motivated by ‘a single issue’ but balancing things out on the theme of overall good or bad. (I realise this is a simplification.)
    However this was a veiled support for the Labour Party of that time and the inference was clear that although they favored abortion ( virtually on demand,) this was the ‘single issue’ that could be ignored for the ‘greater good.’ In other words limitless unborn children being killed was a ‘single issue’ and was of no more value than it being something that could be weighed in the overall balance of being a bad policy but outweighed by the good ones.

    • Quentin says:

      Of course “common good” can be abused as a phrase, and indeed hijacked for questionable purposes, but the concept from the Church’s point of view is quite clear. We really need to read the whole section in the “Compendium”, but this gives the flavour.

      164 The common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people. According to its primary and broadly accepted sense, the common good indicates “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily”

      (for example)
      168. The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists.

  7. Nektarios says:

    Margaret Thatcher was brought up a Methodist. John Wesley brought in this denomination and in its day did a lot of good. Her Father, was a among other things, a Methodist Lay-Preacher. As a child she went with him and sat under his preaching.
    Much of her ways of thinking, were instilled in her at a very young age. She was prinicipled and God-fearing person.
    The adult Margaret Thatcher, did not really depart from her principles instilled by her parents. She prayed,
    she went to worship God, but like so many in the world, it is hard to stick to ones principles 100%, but I believe she did her best, and within the parliamentary system, with views that would oppose her, even within her own Cabinet, made her more resolute than ever, to see carried out her policies based on the sound principles she carried since childhood.
    No leader, unless they are a dictator, will ever get things all their own way, Margaret Thatcher was no exception, and it was a difficult time for millions in Britain and had it not been for what she had instilled as a child in her, I doubt she would have been able to ring in the changes that were necessary and gave Britian a future, and a prosperous future.
    Old ways always give way to the new in this world, some good and some bad. Such was the effect of the Iron Lady as she was called. This was a name given her for her resolute stand intially against the Unions.
    She did leave office, with the country in a better state than when she first entered 10 Downing Street.
    Good governance always works better when the leader takes the people with them.
    Unfortunately, Britian was once esentially two parties, now it is made up of several all with their petty little agendas, but mainly to have a secure job, well paid, and not having to do to much for their salary.
    Not so a Prime Minister. Such will be fortunate if they get four hours sleep a night. It is hard, hard, relentless work and one better have sound principles instilled as well as a strong constitution to make good sound decisions.
    Yes, she stuck to what she believed was right, proved so for the country is no doubt, but for some socialist
    it was a down time for them. For the agitating Unions of the time, their restricted practices that held this country at ransom, The tide turned and the Unions found themselves in turn restricted by Margaret Thatcher. The unions only had themselves to blame at the time.
    Now Margaret Hilda Thatcher has gone the way of all flesh. May she rest in peace. We who remain, what will we do to make our country a better place?

  8. claret says:

    The problem with any definition of ‘the common good’ is that it can just about be made to fit any situation depending upon what is seen to be the common good ‘in the broadly accepted sense.’ It is perhaps a brave attempt at defining the indefinable by the Church but it is inherently flawed.
    For example: To return to the subject of abortion it can surely be argued by those in favour of abortion for it to be a ‘common good,’ and those arguments can be fitted into the definition above.
    A fundamental of Catholic teaching was reduced to a matter of a ‘single issue’ by Catholic Bishops and therefore the dignity of the unborn person could be overlooked when balanced against something else that was seen as a more valued common good or perhaps some kind of numbers game. Abortion bad : score of One. Better housing policies, better NHS policies, better schooling : a score of three. Three is more than one so the single issue fails.

    • Nektarios says:

      Who says the Church is indefineable? Not so.

    • Quentin says:

      It might be constructive to apply the negative test to this: what is the outcome of saying that a state authority is not concerned with the common good? Were that to be accepted we would be straight back into totalitarian government making laws for its own benefit or perhaps just for the benefit of its own supporters. At least a shared concept of the duty of ruling for the common good gives us basis for challenge. As it did, for example, in the question of the Poll Tax,

      There is a parallel here with a concept of morality. You and I might disagree on a particular issue but if we abandoned the concept of right and wrong we couldn’t even start an argument.

  9. John Nolan says:

    The opposite side of the coin from state socialism is laissez-faire capitalism, which the Church also condemns, and Mrs T’s critics would claim she tended too far in this direction. However, her economic liberalism was always tempered by social conservatism; like Gladstone (another ‘conviction’ politician) she inherited the Peelite tradition, despite the fact that she usually quoted Disraeli, Peel’s enemy. Encouraging council tenants to buy their own homes, and ordinary people to invest in the newly-privatized industries (the ‘stakeholder economy’) comes close to the Catholic idea of distributism.

