Philosopher and political gadfly John Gray has what seems to be a balanced take on Philip Blond’s “Red Toryism,” which has been making waves in politico-theological circles. Blond is an acolyte of John Milbank’s Radical Orthodoxy and an advisor to British Tory leader David Cameron who proposes a program of economic “relocalization” combined with political decentralization and social conservatism as an alternative to liberal permissiveness and capitalist excess. This vision harks back to the neo-medievalist “distributism” of Chesterton and Belloc and, to some minds, represents a third way beyond liberalism and conservatism.
While granting that Blond is onto something in fingering capitalism and liberalism as responsible, at least in part, for diminshed social cohesion, Gray is skeptical that a “Red Tory” alternative is either feasible or desirable:
Ours may be a post-secular society (I think so myself) but that is very different from reverting to any version of Christian orthodoxy. Britain today is home to a plurality of religious traditions, ranging from varieties of theism through to the many strands of Hinduism and the godless spirituality of Buddhism. There are also many kinds of agnosticism and scepticism, some indistinguishable from undogmatic versions of faith.
This rich and interesting diversity is one reason why Blond’s project of reinstating a more unitary culture is so deeply problematic. Today there is no possibility of reaching society-wide agreement on ultimate questions. Happily such agreement is not necessary, nor even desirable. No government can roll back modernity, and none should try. We may be in a mess. But the pluralist society that Britain has become is more hospitable to the good life than the imagined order of an earlier age, which in the end is just one more stifling utopia.
If anything, Gray’s strictures apply even moreso to the U.S., which has no tradition of an established church and, if anything, less cultural and religious uniformity than Britain. Moreover, it’s hard to see who on the American Right would be the constituency for this anomolous combination of high-church piety, cultural conservatism, and quasi-left-wing economics.
(I previously wrote about Red Toryism here.)