Sunday 1 November, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies
Prime Minister Gordon Brown responded to the economic crisis by calling in March for ‘a return to the values of the good society’. A true son-of-the-manse, he invoked a time when ‘hard work and effort was valued along with enterprise, honesty and integrity’. Certainly, there is a consensus across British politics that our values are in crisis as well as our economy. The Joseph Rowntree Trust’s Contemporary Social Evils report declares Britain is beset by problems like drink and drug abuse, family breakdown and rampant individualism. Similar concerns about ‘Broken Britain’ led Tory shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley to suggest the recession might be ‘good for us’, because ‘people tend to smoke less, drink less alcohol… and spend time at home with their families’. The predominant critiques suggest today’s crisis is a symptom of our addiction to consumption, and a good society should focus on well-being and happiness instead.
The global crisis is regularly presented as ‘payback time’ for human greed. The Labour-left group Compass notes approvingly that the recession is working as a corrective against ‘individualistic and materialistic attitudes’. Others argue for a ‘new corporate ethics’, with financial risk-taking and rampant capitalism indicted by events. But is the recession really a problem of ethics or morality? Is there a danger the new anti-capitalist ethic amounts to little more than risk-aversion and paralysing regulation? What about innovation and experimentation? If we demonise the aspiration to wealth as ‘greed’, how will society reward success and encourage ambition, and the competitive spirit that so often drives social progress?
We are told to reject ‘me, me, me’ individualism, but must we choose between selfishness and altruistic sacrifice, or might we form bonds of solidarity around collective self-interest? And is a bit of individualism really so bad anyway? Debating what we mean by the Good Society allows us to imagine how society could be rather than accepting the status quo. But as we search for a new kind of politics, will we rekindle idealism or instead adopt ‘post-recession virtues’ that - far from allowing us to move society forward - will reconcile us to less ambition, less freedom and less capacity to shape society?
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|Dr Tristram Hunt|
broadcaster; lecturer in modern British history, Queen Mary, University of London; author, The Frock-Coated Communist: the revolutionary life of Friedrich Engels
chairman, Channel 4; chairman/owner, Giraffe and Patisserie Valerie/Druckers; chair, RSA; essayist, Financial Times
|Professor Susan Neiman|
director, Einstein Forum; author, Moral Clarity: a guide for grown-up idealists and Evil in Modern Thought
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays
director, Institute of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Social crises have always been blamed on the extravagance of the rich. But today, all of us - from wealthy to peasant - are labelled ‘decadent’.Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 27 November 2009
The chatter of the chattering classes fades to a whisper whenever cultural difference comes up. That’s why extremists flourish.Antonia Senior, The Times, 23 October 2009
Post-recession behaviour is rarely the same as what precedes the recession. Alan Treadgold, head of retail strategy at advertising agency Leo Burnett gives a few pointers on the new rules and new thinking retailers must apply.Alan Treadgold, MarketingWeek, 20 October 2009
Centuries ago, historians came up with a classic theory to explain the rise and decline of nations. The theory was that great nations start out tough-minded and energetic. Toughness and energy lead to wealth and power. Wealth and power lead to affluence and luxury. Affluence and luxury lead to decadence, corruption and decline.David Brooks, New York Times, 28 September 2009
How can we build a “good society”? Four evolving strands of progressive thought and the guiding spirits behind them assessed.Stuart White, New Statesman, 3 September 2009
Tony Blair condemned the pursuit of pleasure as 'an end in itself'. He made the case against individualism, linking it to the present financial crisis.Ruth Gledhill, Times Online, 27 August 2009
Susan Neiman talks to spiked about the death of philosophy, the need for moral reasoning, and how the Enlightenment taught us to live without absolute certainty.Tim Black, spiked, August 2009
Sandel makes the case for a moral and civic renewal in democratic politics. Recorded at George Washington University in Washington DC, he calls for a new politics of the common good and says that we need to think of ourselves as citizens, not just consumers.Michael Sandel, BBC Radio 4, 4 July 2009
While some evils - like poverty - endure as undisputed causes of social harm, more recent sources of social misery attract controversy. Not least among them are an alleged rise in selfish consumerism driven by economic liberalization, and a perceived decline in personal responsibility and family commitment.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Policy Press, 11 June 2009
In her commitment to reason and the facts of the world, in her brilliant readings of the Western canon, and above all in her fierce commitment to politics as a moral endeavour, Neiman makes it possible to believe that the Enlightenment is not yet exhausted and that we are free to join it if we wish.
Susan Neiman, The Bodley Head Ltd, 4 June 2009
The proposed ‘Age of Austerity’ is not a rational response to the financial crisis. It is a political campaign to ration our passions.Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 6 October 2008