A couple of years into Coalition government and all is not well.
The warmth with which the Tories were greeted by some in the Catholic community, as a haven from the constant attacks endured under years of Labour rule, has proven just a touch optimistic. In particular, the hope that there might even be a space for *whisper it* social conservatism has turned out to be a cruel illusion peddled by a class of politicians who always believed much the same as those on the benches opposite and who have proved every bit as legislation-happy in order to demand the rest of us conform to it.
What has become obvious is that this chafing phenomenon, lazily termed ‘leftist’ by normally astute commentators, is very much in the ascendancy in the Tory Party and beyond – semantic sorcery which for years convinced people the attacks would only, could only, come from one direction on the political compass, a betrayal which has left a whole lot of people feeling politically homeless.
There remains, nonetheless, a broad coalition of dissent. Call them what you will – social conservatives, postliberals, normal – a whole array of worldviews continue to plough on, occasionally planting a defiant flag into the mainstream, refusing to bend the knee to the socio-cultural hegemony.
What is lacking amidst all this diverse dissent, however, is any sort of organised response.
This is important, for this increasingly noisy air of dissent will not go away. If anything, it is beginning to become more and more prominent. Occasionally, this is a sign of defeat – like the lobster’s scream as it is thrown into the cooking pot. Partly, though, it is a show of resilience, a small sign that the real world beyond the socio-cultural oligarchy is rather more anarchic than the monotone ‘radicalism’ of the political zeitgeist.
Unfortunately, however, such resilience all too often exists only at the margins of the public forum, usually because that is the only space it has reconciled itself to owning. Knowing itself to articulate the views of a great many, it has been negligent in its duty to defend the views of this great many, lazily assuming or naively believing that numbers will win out and the Silent People will roar each and every occasion on which they are prodded. As such, it approaches the game and consents to playing by the rules of those who already dominate – and who are implacably opposed to their involvement.
For my own church this is the kind of attitude that has left us unable to find homes for orphans, which will soon hinder our freedom to educate the young, and which has turned once-vibrant notions of the Common Good into an emaciated PDF file full of trite truism and feel-good clichés (yet which remains strangely silent on the Osbornian liberalism which is attacking the family every bit as effectively as the Harmanite variety ever did).
Inaction, naivety, lack of courage – too often, these are defining features of the cultural recusants, the very reason why they remain on the outside looking in rather than inhabiting their rightful place as protector of the mainstream.
And there is a paradox in this – groups that instinctively eulogise and adore social and civic institutions are yet useless at generating, preserving or influencing institutions themselves. The political landscape is currently determined by an extreme minority often with extremist views – the majority upon whom they parasitically prosper have proven useless at doing the same. Maybe, just maybe, the broad and well organised coalition against the abolition of marriage by the Tory Party marks the beginning of a new politics in this regard.
But it must only be the start. For these groups speak a language that most people understand and sympathise with, even if their courage weakens in the face of the often vicious, sometimes legislative, attacks to which they are subject. As such, there is a moral duty to shape the public space and the institutions which reside there. And those who undertake the task must be unapologetic in doing so. They must actively agitate and re-narrate the public space, delighting in being despised by the power interests who reside there. They must not only walk into the Lion’s Den, but must also be willing to shout loudly and kick over the ornaments when they get in there.
And if the institutions cannot be taken, then new institutions must be created and nourished to challenge and replace them.
For this Roman Catholic, this means continuing to stand within the traditions that are legitimately part of our heritage and yet within which we are actively despised, insulted, mocked and dismissed. It is to refuse to be meekly banished by an unrepresentative crust of misanthropes and extremists who would deny us entry because we refuse to be exactly like them (and less like everyone else). It is to remain an agitating cog in the very machine that has been most actively involved in our harassment.
It is, in short, to be a small part of a long march through the institutions.