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Archive for July, 2019|Monthly archive page

Regional economies leading the global post-Brexit charge: breaking free from the benevolent state through networked leadership

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2019 at 11:41 am

English philosopher Gillian Rosemary Rose died tragically young. Her thesis is that contemporary lives are functioning in ‘the broken middle’ between the ideal and real. My thesis increasingly is senior leadership is working in this space. Between ecology and economy, law and ethics (life), church and state, theory and practice, charisma and thought and so on. Brexit has been largely a failed attempt to spin centrifugally towards unified ideal systems. The Utopian traditional pastoral on the Right or the Utopian modern socialised on the Left. We are stuck in the gap between modernity and tradition ever more firmly. And our western democratic process has thrown everyone back into ‘the broken middle’. Extended dialogue through parliamentary process has saved us from alienating one half of the nation. All hail parliamentary democracy!

What are the narratives of power behind these competing images. In fact what does Brexit mean for the regions? Well, we are stirring through the oil of European doctrines and the water of Anglo-Saxon pastoral feudalism. To be European means to imbibe european humanism, placing the individual at the centre of policy making. To be Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-American means to explore a solidarity with a natured society (liberalism), one closer to organic structures, a natural order of being. It is these two holograms that are competing.

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Suddenly a space has opened: “All the debates… of the modern state and society… have been re-opened,” Gillian Rosemary Rose (1947-1995). Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I like both. Hence I like Rose’s appeal. And make the appeal myself for us as leaders to work in The Broken Middle. This is where the Regions are. Between centralising power and Domestica/ordinary life. The regions connect home and State. And this is a good thing. To re-visit the social contract in the regions cannot hurt. As rules-based supra-national bodies like the EU decay they create a space into which regional leadership has been waiting to step. But there are many other gaps in a Western post-war rules-based globalising world. And we are prone via Brexit fatigue and fear to question ‘what is the Good Society?’.

The great journey of western philosophy was to attempt a resolution between reason and experience and the noumenal (the world beyond our senses and logic). The good society would hold these competing narratives in tension. The church for example was re-balanced via the Reformation as one component of the nascent nation state. And lately modern secular society has privileged the rational technological urban life as the fruit of that re-balancing. But it is this assumption that Brexit has attacked. The provinces are wanting a voice in the social contract.

Contemporary theologians argue we are now in a post-secular society. That faith not only survived communism and revolutionary republicanism but continued to thrive. Yes, the French Revolution had propelled a ‘grown-up’ society into the unquestioned modern secular world, where knowledge reigned supreme, and we should ‘know how’ to lead and be, but modern economics is no match for ecology. Burning vast amounts of bio-matter to make decreasing amounts of metal is looking increasingly troublesome.

So the emergence of the post-secular reveals the limits of knowledge itself and more so the rational society. It is rational to help you to live to 105 as this is measurable, but the quality of your life is too ambiguous so we will not ask you your perspective. What you measure is what you get. Even the hyper-rationalist existentialist Sartre noted we cannot be ‘complete’ in this life. Which means we cannot find completeness through Knowledge of the Self in a modern individualised society. His rational introversion flushed out the self not in dialogue with the world around but as alone, removed and overly simplified. Not the vision the regions have of themselves.

The regions are saying to the urban liberal politico we cannot completely know ourselves from an isolated vantage point of city based society. UK cities are no longer the model society. This then being the end of the road for a Cartesian world of ‘I think therefore I am’. We are increasingly comfortable with Heidegger’s ‘I’m here, aren’t I!?’. I am here in the regions and it is where lived-life is far more real than in the brutalist landscape of the non-communitarian. Modern secular technological society remains two-dimensional.

The modern secular self was an attempt to reason and explain our existence. The rise and rise of Freud and Jung via rationalised descriptions paralleled the urban self missing their communal narratives, stories and myths. But psychology remains a pseudo-science. Psychologists study the objects generated by language. It remains an empirical lens, and cannot peer into the human consciousness beyond the objects language generates. And we are increasingly agreeing Subjects are not Objects. And Subjects are only Subjects when in communal living. The only mirror to form a coherent self image is not pop-psychology but Other Selves. Dialogical living. Of course the city is a great melting of Other Selves. Let us not get too purist here. But the city is being purged of its mixed citizenry. Not just gentrification but the creation of ‘prickly spaces’ as Bauman puts it. Spaces which are clearly designed for commerce not living.

