Challenging the neo-liberal paradigm

Simon Barrow
By Simon Barrow
1 Feb 2008

In a provocative short article in the International Herald Tribune newspaper, Phillip Blond, who has long been associated with the Cambridge-originated group of scholars exploring a post-modern ‘radical orthodoxy’ school of Christian thought and practice, argues that the dominant neo-liberal model of global economy is in crisis, and that both the political right and the political left have failed to understand the nature of the challenge this embodies – indeed to a significant extent they have contributed to it.

Though this particular article, 'The failure of neo-liberalism' (http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/01/22/opinion/edblond.php), operates at the level of critique, Blond and others are exploring how a new kind of sociality, localism and associationalism arising from Christian resources can begin to point beyond the current status quo.

He writes: [I]n the 21st century we are returning to the economics of the 19th, where wealth was overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of a few owners and astute speculators.

Neither the Right nor the Left seem capable of creating a society in which all benefit from increased prosperity and economic security.

Right-wing claims that free markets will enrich all sections of society are palpably false, while the traditional European welfare state appears to penalize innovation and wealth-creation, thereby locking the poor and unskilled into institutionalized poverty and unemployment.

Thus in the new age of globalization, both ideologies create the same phenomenon: an underclass caught between welfare and low wages, a heavily indebted middle class increasingly subject to job and pension insecurity and a new class of the super rich who escape all rules of taxation and community.

[T]he benefits of free market liberalization depend on who you are, where you are and how much money or assets you had to begin with.

Blond says: "My theological work centres on articulating and defending a model of Christian realism that accepts the mediated role of language, time and experience. My next book, The Eyes of Faith will focus on a Christian account of vision and phenomenology.

"Politically, I am interested in the rise of neo-liberalism, the destruction of the traditions of both left and right, and the collapse of civic and institutional life in Britain. I am writing a book called Red Tory which is an account of a conservative anti-capitalism that also endorses social equality, the virtue society and the widespread distribution of property... On a wider level I am interested in the origins and consequences of capitalism and its affect on social life and human beings."

Blond, who now teaches philosophy, theology and politics at the University of Cumbria in Lancaster (Britain's newest university), has recently been speaking at the 60th anniversary Cumberland Lodge conference in Windsor, 'Religion and secularism - a dynamic balance?', which Ekklesia has also been involved in.

We have discovered both consonances and dissonances in our approaches, but a shared commitment to a substantial, theologically-grounded critique of existing arrangements in church and society, and the belief that Christian practice needs to be re-founded in ways that go beyond either an uncritical endorsement of the past or an attenuated liberal accommodation of the resources of the Gospel in the future.

The work of Radical Orthodoxy and its associates is particularly focussed around the Centre of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Nottingham at the moment. The site contains a range of papers, resources and events which are well worth looking at. http://www.theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/

See also: An Economy Worth Believing in (Ekklesia) http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6015

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