BRITISH conservatism has been light on philosophy in recent years — a fact much lamented by the recently deceased Roger Scruton (Comment and Gazette 24 January). But, in a recent maiden speech to the House of Commons, Danny Kruger, the recently elected MP for Devizes, began to spell out a more thoughtful than usual vision of what society might become.
Now that Brexit is done, he suggested, we must look again at issues of identity —not as in identity politics, but in a recognition that our freedoms derive from a Christian belief in human dignity. True identity comes neither from within, nor from any distinctions imposed by the State, but from belonging.
Mr Kruger knows his Edmund Burke. In his Parliamentary debut, I sensed that he was trying to go beyond both Tony Blair’s notion of a “stakeholder economy” and David Cameron’s “Big Society”. The problem with stakeholders is that they sound as though their interests are only material, while the Big Society seems patronising: getting community services done on the cheap.
But Mr Kruger was advocating something with the moral capacity to mediate between the interests of the individual and that of the State, and to root persons in a sense of community. For too long, politicians have faced us with binary choices that leave us antagonistic towards each other and isolated, caught in the pincers between an authoritarian state and selfish individualism.
Mr Kruger also spoke of Christianity, but not with any sense of superiority; the Christian past, he said, was stained with violence and injustice. But that does not mean that we should discard it, especially as contemporary attempts to find a new set of values are turning out to be more divisive than truly helpful. Making space for Christian values does not imply belief, more a recognition of past wisdom. Identity is not self-generated, but implies belonging. To be a responsive and responsible citizen, the individual needs to have a place that is genuinely theirs, and in which they can feel pride and connection. This is about houses, schools, pubs, and high streets — all the places that bring us together.
To Anglican ears, Mr Kruger was also speaking the language of the parish, the paroiakia, the neighbourhood(s) in which we put down our roots during the brief years of this earthly life. Rootedness gives us community, and requires us to be good neighbours. It also mitigates loneliness, both the loneliness which may accompany us at various points in our life and the more existential loneliness that is part of the human condition.
As I watched the speech, I began to get a sense that something new was coming to birth here: a tentative acknowledgement that life cannot be reduced to economics, and that we all need access to a wisdom that is beyond ourselves.