The Saturday debate: Let’s just admit it – our society actually is broken

Here’s your starter for ten as we experiment with a new Saturday slot posing a view for debate:

Here’s what David Marquand had to say in a recent issue of the New Statesman:

The truth is that the left commentariat’s default position – social permissiveness combined with economic regulation; toughness towards bankers, but softness towards cannabis hawkers – was always incoherent and has now become disastrous. Of course, the right’s alternative – economic permissiveness combined with social regulation – is equally incoherent. But for the left to rely on that kind of yah-boo retort only deepens its current malaise. After all, the right has been out of power for the past 13 years; and however unfair it is for David Cameron to blame our “broken society” on the present regime, his charge rings bells with large parts of the electorate. The truth is that our society is broken, and by pretending that it is not, the left merely proves that it is in denial.

The beginning of wisdom for the battered and bewildered left, as it approaches what may be an electoral disaster, is to acknowledge openly that casino capitalism, family breakdown, asset stripping, binge drinking and welfare dependency are all part of a single web; and that the crisis of capitalism which has overwhelmed the global economy is part of a wider social and moral crisis.

Is Professor Marquand right? Are we in a social and moral crisis? Or is this an hysterical over-reaction? After all, for every family breakdown and boozed-up teen drop-out, we can point to a more racially tolerant and less homophobic society.

Agree? Disagree? Comment away …

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15 Comments

  • Oh Gawd the dithering Marquand raises his ugly head again. Perhaps if he’d shown more commitment and loyalty himself I might be more amenable to his hand-wringing views. I find these people so old-fashioned and really should be pensioned off. When he says the `left` what or who does he mean? Only in his eyes can there be this binary view. Once in the SDP then the Alliance then Labour – and now falling out with Labour. Where next – the Tories? This man just wants to be with the most popular gang. Thank God we’ve outgrown him.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Feb '10 - 10:04am

    I’m sorry, when was the right out of power? ‘New Labour’ is not known for their social permissiveness or economic regulation – quite the opposite really.

    I suppose you could put all these things together and call them a “crisis”. Still you have to realise that these are not new developments. Things are this bad, but they have always been this bad, and in some other respects we’re doing better than society’s ever managed before.

    The wrong-thinking here is that we built some great society and civilisation, and then it all went wrong. Society has been dragged up out of ignorance, in-fighting, insanity, and sheer greed to this point. This process has not been completed. It still has a long way to go. What we need to do is make it better.

  • “boozed-up teen drop-out”

    Don’t these belong to the Bullingdon Club?

  • Foregone Conclusion 6th Feb '10 - 11:36am

    So what does Dr. Marquand want? Social regulation with economic regulation? Social permissiveness with economic permissiveness? He seems to be indulging in the very fun intellectual game of critiquing one side of politics without providing a better alternative. Reminds me rather of Lord Rosebery and his ‘fly blown phylacteries.’

    The fact is that this ‘broken society’ meme has been going on for a while – certainly since the 1980s, arguably before. It hasn’t been called that until quite recently, but this general feeling of national social malaise and the fear of the complete breakdown of social order has not sprung up on us in the 13 years since 1997, as some Tories would like you to think. The problem with the ‘broken society’ is the fact that one can point to any facet of any society as proof of it being ‘broken’ – it can never be ‘fixed’, which is why this feeling has endured to such an extent. The trouble is that it’s an essentially irrational feeling – not because it’s necessarily a complete fiction (I don’t think, in the long term, that it is), but because a ‘feeling’ of broken society, personal experience and reported anecdote trumps impirical reporting, for example the statistics that show that most sorts of crime have decreased over the past ten years. Any politician who tries to argue against this feeling is branded as ‘out of touch’, and it’s rather ironic to see the very model of an ivory-tower intellectual politician doing exactly the same.

    Of course, you could argue that a society is more broken if people are sure it is, but then you’re getting to philosophy…

  • “Broken society” is a phrase designed to appeal to the only demographic that matters to the big two parties in general elections – authoritarian young/middle-aged parents. The phrase, in the Cameron argument, implies that:
    – we had a really good society once, probably back when we were ruling all those brown people over there rather than ruling them over here
    – something happened
    – now society is appalling. Look at the number of kids drinking alcohol, for goodness’ sake. That could be your daughter
    but not in so many words. It is the right-wing equivalent of “British jobs for British workers” – Labour uses greed, the Tories use fear.

    Needless to say, when we look at the data, there’s nothing to back it up.

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