The New York Times columnist, David Brooks, wrote a series of columns this year on the subject of moderation. He was responding to the increasing prevalence of fanaticism in the United States, which stretches from Trump’s “conspiracy mongering” to the neo-Nazis. We have our own problems with fanaticism in the UK, ranging from the hard-line Brexiteers who will have no compromise with reality to the misogynistic and anti-semitic left.
The problem with fanaticism is that it provokes righteous anger in those who oppose it. So a perfect storm of rage encompasses civic life. The last sentence of my previous paragraph might even have contributed to it.
“Democracy, said Camus, is the system that relies on the wisdom of people who know that they don’t know everything.” This observation, by Philip Collins in The Times (£) this morning sent me scuttling to consult Camus’ reflections in more depth.
Collins was giving a very measured response to the day of infamy which saw the murder of the Labour MP, Jo Cox. I hadn’t heard of Jo Cox before yesterday. But in our age of political disenchantment, it seems especially poignant that she appears to have been – as my friend, Simon, who broke the news to me, put it – a fabulous advert for everything we all want: an engaged, democratic, local, committed politician.
Earlier this year, I attended a talk at the RSA by Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organizations. Laloux was every bit as inspiring as I had hoped after reading his book. But what has stayed with me also was a throwaway comment by Matthew Taylor, chairman of the RSA and former advisor to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister. Reflecting on the paucity of organisational life, Matthew observed that we need a politics of organisation. Yes, I thought, this is exactly what we need and, at last, people are beginning to get it.
The politics of organisation was, of course, one of many absences in the General Election campaign. One of the successes of three decades of neo-liberalism is that what happens inside organisations has been ruled out of court for politicians. But at the same time, organisations – particularly private corporations – have become increasingly central to how our society is, well, organised. Most of us work in large organisations to earn our living and, with the hollowing out of the state, depend on them for the delivery of our public services. And what is left of life is increasingly mediated by the likes of banks that are too big to fail, food retailers whose chains extend from the convenience shop to the out-of-town megastore, and global internet businesses such as Google, Amazon and Facebook. How we experience them as employees and consumers and how they impact on society in general are among the most significant influences on our lives.
When Barack Obama took office as President of the United States, I was struck by his effort to accommodate rivals within his cabinet. Now we have our own cabinet of rivals governing the United Kingdom and the impact on the tone of our politics has been immediate.
There are warnings in the press that the unlikely pact between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives will end in tears. All governments end in failure at some point. But for now, we have a more adult-to-adult and consensual political discourse and the signs are that the leaders will try their utmost to make it stick.
I hesitate to blog about politics, but am inspired to reflect on a post at the Coaching Commons blog about Gordon Brown’s handling of the post-election situation.
My initial response to the post, written by a US observer, was to notice the folly of making coaching judgments about foreign cultures. The premise of the piece was a misreading of the British constitution, that Brown was clinging to office. As evidence, it offered, without scepticism, opinion drawn from Britain’s famously partisan press. Clinging to office Brown may have been. But he was also prisoner of the vacuum at the heart of power, unable to leave until it was clear a new government could take Labour’s place. As it turned out, the premise was undermined almost as soon as the piece was published, with Brown announcing his intention to resign so as not to stand in the way of any possible deal between his party and the Liberal Democrats.