Wednesday, 6 June 2012


When we consider the political reality of regimes throughout the world, Winston Churchill was undoubtedly right when he asserted in 1947 in a speech to the House of Commons that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".
Having said that (and there is more than a hint of this in Churchill's original statement),  democracy by itself, without its being underpinned by other and older systems of values, is at most theoretically neutral and in practice deeply corrosive in its effect on society, leading, it seems, inevitably to a general lowering of standards of social behaviour and of intellectual life and thought and - as we see from our public broadcasting over the last few days - the elevation of mass ignorance into a kind of civic virtue. What mistaken concepts of the role and scope of 'democracy' have done to the Church of England and its daughter Anglican provinces, there are no words to express the sheer magnitude of the disaster. 
There are very few of our leaders, political (to a degree understandably) or spiritual (quite unforgivably)  who are willing to address this issue. 
The present occupant of the See of Peter has been one of the honourable exceptions. This is part of Pope Benedict's address to the leaders of British civil society in Westminster Hall  in September 2010. Despite the almost universal goodwill expressed at the time, it's lessons have not been taken to heart:

"...If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.
The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization..."

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