A Crisis of Civility

By Lent, Adam | Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Crisis of Civility


Lent, Adam, Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics


[T]he trouble with the neo-liberals is that they simply think in terms of the individual economic agent without any understanding of the institutions, values and ties which are not just good in themselves but are anyway essential for any real free market to survive.

This quote summarises not the views of a Marxist thinker attuned to the contradictions of 'late capitalism', but David Willetts - leading Tory moderniser, and now a member of the shadow cabinet. Willetts, writing in 1992, was driven by the realisation that while New Right reforms had effectively delivered the economic 'freedoms' the Conservative Party had sought, it was failing miserably to create a society informed by the traditional values so beloved of Thatcher. This was not due, Willetts argued, to some contingent policy mistakes; it resulted from the success of the economic side of the project itself. Thatcherism had unleashed a wave of market forces and strident individualism that was sweeping away the 'values and ties' which kept communities functioning and economic exchange possible. As a result, social fragmentation and disorder were deepening and, ultimately, the free market itself would be placed in peril.

Willetts found little real purchase in a party due to be convulsed by internecine warfare. As a result, the Conservative-supporting academic, John Gray (soon to switch allegiance to Labour), argued with prescience that this contradiction would sweep the Tories out of power for a generation.

Instead, it was New Labour that took forward a more socially responsible version of the Thatcherite project. Still fundamentally committed to the Conservative economic principles that were beginning to generate economic growth in the UK by the mid-1990s after the earlier recession, Blair and his coterie responded to the problems identified by Willetts by introducing Tax Credits, the Minimum Wage and New Deal programmes for the communities and individuals most ravaged by the market forces of the 1980s. And from 1999, Gordon Brown began to commit significant funds to public services, the weakness of which had damaged individual and community life across the UK. This decision proved one of Labour's most powerful electoral assets.

The problem that has emerged in the New Labour decade, however, is that these laudable policies have proved inadequate to the task of slaying the 'Willetts contradiction'. The market forces unleashed by Thatcher in the 1980s have grown ever stronger and, until the 'credit crunch' appeared to have an unstoppable global momentum. As a result, the problems identified by Willetts and Gray of weakening 'values and ties' have only deepened.

And so Labour faces a very similar double problem to that which faced the Conservatives in the early 1990s: the combination of a society increasingly unsure of its collective moorings, and a market facing one of its periodic downswings in the wake of the collapse of a financial bubble. One need not spell out the potential electoral consequences. Indeed, the Conservatives are exploiting this with a dual attack on the government's failure to mend our 'broken society' and prevent economic slowdown.

A crisis of civility

The first part of the double problem merits some further investigation. The weakened values and ties identified by Willetts might better be described now as a crisis of civility - indeed one might say that these weakened values and ties have over the last twenty years hardened into such a crisis.

'Civility' is usually defined as an acceptable level of politeness - a useful conception in itself given the analysis below - but it may be worth considering widening its meaning in the present social climate, especially as there seems to be no established word for the current malaise. Put in rather abstract terms, civility might be described as an individual's capacity or willingness to orient themselves towards the social. Part of this orientation relates to an appreciation of and commitment to the public good which, it has been argued elsewhere, is particularly weak and probably weakening in Anglo-Saxon economies. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Crisis of Civility
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.