Posts Tagged ‘democratic republicanism’

Sunday Review on Thursday: The Purple Book

15/09/2011, 07:00:29 AM

by Anthony Painter

Breathe in. Hold. And relax.

The Purple Book, published today, after months of political hysteria, is actually a largely constructive and imaginative collection. It is far from being “lazy” and “idiotic” as its detractors claim. This is the progressive Labour – out of political favour for almost half a decade – response to blue Labour. It is much more than that too. And it manages, fairly convincingly, to move on from its New Labour past.

The frame for the collection comes from David Marquand’s Britain since 1918 where he discusses four British democracies. Tory nationalism and Whig imperialism speak for themselves. The other two are the major fault-lines that exist with the modern labour movement: democratic collectivist and democratic republicanism. The former finds expression in the old-style socialism of much of the trade union movement and in traditional (and caricatured) Fabianism.

Democratic republicanism – the belief in individual empowerment, relationships and localism – has rarely dominated. This collection is within that tradition, though it is by no means an exclusively “progressive” way of thinking.

This is a substantive undertaking. The ethos is that of John Milton, Alexis de Tocqueville, JS Mill, GDH Cole, RH Tawney and Amartya Sen amongst others. The qualifying criteria for a chapter in the book seems to be quoting or referencing Tawney. In fact, he could be the book’s co-editor, along with Robert Philpot with Sen occasionally popping into the room to sprinkle in thoughts on “capabilities” and “substantive freedom”.

This is both an internal and eternal feud. It’s easy to argue that the focus should be exclusively on the enemy, the Tories. But this misses the point. Effective armies don’t just strike; they prepare. And this internal battle that Labour is having is part of the preparation. After a while it could become destructive, but for now it’s healthy. (more…)

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