Back in the spotlight
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.