So, the ‘broken middle’ is the gap between the limits of reason and empiricism (objects of knowledge) and the flourishing human being (the subject in the process of becoming). Becoming a leader, a father, a daughter etc. The subjective self refuses to be objectified as knowledge. The self only becomes when it leans into life and asserts its self as a self. Here I am! And to be a self means using knowledge but knowing its limits. Rose attempts to say that reason has been misused. As many writers who were proto-post-secularists would concur. The ancients (not the stoics!) to romantics warned against reducing human society to a system of knowledge devoid of human relationships. The social contract must find a way to recognise that The masses do not want to self-actualise through knowledge, but through living.

A knowledge society is giving way gradually to the emergence of a network of relationships as western minds search for meaning ‘in relationship’. The collapse of the ideal state, which was a combination of moral absolutes reflected in the state’s legal architecture, has been devastating for industrial economies. Up until the First World War leading european nations, and America, were building the New Jerusalem. America still is. But the devastation of Flanders ripped up the symbiotic relationship between the church and State. It was the church and its narratives of life and the self that operated as a barrier to the market. And the church, as the counter to economics, has struggled to resist State power.

German reformed theologian Karl Barth’s Barmen Convention in 1934 sought to reverse the Nazi’s overpowering of the German Christian Church. German theologians before WWI saw a biblical rightness in the unified ‘God ordained’ nation state going to war to protect its sacred existence. Barth’s dismay at the church getting immersed in propping up the State led to Barth being among a depressingly few Protestant German Christians who would stand against Hitler’s ‘ideal state’.  Germany’s Confessing Church is much celebrated amongst Trump’s American evangelical base but we see again a depressingly few leading Protestant figures in the Christianised gospel-soaked States wishing to lose their social standing. Questioning the direction of travel for a Make America Great Again re-heated nationalism that borrows its legitimacy from bible belt is not easy for a moralising society: ‘one nation under God’.

And it is worth deviating here into a reflection on the pastoral role of the Church in our social contract. The journey of the church reveals much as it was was meant to be counter to hyper-rationality. A place where reason and life were held in tension. This is an allegory for other aspects of the nation state.

The collapse of Christianity into a moral stated society has meant the church has lost its abrasiveness. It is difficult to be salt and light whilst being so respectable and polite and conformist to state agendas. The return to Pauline teaching by New Atheist thinkers is interesting here. The rationalists went for the church’s dogma. The excoriation of bland churchianity by Dawkins was much needed. Burn off my rusts said John Donne. And there is a lot of rust in moralising Christianity. Saul of Tarsus was not respectable or polite. Torturing the Christian sect at its outset required an educated conscience. But a warm Sunday Christianity generally avoided Paul, its founder. The evangelicals focused on the gospels (the Starter), the charismatics on the Acts (the Dessert), but avoided the epistles (the Mains). The epistles, letters, are where the church understood the source of its power: in unity. Marx sought power from the working classes. Paul sought power from all in the church, united with the apostles in shared mission, but not identity. Whatever shade or persuasion unity was not ‘sameness’ it was an alliedness with what had gone before. Where the law excluded grace included as it resolved the questions of justice.

Power and legitimacy come into tension. Christ’s sustained legitimacy was secured from his irrevocable non-violence. And subsequently Paul’s. Religion exercises violent authority frequently, lowering its legitimacy. Marxism likewise lowered its legitimacy through violent struggle. Sustainable power requires legitimate use. The power of Christ is raised by legitimate reflection within the church.

To deviate further, once an enthusiastic Christian arrives at Paul, the Paul who has spent ten years back home in South East Turkey, his ears still ringing from his breakdown on the Road to Damascus, it gets messy. Paul is not just a serious Pharisee, he is a serious scholar who has just re-read everything over again. And finds the gap between the law and grace vast. He writes a deeply philosophical treatise in his letter to the Galatian Christians. A book which evangelical/Charismatic teachers tend to avoid after theological college due to its Greekness. That is its rational outworking of the law and its intent. In effect the law is not what you think it is. It is not the objective. The end game. The law is not a criminal code.

