Thursday, August 30, 2007

Such a thing as society (and anarchy)

Tom Hamilton and Unity have a very fine point.

The Tory crime policy document I mentioned yesterday contains what Tom calls “the most useless, inadequate, debased, offensive definition of ‘society’ I've ever seen”. It is:

Society occupies the space between the individual and the state: it is represented in voluntary organisations and businesses. These institutions exist to provide vital services and support to individuals and families.

One might suggest that businesses actually exist in order to make money, and that the product/service provision is purely instrumental, and that very many of these product and services are as far from being “vital” as the oils used in aromatherapy are from being “essential”, but never mind that.

Tom’s right. This is a completely inadequate conception of society. The central failing of it is, as Unity said recently, that David Cameron “cannot manage to distinguish between the generality of the concept of society and the considerably more limited concept of ‘civil society’ – which is what all the charity/community stuff is referring to”.

It seems obvious that Cameron is trying to muddy this water in order that his plans to farm welfare provision out to charities and businesses can be described as ‘giving power back to society’.

And another thing: he’s been using this “anarchy in the UK” soundbite a lot lately. I’ve heard him asked twice whether that’s really a fair description of the state of Britain, and both time’s he’s ducked the question by saying instead something along the lines that there are parts of the country in which there is a lack of order. He avoids having to justify the use of the word “anarchy”… and then goes on to keep saying it.

He used the word twice on Newsnight yesterday: once to describe Britain (followed by the non-backtracking backtracking) and once to describe Iraq. Iraq.There’s really no comparison. Like the old Tory jeers about us having “third-world public services”, this is a total disregard for the truth in the pursuit of apocalyptic rhetoric.

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