Belief and the Nation
Wilberforce Publications £11.99
THE part played by belief in the life of a nation is an
increasingly controversial subject. While this book undoubtedly
represents a contribution to the debate on this topic, it is
unlikely to render it less so. Indeed, its trenchant assertion of
the need for governance and policy to reflect objective truth,
coupled with the belief that "Christian thought provides a basis
for this truth which works for the benefit of society," and that
"there needs to a wholesale repudiation of the relativism in moral
values," are decidedly controversial conclusions.
The book itself seeks to provide both a reasoned basis for these
positions while exploring their working out in many and varied
contexts. An opening part looks at the philosophical foundations of
the argument in favour of a prominent part for belief to play in
the ordering of society, and the inadequacies of theories of
political philosophy which would seek to exclude it.
Underpinning this complex discussion is a theme that recurs
throughout the book: human imperfection, and the resultingneed to
ensure that we are not anchored to values and approaches that are
potentially mired with its consequences. Once it is accepted that
there has to be some commonly accepted framework of public truth,
there is a need for this to be grounded in something more
substantial than fallible human wisdom. The author's preference is
that this is filled by Christian values, but the central point is
that it does have to be filled since "mankind is imperfect and all
political systems should allow for these imperfections".
Taking this theme forward, the second part looks at principles
of government, and drawing on the scepticism generated by human
imperfection and bearing in mind "God's design that individuals
have free will", a Christian model of governance is offered, which
seems to come down to minimising the part played by the state and
maximising the part played by personal responsibility; and that
"The Christian principle is that the relationship between the State
and the citizen will be enhanced when they both acknowledge the
auth-ority of a higher law."
The remainder of the book, over several parts, sets out the
consequences of applying this approach in a broad variety of
fields: accountability and democracy, equality and social justice,
human life, crime and punishment, education, the family, freedom of
expression, community values, business concerns (including markets
and debt), nationality and globalisation, environmental concerns,
international aid and development, foreign policy, etc.
It may be rash to try to distil a commonality across areas of
application so diverse, but it is not as difficult as it may seem.
Indeed, a consistent pattern emerges. Thus, social justice is not
to be achieved so much by the engine of the state as by personal
change: we may have a responsibility to give, but this is thwarted
by high taxation - so taxation must be limited.
While the significance of taking responsibility for one's
actions is central to theories of punishment, there is some
scepticism about restorative justice, and the need for traditional
principles of punishment such as deterrence are emphasised. Exactly
why this leads to an endorsement of directly elected Police and
Crime Commissioners is, however, less clear.
And this is perhaps where the readers who have so far remained
sympathetic may start to ask why the general approach outlined in
the book must result in policy preferences that are so stark. It
is, for example, not obvious why, if "a diversity of distinct
national identities . . . are part of God's design in the
providential restraint of evil", Scottish independence seems to be
considered in some undefined way suspect. By now, it is probably no
surprise at all that the European Union is decidedly suspect, as is
the transference of power to transnational organisations more
generally: it seems as if the configuration of the UK is just as it
ought to be from the divine perspective.
That there should be climate-change scepticism may also not
surprise; but what seems to be a preference for fracking over
renewable energy may. This, however, helps pave the way for the
even more unexpectedly sceptical views of government-to-government
foreign aid, and free education. We also learn that it is
preferable for the Royal Navy to have two aircraft carriers rather
than one. In short, by the end of the book, it feels as if one has
actually been reading a political manifesto - and perhaps one
Dr Malcolm D. Evans is Professorof Public International Law
at the University of Bristol.