Sunday, February 24, 2008

In its peace

One of the many surprises of recent years has been the unforeseen places where you find agreement. Never, only a year or two ago, would I have even thought of reading a book by the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth; I barely knew that there was such a thing. Nonetheless, I have been reading Jonathan Sacks' The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society and finding it like fresh water after a desert trek.

It won me from the first line, a rather surprising one from a member of a group that has been , for most of its 4,000-year history, a minority, strangers in a strange land:

Multiculturalism has run its course.
I have not yet got to his solution, but his analysis of the problem is spot on. His basic point is that liberalism is a structure without content and that, socially, it is unsustainable. It has led, in recent decades under the banner of multiculturalism, to inward-looking, isolated groups that feel no loyalty to the host community, which is good for neither. Not that he wants melting pot assimilation; unthinkable for someone who calls himself "the acceptable face of fundamentalism". But he does want the centre to hold.

I've found this interview with two Times journalists, both of whom seem rather obtuse, on the hunt, perhaps, for a soundbite that he wouldn't deliver. They keep pushing him about faith schools, which he supports, but where he sees some problems. His own parents sent him to a Christian school because they
knew that I would be taught hard work, respect for authority, respect for the family, a certain basic set of ethical guidelines that were utterly congruent with their own.
He then goes on to say,
Today parents are very concerned about where their children will find those values – they do not find them in the wider culture.
It seems fairly clear to me that what he is saying is that faith schools themselves are not the problem; the problem is the emptiness outside, which pushes groups from other cultures to compensate though the faith schools, among other means. He contrasts the ambitions of his own parents and their like:
They [Early 20th-century Jewish schools] wanted their kids to be good Englishmen and women, that’s what my parents wanted for me. I think that today there is just too little content to that idea.
I cannot tell you what his solution is; I will when I get that far. But it perhaps adumbrated in a quote from Jeremiah, speaking to the Jewish exiles in Babylon.
Seek the peace and welfare of the city to which you have been exiled because in its prosperity you will find prosperity. In its peace, you will find peace.


Riri said...

You love solutions don't you Noolabeulah. You would have made a brilliant engineer, your practical inclination is fascinating.

Am not even sure the problem can be outlined as liberalism, multiculturalism, capitalism, consumerism etc. What exactly is the major problem in your point of view and according to your experience?

NoolaBeulah said...

Actually, I don't believe in solutions to such problems, which are far too complex and diffuse. My use of the word in the post was merely shorthand and a reflection of the way that Sacks has structured his book (2 sections on the 'problem'; 1 on his proposed 'solution', which, as I said, I haven't read).

I think I've already said what I see a the 'problem'. I believe liberal democracy to be the best political system ever created both because, and despite the fact that, it doesn't offer all-encompassing solutions. I can live very well with this; I'm not sure societies can endure with it unless they are convinced that it is the best there is. This conviction has been undermined gradually since the First World War, and especially so since the Sixties.

So, some reformulation is needed. I think it will probably involve some re-consideration of the place of religion among other things.

Riri said...

So, you're still working on the solution. Brilliant. Waiting for the goods in breathless anticipation.

Do you think an uncertain reformulation will have a chance and time to concretise though or would it be more likely that a sudden recession and affinity to past, authoritarian ways promulgated by irrational dread and incomprehension (or the difficulty the masses have to properly understand liberal democracy as a political system) of liberal democracy?

Do you think Western politicians show will to preserve liberal democracy as a political value?

NoolaBeulah said...

There are no "past, authoritarian ways" in this country, nor in any Anglo-Saxon country. Nor is the fear completely irrational; there are people who want to randomly blow us up - they have done so, and more will try.

This will pass. These people have nothing to offer save rebellion; they can destroy but are completely incapable of building anything that anyone else would want, or that would last.

I only fear our response. There is a danger of lashing out, though that has happened nowhere yet. It is more this question of confidence, of a response that is predicated on some sort of guilt. That is what I argue against and that is what I fear.

Riri said...

So you don't think Britain could turn into a Police State then?

NoolaBeulah said...

It's very unlikely. It's never happened before. Why? Do you think it will?

Riri said...

I find it very hard to believe it could happen. But somethings do make one feel uneasy, like the ID cards scheme and the electronic tagging of populations. I'd hate it if Britain lost its unique liberal and tolerant culture, I do recognize it should probably tone it down a bit but there seems to be an ever so slight a risk of an over-toning down to what could not be described otherwise than a Police State. It would be a terrible shame.