In short Paul realises the law is a temptation. To stand on the law and profess yourself judge is sin itself. Not so much breaking laws (all 613 of them) but casting judgement using the law to achieve power is sin. It sounds like a trap. And to some extent it is. Paul spends a bit longer revealing this but in essence the law is frail he says. It is only there to reveal our religious fundamentalism, our reduction of human beingness. To pronounce judgement on anyone using the law means! Wait for it. We are now immediately bound to live by every jot, tittle, iota, circumcision of legal code. We cannot pick and choose. To live by grace means to know you cannot live by the law, cannot stand in judgement. Unless you condemn yourself. Here is Paul’s message in a nutshell.

So, for Paul, the law is temptation. A society that co-opts Christian legalism into its nation stateness, and says it is being Christian is condemning itself to a shadow of what it could be. Here is America’s problem. Its Constitution is forever being seen by some as a legal constitution. Just as the Protestants are prone to use the New Testament as a legal text, and misread its intent. It is a revelation of the law as purely a stepping stone to lived-life. This then is not a deficit theology any longer. Thou shalt not is replaced by ‘try and stop me’.

What does this maze like wander into Christian theology have for UK regions and their renewal? Apart from the fact that the provinces have a social conservatism woven with Protestant narratives. It largely means the social contract needs re-balancing. Where the individual has looked at the state and seen it as a mirage of, say, a benevolent church like structure, she has sought a kind of absolution. The breaking up of a nearly theocratic Britain during the First World War has left extended confusion, or what Eliot termed The Waste Land. How could european Powers who were quasi-sacred God ordained structures reap such destruction on their congregations? The state had invited unquestioning conformity to a socially conservative agenda. And now the state had been unfaithful itself. Disillusionment with church extended to dismay with the state and its power.

This means then a separation of not just church and state however. As Brexit is as much about disentangling collapsed entities. It means restoring the separation between knowledge and life, action and talking, money and value and so on. The UK regions have largely accepted a collapsed middle as the power of money has increased. Centralised government remains a benevolent dictator measuring by economics. As one local leading businessman said recently: ‘Brexit is the kick in the backside Britain needs’. Meaning we need a space for dialogue on how we shape regional growth and separate out life into its constituent parts.

Back to Pauline theology. Bureaucracy in Britain has grown to become a replacement for more leaderful regional economies. The Regions are tempted to accept the status quo of Westminster policy making as regional legal structures often see themselves as powerless. When the regions receive the law they enact it with diligence. This of course is unfair as we are served by faithful regional servants but their hands are tied by a nervous centre. As Paul is on his fifth flogging by the authorities for trying to get his point across that the law is not an end in itself you could not blame him for feeling a tad irked at the slow take up of his mission. But he knew that blind obedience to statute was death itself.

The UK regions, in their fatigue, are finding new impetus through recognising their future is working between Westminster and their only power base, networked leadership. When regions move further into collaborative networks their power to shape policy grows considerably. Westminster is very sensitive to the ‘general will of the region’. The Nation State may think it has power to act, but in essence the general will of the people judges the good and the bad. A regional network is made up of a number of institutional actors who through the Blair years were pulled closer under central government. The government ministers who said they wished to modernise their departments really meant they sought to gain control through modern management. Osborne continued Blair’s modernising mission but as the Brexit process has shown you cannot ‘manage’ complexity. You have to structure central and regional government in such a way that you protect its ability to act autonomously and freely. Once you pull the control strings too tight you get a loss of leadership across the whole.

A grand process of re-balancing is taking place, and should continue to take place, which includes devolution. The law of modern management has reached its limit and the spectre of automatons is laying waste to their departments. Institutions are by definition not modern. They are ancient structures where The Law is interpreted. They lead by a form of grace not the law. Slavishness to legal prescript by overpowered regional structures has rendered central government overwhelmed. The tumult over Brexit is the space for UK regions to shoulder bravely the load via networking  their leadership locally and globally. We will have to make global connections just to live. But this is ultimately the space Britain works best in. Between the EU federalist vision, the American liberal project, and emerging markets. Of course the EU is a network, but one that got bogged down in its legal prescription. Highly rational, logical and bureaucratic but not a body that invites shared ownership across its membership. The people of the North West England would find it difficult to own the problems of the Czech health service. As much as we value it, the general will of the ordinary citizen is towards its region. There is the moral imperative.