Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Society's To Blame": Time To Get Rid Of Society?

"Society's to blame" used to be the left's lazy shorthand for the causes of all crime, poverty, and social unrest. These days, it has become the lazy mantra of the right. What with all this unanimity, it's clearly time to do away with society for good.

Here is the societal mantra of today's right: "State-sponsored single parenthood and idleness, easy contraception and divorce, the effective abolition of value judgments, the undermining of the traditional nuclear family - all these were propagated by progressives and lefties and, through them, enforced by the state. The state should roll all these things back and bring back the 1950's or a more tolerant version of them."

Increasingly, also, people who would, in the past, have been on the left, (social and youth workers, teachers, for example) have started to see their old progressive agenda as a dangerous and irresponsible creed. Shaun Bailey sounds like one of them and he writes about it in today's Daily Telegraph.

The piece is persuasive and underpinned by personal experience. No-one will argue with what he describes as "common sense" - only, perhaps, with the implied means of administering it. For if the state is the only agency able to correct these wrongs, its good intentions and actionism in doing so will lead to terrible unintended consequences just as awful as the good intentions of the 60's and 70's did. Society will still be to blame.

The question to ask, in light of all this unpleasantness, is whether, in letting state policies veer us from one well-meaning platform to the next, we are surrendering the ability to live our lives separate from state meddling at all.

Margaret Thatcher is deeply unfashionable at the moment, to the extent of having been partially disowned by the new Conservative leader, David Cameron. But she saw our dilemma clearly enough, twenty years back, when she said that "there's no such thing as society". Whilst one can argue the semantics, in its essence, she was right and remains right: politics should not seek to influence an amorphous abstract ungraspable entity known as "society", but deal on a more precisely individual level, with people - families, associations and interest groups - on their own merits, and with a view to minimising any meddling in their affairs by "society" or the state.

What we need is a plan to get society off everyone's backs. Only then will society no longer be to blame - and we can get back to blaming each other instead.
Telegraph Opinion The reason our streets are so violent

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