By far the best comment I have seen on recent political events is, as so often, from Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. It can be be found here. Our politicians have too often forgotten that there are choices you can make which you should not take, and acted as though the only commandment they feared was the 11th – thou shalt not get found out’. The widespread view that our politicians are not up to the job and that they have failed us is part of what is fuelling the popular insurgency movements in American and european politics. It takes many forms, but Trump, Brexit, Corbyn, Marine Le Pen and Gert Wilders are all part of it; people are angry; they fell let down and they want to blame someone. We were told we were all in it together, and yet the bankers and those most responsible for the crash of 2008 appear to have escaped scot free with their fat pension pots; there is a feeling that justice has not been done. This has led to what might be called the rise of fantasy politics.
When, during the Referendum campaign, Brexit leaders disdained the role of ‘experts’ they were taking the failures of such in areas such as Iraq and the great Crash as proxies for a more general failure, feeding on popular disillusionment. Snap answers and sloganeering are the currency of this revolt. Quite what people will do when they find out that the pat solutions they have been offered are not really on offer, is an interesting question with a potentially dangerous answer. How long before the people begin to clamour for a ‘strong leader’?
Lord Sacks goes deeper though:
But there is something deeper behind the dysfunctional politics of the contemporary West. For the past half century we have been living through one of the great unstated social experiments of all time. We have tried to construct a world without identity and morality. Instead we left it to two systems to deal with the problems of our collective life: the market economy and the liberal democratic state.
People want a sense of identity. It is all very well to talk about the virtues of multi-culturalism, but if people do not feel those benefits, but do feel alienated in their own country, then you are storing up trouble. It is all very well screaming ‘racist’ at anyone who raises that question, but eventually, as the Brexit votes shows, the democracy may roar back at you and criticise you for ignoring it. The Guardian-reading classes are now bemoaning the ignorance of the electorate – with so many teachers and lecturers amongst its readership, they might stop to ask why so many of the electorate are so ill-informed?
Then there is the question of morality. Those of my generation grew up in a Britain moulded by Christian values. That’s not the same as saying we grew up in a Christian country, but our sense of what was right and what was wrong was shaped by many centuries of Christian teaching. In a couple of generations that has ceased to be the case, and we now live in a society where relativity rules. Our bankers and politicians have, literally, profited from that – but the rest of us? In the name of the ‘market’ we have not asked the question of what should be done with communities where the basic industry and main employer have gone – we have assumed the ‘market’ would take care of it. It is clear that this has not happened, but no one seems to have thought it was the job of politicians and economists and ‘experts’ to come up with answers, or even to invest in infrastructure and research and development; a quick profit for the shareholders was the name of the game – and a bigger one for the executives.
This was not what Christ taught about leadership. This is not what the Christian churches have taught. Now, you might say we cannot go back to that, but in response, I would suggest we cannot go on as we are now – that really is the road to nowhere. Our society needs to find some shared values – and a sense of identity – and fast. There is here, if they will seize it, a role for our churches.