Saturday, December 22, 2007

Across the great divide

reposted from:
Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.
January 2008 | 142 » Essays » Across the great divide
The new cleavage in British politics is not between left and right, but between liberals and communitarians. The elite is mainly liberal, believing rights are universal, while most people see them as conditional. But this divide is not insurmountable.

Download the Radio 4 'Start the Week' 17/12/07 file (listen to Baggini from 12mins).

Julian Baggini

Julian Baggini is a philosopher and the author of Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind (Granta)

Two years ago, I began a project to try to understand better the beliefs and values of the English—their "folk philosophy"—from religious views to their conceptions of the good life. But it was what I learned about the political beliefs of "ordinary" people that I found most interesting, and most significant for the development of liberal democracy.

No one who wants to advance a progressive political agenda can dismiss the values of mainstream society. Whereas elected politicians have to pay attention to what people want, intellectuals are usually, at best, uninterested. This is one reason why intellectuals and commentators rarely remain friends of governments. As the philosopher Jacques Rancière points out, the line between hatred of populism and hatred of democracy is thin, and often unwittingly transgressed.

But how can we know what people really think? We are constantly being polled, but interpreting the results is not straightforward. Sociologists have identified "doorstep opinions": views made up on the spot by people asked about a subject they don't usually think about. Television maverick Chris Morris provided a demonstration of this in his satirical news programme The Day Today...

We might declare that we believe in unconditional human rights for all, but scratch below the surface and you’ll find that the majority of Britons attach quite a few conditions to these rights, says philosopher JULIAN BAGGINI. In a piece for Prospect magazine, he writes that while the elite remains liberal, much of the rest of Britain adopts communitarian views – that rights are for those in the club and who meet the conditions. He suggests how the bridge between the two camps might be bridged.

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