“Red Toryism”: Milbank’s hope for a new politics
We see the call for something very similar in contemporary American evangelicalism, it seems to me. Events like the Envision ’08 conference and the rise of voices like Jim Wallis testify to our interest in a kind of politics analogous to Milbank’s “red Toryism.” This is why Barack Obama is so interesting to evangelicals, because he is able to speak about Christian values and virtues more fluently than the Republicans. His liberalism is hardly the turn-off that it once was, primarily because of its union with Christian values.
Jackie Ashley (This fight really matters, May 19) reveals the bizarre bankruptcy of the current British left. By every traditional radical criterion New Labour has failed: it has presided over a large increase in economic inequality and an entrenchment of poverty, while it has actively promoted the destruction of civil rights, authoritarian interference in education and medicine, and an excessively punitive approach to crime. But never mind all that, says Jackie Ashley and her ilk: on what crucially matters - the extending of supposed biosexual freedom and the licensing of Faustian excesses of science - it is on the side of "progress".
Yet it is arguably just this construal of left versus right which is most novel and questionable. Is it really so obvious that permitting children to be born without fathers is progressive, or even liberal and feminist? Behind the media facade, more subtle debates over these sorts of issue do not necessarily follow obvious political or religious versus secular divides. The reality is that, after the sell-out to extreme capitalism, the left seeks ideological alibis in the shape of hostility to religion, to the family, to high culture and to the role of principled elites.An older left had more sense of the qualified goods of these things and the way they can work to allow a greater economic equality and the democratisation of excellence. Now many of us are beginning to realise that old socialists should talk with traditionalist Tories. In the face of the secret alliance of cultural with economic liberalism, we need now to invent a new sort of politics which links egalitarianism to the pursuit of objective values and virtues: a "traditionalist socialism" or a "red Toryism". After all, what counts as radical is not the new, but the good.
Milbank’s final line is excellent: “what counts as radical is not the new, but the good.” That’s a political message I can get behind. But there’s an implicit criticism in this statement of any political party’s claim to solve our world’s problems. A “new” president is not necessarily going to bring radical change. Such change will only take place in correspondence to the Good, that is, to Jesus Christ. We might translate Milbank’s statement in this way: what counts as radical is not the new president, but the gospel—i.e., Jesus himself.