UK Troppo reader Alex Deane has just published a book, and writes to tell me he quoted extensively from some of my blog posts about values. The book is called The Great Abdication: Why Britain’s Decline Is the Fault of the Middle Class, and the Amazon blurb describes it this way:
The middle class provides British society with its stability and strength. According to Deane’s contentious thesis, our middle class has abstained from its responsibility to uphold societal values, and the enormously damaging collapse of our society’s norms and standards is largely a result of that abdication. The institutions of political and social governance provide a husk of functionality and mask these problems for those that do not wish to see, or do not care. To restore Britain to something resembling a substantively functioning country, the middle classes must reinstate themselves as arbiters of morality, be unafraid to judge their fellow men, and follow through with the condemnation that necessarily follows when individuals sin against common values.
I’m not at all sure why Alex is quoting me though, unless it’s as an example of someone deserving condemnation for sinning against common values.
The common values Alex seems to want to promote are those solid middle class virtues of thrift and self-reliance. Who could argue against motherhood propositions like that? But it isn’t obvious to me how Alex manages to argue that these values are in decline, either in Britain or Australia. You might have made a respectable case for it in the late 70s, but what with all the deregulation, privatisatisation and “third way” mutual obligation jiggery-pokery that’s been in vogue ever since I reckon you’d be hard-pressed to maintain a claim that the average Pom or Aussie is less self-reliant than 30 or even 50 years ago.
And even though thrift and self-reliance are no doubt virtuous, their flip side in the aspirational middle class is a fearful, scrabbling, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses acquisitiveness and accompanying narrow-minded, censorious, patronising complacency that isn’t virtuous at all.
In fact I can’t help wondering, like the great Nabakov in a recent comment box contribution, why advocates of solid middle class values “never mention another major cultural, social and economic push of the last few decades – the whole Thatcherism/Reaganomics “loadsamoney”, “no such thing as society”,’Me Generation’, ‘greed is good’ thang – as another possible instigator of amoral and socially irresponsible behaviour.” I agree that thrift and self-reliance are important values, but so are tolerance and the fair-go principle of maximising equality of opportunity.
Of course, I may well be doing Alex’s book a grave injustice, because I’m only judging it from the Amazon blurb. But that certainly doesn’t sound promising. Anyway, I guess I’ve given Alex’s book a plug; any publicity is good publicity, they say.