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The Anglican Polity and the Politics of the Common Good

Pabst, Adrian, Milbank, John (2014) The Anglican Polity and the Politics of the Common Good. Crucible: the Christian journal of social ethics, . pp. 7-15. ISSN 0011-2100. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:37670)

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If Britain has become more secularised over the past century or so, it has to do with two distinct yet complementary developments: first, the expansion of both state and market in hitherto autonomous, more mutually governed areas (including education, health, welfare, the family, etc.). Second, the retreat of the Church from its traditional involvement in these social, charitable, education and cultural activities. Taken together, they help explain why the economy has been progressively disembedded from society and interpersonal relationships have been subsumed under either bureaucratic processes or commercial transactions (or indeed both at once).

Crucially, state and market have increasingly converged and even colluded at the expense of civil society, i.e. the ‘complex space’ of intermediary institutions such as free hospitals, friendly societies, manufacturing and trading guilds or universities whose autonomy is upheld by the Church. The global ‘market-state’ has subordinated the sanctity of life, land and labour to abstract values and standards, reducing the dignity of the person to ‘bare individuality’ and the shared quest for the common good to the individual pursuit of either utility or happiness.

Linked to the advance of secularism is the twin triumph of social-cultural and economic-political liberalism since the 1960s, which has coincided with the de-christianisation of Britain. Decades of liberalisation have certainly provided greater opportunities for many and afforded some protection against the worst transgressions upon the liberty of some by the liberty of others, especially given the growing disagreement about substantive notions of justice and the good life.

However, socio-economic liberalism has also eroded the social bonds and civic ties on which vibrant democracies and market economies ultimately depend for trust and cooperation. Paradoxically, the two liberalisms have engendered a society that is simultaneous more interdependent and more atomised – tied to global finance that undermines the real economy and further fragments the United Kingdom. Following the global crash in 2008, we are left with a broken economy and a broken society.

Five years later, British politics has returned to the old orthodoxies, notably the secular liberalism of both left and right and the collusive convergence of state and market at the expense of civil society. Among the few exceptions are ideas and movements such as ‘Red Tory’ and ‘Blue Labour’ that have challenged the secular liberal consensus. Such paradoxical combinations are characteristic of the new post-liberal politics, which seeks to combine greater economic justice with an emphasis on interpersonal relationships, supportive of family loyalty without wanting to decree in what a ‘real’ family should consist.

But as both Red Tory and Blue Labour struggle to gain traction with the mainstream of the Conservative and the Labour party or indeed with the public at large, the role of the Church in shaping a politics of the common good is increasingly coming to the fore. Catholic Social Thought has provided much inspiration to the post-liberal thinking of Blue Labour in particular, both in terms of rejecting the false opposition between state collectivisation and market commodification and in relation to concrete policy alternatives such as the ‘living wage’, caps on usurious interest rates, proper workers’ representation in firms, a vocational economy as well as robust regional banks constrained to lend within specific sectors and counties or cities, as Maurice Glasman has advocated.

As the established Church with its unique parochial system, the Church of England is exceptionally well positioned to offer courageous leadership and translate perennial principles into transformative practices. Far from being a mere ‘super-NGO’ or the poster-institution and moral conscience of civil society, the Church of England is a polity in her own right that co-constitutes together with Parliament the shared public realm under the aegis of the monarchy. In this manner, the established Church has a particular duty to promote a sense of individual virtue and public honour on which a society governed by reciprocity or gift-exchange depends. The Church of England is indispensable to a new politics of the common good beyond the liberalism of both left and right that underpins the global ‘market-state’.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Adrian Pabst
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2013 13:14 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2022 10:56 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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