Back in the spot­light

The Church of England - - Comment -

Rowan Wil­liams continues to speak out as one of Bri­tain’s leading pub­lic in­tel­lec­tu­als. As well as aca­demic lec­tures around the world and a lec­ture in the Houses of Par­lia­ment to launch Chris­tian Aid week, he has a reg­u­lar slot in the New States­man as a lead re­viewer. In his lat­est con­tri­bu­tion he re­views David Mar­quand’s new book Bri­tain, Now: an Es­say on Bri­tain Now. Mar­quand, a Labour MP who was close to Roy Jenk­ins and joined the SDP, moved to an aca­demic ca­reer af­ter pol­i­tics and was Prin­ci­pal of Mans­field Col­lege, Ox­ford. He is to speak about his new book in St Paul’s Cathe­dral on 17 June at 6.30 pm. It is a work that clearly chimes with Dr Wil­liams’ own views. He de­scribes the stor y Mar­quand tells as one of ‘de­cline and cor­rup­tion’ and says the cul­ture he por­trays is one ‘that has moved away from any in­tel­li­gent com­mit­ments to hon­our, to col­lec­tive mem­ory, to ideals of pub­lic life and to rea­soned de­bate’. Ac­cord­ing to Mar­quand (and Wil­liams ap­pears to agree) we live in a world of ‘stupid, self­in­ter­ested in­di­vid­u­als’, at the mercy of those ‘whose self-in­ter­est is served by ex­ploit­ing our self­in­ter­est’. We live in a mis­trust­ful so­ci­ety be­cause we live in a so­ci­ety that lacks ‘ro­bust so­cial bonds and tan­gi­ble com­mit­ments to the com­mon good’. It is a for­mi­da­ble in­dict­ment that blames pres­i­den­tial-style po­lit­i­cal de­bates and the ‘hec­tic anal­y­sis of opin­ion polls’ for not only erod­ing our po­lit­i­cal health but mak­ing us worse people. Mar­quand (and Wil­liams) see an an­ti­dote in re­li­gion but it is a grim por­trait of con­tem­po­rar y Bri­tain they both present.

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