There are three great myths of modern liberalism being exploded around us: laissez faire economics will ensure justice, the end of religion will ensure freedom, and the pursuit of science and reason will ensure progress. Wrong on all counts. Laissez faire economics has not brought justice but global economic meltdown and trauma and suffering for millions of people, probably for generations to come. The end of religion has not brought freedom but new forms of bondage. Substitute the word ‘God’ every time you hear ‘the markets’ and you’ll understand a fair bit about why Marx condemned capitalism as well as religion. And the pursuit of science and reason has nothing to do with progress because human beings are neither progressive nor consistently rational, and how much we know has very little to do with how we behave. Every human life is a complex, mysterious, interwoven and unpredictable phenomenon which bears the marks of its history, culture and experiences in ways that simply do not conform to the myth of progress.It is easy to define the problem and even to identify its causes. Tina does, it is neo-liberalism, I agree. However I suspect she sees neo-liberalism in terms of the economy and market forces, basically exalting the pragmatic and individualistic solution.
We are by nature relational, interdependent and impressionable, and we learn by mimicry and example. Put us in a jungle to fend for ourselves under a creed of ‘each to his own’ and watch us prey on one another and everything else, when that jungle is governed by some hydra-headed ideological monster produced by the economics of Ayn Rand and the anthropology of Friedrich Nietzsche. Individualism is what we get when human individuals are cut off from one another by the combative dynamics of free market economics and unbridled competitiveness, fuelled by a liberal dogma that regards any attempt to hold one another accountable for our ethics and behaviour as an invasion of the right to privacy.
The relationship between the individual and the wider social context has been ruptured by a neo-liberal ideology which is now reaching its nadir. If there is no such thing as society, then there is no reason why one shouldn’t steal, cheat, loot, lie and bully one’s way to the top of the pile. Our shared cultural ethos becomes not ‘what should I do?’ but ‘how much can I get away with?’ Think of the MPs’ expenses scandal. Think of Tony Blair accumulating vast personal wealth on the back of his political career, despite his catastrophic legacy. Think of Enron, the Lehman Brothers, the banking crisis. Think of Rupert and James Murdoch brazening it out in front of their parliamentary interrogators. And then think of rioting adolescents rampaging through Britain’s streets and spot the difference if you can. I’ll tell you the difference: it’s the difference between power and despair, inclusion and exclusion, complacency and rage. Look at the faces, and you’ll see it’s also the difference between black and white, poverty and wealth. But let's be clear: those youths on the streets have learned by example, and they are expressing the values by which our society now operates at every level of the economic spectrum.
I doubt whether she would agree with me in suggesting neo-liberalism is equally damaging in personal morality and thelogy. Indeed I had always thought of her as a neo-liberal theologian, constantly pushing a pragmatic and individualistic theology over the Magisterial teaching of the Church.
I think there is a parallel to the mindless, selfishness of the looters of the cities of London and Birmingham and Manchester to the smug, self-seeking individualism of certain "theologians" that threaten the City of God.