Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Austen Ivereigh on Dismantling of Welfare State as Cause of London Riots: "Hard to Know"

It's interesting to read Austen Ivereigh's latest at the America blog--this posting is on the London riots--in tandem with the piece he wrote back in April about the dismantling of the welfare state and the Catholic church's interface with that process of dismantling.  In April, Ivereigh was reporting on a conference of "Catholic bishops, charity directors, politicians, Lords, academics and thinkers" gathered to consider what's being called the "Big Society" idea in Britain--and the Catholic church's response to that idea.

Here's how Ivereigh formulated the theme of the conference in his April posting: 

How should the Church prepare itself -- structurally and intellectually -- for the coming years of savage cuts in public spending which will have a disproportionate impact on the poor? As the state shrinks, and a new Government commits itself to invigorating civil society after the dirigiste Labour years, how does the Church bring the wisdom and prophetic power of Catholic social teaching to bear on the Government's 'Big Society' agenda?

The philosophy of the Labor government, with its stress on social welfare and a social safety net for all, was deplorably dirigiste.  It was heavily invested in centralized state control of systems by which social assistance to those who are down and out is disbursed, Ivereigh claims.

And Catholics can and must, Ivereigh argues, actively welcome the dismantling of that dirigiste welfare state, even when those doing the dismantling enact savage cuts that will disproportionately impact the poor and when, as he also admits in the same posting, the gap between rich and poor will rise as the welfare state is dismantled.  Catholics can welcome these developments because they cohere with the emphasis on localism and subsidiarity in Catholic social teaching, and because (a favorite argument of right-trending ideologues) they allow the church to strut its stuff for a change in the field of charity.

The dismantling of state networks of social assistance for the poor open the door for faith communities to give and do more than ever before, and people of faith should therefore welcome the dismantling of the dirigiste welfare state as an opportunity to put their faith into action by giving more intentionally to the poor.  Even when the gap between rich and poor grows and there is unprecedented suffering for the poor built into the formula by which the welfare state is dismantled (which is to say, the formula by which the rich increase their wealth and the poor have less . . .).

That was in April.  London is now burning in August.  And, strangely, Ivereigh can't seem to find any real cause for the burning.  It's due to technology, he wants to argue, to the way in which people can now beam instructions for looting and rioting instantly over the internet.  It's due to "primitive" and "materialistic" instincts for violence among mobs.

But is it also due to the fact that "levels of inequality are higher in the capital than anywhere else in the country, and are greater than at any time since the 1960s"?  "Is it related to the massive cut in government expenditure, which is leading --in London especially -- to the closure of youth clubs and other charities?"

With regard to those questions, Ivereigh's analysis suddenly become murky, tentative--far less tentative than his enthusiastic endorsement of the dismantling of the welfare state this past April, with the opportunity this provides British churches buoyed by a "Benedict bounce" to start giving and giving again.  Now all of a sudden, Ivereigh concludes, vis-a-vis the questions he himself asks--Is the London rioting related to the growing gap between rich and poor and the cuts in spending for the poor?:

It is hard to know. 

Strange, that conclusion, isn't it?  It's hard to know.  Levels of inequality are higher than at any time since the 1960s.  There have been savage cuts in social programs assisting the poor.

But it's hard to know whether any of this has anything at all to do with the riots in London.

Perhaps it's hard for Ivereigh to admit that what he wrote in April fronts for social and political philosophies that have little or nothing to do with the basic principles of Catholic social teaching, though those espousing these philosophies love to display carefully selected snatches of Catholic social teaching in their windows--as mere shibboleth and window dressing--while they dismantle systems of social support for the least among us, and put more money than ever into the pockets of the already obscenely rich.

N.B. (later in the day): Mr. Ivereigh contests my reading of both of his postings.  Please see his comments in the readers' thread below.

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