Friday 24 June 2016

Brexit and on not getting distracted

Oh, look! An Article 50!

While I write this, I'm conscious of having made explicit or implicit promises to a number of people to write about particular issues on this blog and not yet having got round to it. Apologies. I remember who you are even if you've given up on me!

As is obvious, I'm easily distracted. Given this is my personal blog, I put up even less of a struggle against that tendency here than I would in other parts of my life. But as we enter into a series of processes around Brexit which could drag on for years, it's important that 'we' (ie all those who have broad sympathies with Catholic social teaching) don't get distracted by the epiphenomena of political life. One of the reasons why I've said little on Brexit here (besides cowardice and personal confusion) is that I saw little prospect of anything fundamental being changed by either result. Let's take again Russell Kirk's list of conservative principles as a rough starting point. Whatever emerges from the complex series of energies that will emerge from the event of Brexit, I see no likelihood of the secularising demolition of the little platoons being reversed by a UK government. David Cameron's resignation speech betrays many of the obsessions of modern politics:

1) Focus on the needs of international financial markets
2) Undermining natural marriage as a basis for procreation and education of children
3) A blindness to the complex layers of societies that exist below and above the State
4) A thin understanding of national culture

When you add into that the inevitable problems with Scottish Independence that will arise as a result of an Independence referendum that made much of the dangers of Scotland being forced out of the EU being trumped by an EU referendum that has forced Scotland out of the EU against the overwhelming popular Scottish vote, there are more than enough distractions to keep us all going for a while. But, to repeat something I've said many times before, unless some people are thinking and talking about the more permanent things of the polis, we will find ourselves arguing about squirrels rather the fundamental and harmful changes in social life that almost everyone in ephemeral politics seems to find agreeable.

Just for a starter:

a) The absence of any sort of supernatural order and end which underlies ephemeral politics and a culture which feeds the soul.
b) The importance of nation and national culture and the inadequacy of the remains of imperial nationalisms to do justice to this.
c) The need to preserve natural family life as the primary vehicle of individuals' engagement with the past and the future.
d) The promotion of the little platoons of civil society.
e) The promotion of international order which respects subsidiarity and escapes from bureacratic, progressivist technocracy.

As a coda, I note that Patrick Harvie in The National is making similar sounding noises to me although in substance from an entirely opposed position:

But the underlying problem will still be there whether the result is Leave or Remain – the need for a compelling politics of the common good that is internationalist and unites people instead of dividing them. Greece and Spain have shown that this is possible, and the ground for it seems more fertile in Scotland than in much of the UK. But there remains much work to turn that potential into reality across Europe as a whole.
Scotland can play an important role in that, building relationships with progressive forces across Europe, and whether our immediate goal is now to defend our rights as current EU citizens in the wake of a Brexit vote or, as I fervently hope, to ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard at the EU table with the UK as a remaining member state, we’ll need to keep all options open.

To borrow the metaphor I've used before, progressives like Harvie have established the landscape within which all ephemeral politics is now conducted. Unless (at least sometimes) we take our eyes off the pretty squirrels running around in this landscape and start exploring the landscape itself, there is little hope for the politics of the future.


  1. Lazarus, remember in April we heard that pastoral letter from the Scottish Bishops encouraging us to be active shapers of our society, even joining a political party and working to promote our Catholic values through these channels:

    In a sense, this is for most of us realistic and sensible advice. How can we have a positive influence as individual Catholics if we don't participate in the democratic process? Anyway, I'd say that this practical approach can work in parallel with attempts to address the landscape, as addressed in your post.

    1. Yes,that's a good point.I'm certainly not suggesting we should just stand back from the nitty gritty of politics (which is one of the reasons I'm so suspicious of the Benedict option). But a) unless that practical involvement is balanced by a sense of the deeper issues it becomes mere busyness and lacks direction; and b) that involvement has to carry with it a realisation of the limits of politics and even of our natural end: we mustn't immanentise the eschaton! These balances are partly about the same individuals maintaining a balance within themselves (so eg politicians having a 'hinterland') but also about different people doing different things at different times.

      In short, I completely agree with yr final sentence!


    2. Just another quick thought.Talking to many people who have had a practical involvement with party politics, it is very difficult to maintain a rather more objective 'deep' approach in the face of modern party discipline.It takes an unusual personality to endure the detail of party life while not losing sight of the deeper issues. (And most I know eventually gave up and withdrew from active involvement.) I'm not certain that's a peculiar difficulty of modern democratic politics rather than politics tout court, but I suspect that it might be.


    3. These balances, these tensions...

      The Benedict option we need, of course, is to be authentic disciples of Christ; knowing, loving and living our faith in its symphonic fullness; and living lives of deep interiority and prayer. Without that foundation we risk getting overwhelmed by the Zeitgeist rather than the Holy Spirit - a particular danger in the political realm, I think.

  2. Absolutely correct: I can't help thinking that for us lay Catholics living the the world to embrace the Benedict option would be a retreat from our primary duty as Christians 'on mission'. The Benedict option is brilliant for those called to the monastic life though, such as at Pluscarden.

    I concur with your awareness of the dangers of a life of 'activism'; a way of living that can so easily militate against us retaining our deep foundation in Christ our living Lord and Saviour - especially if we lose our proper perspective and make our politics our de facto transcendent horizon.

    We live with so many tensions: 'We, the ordinary people of the streets' (Madeleine Delbrêl).

    1. I suspect rather than the Benedict option we should be talking about the Benedictine necessity: we need Benedictines (etc)! Those of us who live in the world need religious orders but we shouldn't pretend to be them. (I wonder if one of the failings of twentieth century Catholicism has been to underrate the difficulties involved in attaining salvation for those of us who don't follow the evangelical counsels.)