    In foreign policy her endorsement of the ‘twin track’ response to the Soviet deployment of SS20, which involved the deployment of GLCM in the UK and P2 in Germany, coupled with pressure for disarmament negotiations, was vindicated by events. It was carried through despite a massive disinformation campaign mounted by a resurgent CND which was supported by the Labour Party, and many of the bishops. Memo to their lordships – don’t be taken in by organizations ostensibly dedicated to ‘peace’ and remember that ‘si vis pacem, para bellum’. Victory in the Falklands also had wider ramifications; had the second most powerful NATO member allowed herself to be rolled over by Argentina, the credibility of the alliance would have been severely shaken.

    Although brought up as a Methodist, Mrs Thatcher became an Anglican and supporter of the Prayer Book Society. Watching her funeral, with the black copes, unbleached candles, hieratic language and great music, there can be no doubt that had she been a Catholic she would have been a patroness of the Latin Mass Society.

    • tim says:

      Further, her funeral was not ‘a celebration of the life of..’ (as many Catholic funerals today so sadly are) but an opportunity to commend her to God and (for some) to pray for her sins to be forgiven.

      • John Nolan says:

        And notice that Bishop Chartres borrowed from the Roman rite for the closing prayers – ‘Profisiscere, anima christiana, de hoc mundo’ and ‘Requiem aeternam’.

  10. St.Joseph says:

    Surely common sense would tell us that pornography in magazines on display for young children, easy availability on the computer, STD by a sex driven society, oral sex and unnatural sex act by permissive either same sex or not, prostitution.Ought to be controlled for the common good of society, expenses to the NHS, including abortifacants, morning after pill under age sex, which could be included as child abuse. Divorce or not even married etc where fathers are not taking the responsibility for their children. All these ways of living need to be looked at as it is is through catholic social teaching. It would make for a better future and clean up society for ‘the greater good’.
    How can we have decency in morals when some politicians are not not setting an example. in their lives.

  11. Geordie says:

    Did I missed something, St Joseph? Where does your post fit in to the line of thought in the posts above?

  12. John Candido says:

    The common good is a principle social teaching of the Catholic Church and it would pay for the entire Church as well as politicians, to revisit it now and then. As somebody with a centrist political view with a left of centre sympathy, it is not so clear to me that a wholly socialist approach to society would be a ‘promised land’. However, I don’t believe that there would or should be any difference between a Christian approach and a secular approach to politics.

    In answer to the second question; a socialist approach to government such as Sweden’s, is far more Christian than a capitalist approach. This is very much the middle path advocated by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum; a mixed economy with the right to own property, make reasonable profits in a reasonable manner, as well as bolster the rights of working people with the right to form and join unions.

    If I were Thatcher, I would have tried to reform capitalism to be more humane, through the promotion of mutual organisations and co-operative businesses. I would have tried to be less pigheaded in my policies by trying to promote a mixed economy. This would respect the place of the state, business and employees. I would have been less doctrinaire regarding economic rationalism, by recognising that it had served its purpose by being an effective antidote to the stagflation of the 1970s.

    Stagflation is inflation with economic stagnation, which under normal circumstances is an economic impossibility or contradiction. Once inflation and economic growth had returned to normal, economic rationalism should have been replaced with a return to the demand side economic prescriptions of British economist, John Maynard Keynes. The following quote is from a Wikipedia article about Keynes.

    ‘In the 1930s, Keynes spearheaded a revolution in economic thinking, overturning the older ideas of neoclassical economics that held that free markets would, in the short to medium term, automatically provide full employment, as long as workers were flexible in their wage demands. Keynes instead argued that aggregate demand determined the overall level of economic activity, and that inadequate aggregate demand could lead to prolonged periods of high unemployment. He advocated the use of fiscal and monetary measures to mitigate the adverse effects of economic recessions and depressions. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Keynes’s ideas concerning economic policy were adopted by leading Western economies.’


    • Quentin says:

      Thank you for addressing these questions, John. I suspect that whatever economic approach is tried there will always be trouble somewhere along the way. However I certainly prefer Keynes to the alternatives of laissez faire or the closely managed economy. And I recall the popes pointing out that systems alone will never solve society’s problems, unless they are accompanied by good moral principles.

      My admiration for Thatcher is great, but not unmixed.

  13. Geordie says:

    Thank you St. Joseph. I didn’t realise that you were referring to those specific points. But I do agree with you.

  14. John Nolan says:

    Given her economic views, I’m surprised she didn’t rename the city that lies midway between London and Birmingham as Milton Friedman.

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