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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
A paradox of our increasingly interdependent, or some would say increasingly homogenised, world is that interdependence in economics and politics is not matched by a confluence of values. On the contrary, there are signs of an increasing fragmentation of values, both at national and regional, and at global levels. The picture is far more complex, both in terms of ideology and realpolitik, than it was in the Cold War years, when the world was polarised. Indeed today it is hard to speak of an overall picture at all. In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot, writing in the aftermath of the First World War, refers to “a heap of broken images” and this description seems to fit our present world just as neatly. The rise of postmodernism in academia reflects this state of affairs well. This is because it moves beyond criticism of existing ideologies as part of a search for truth – the traditional role of intellectual exploration – towards a total cultural relativism and a denial that truth exists, an absolutist rejection of the absolute. If nothing is true, however, it follows that anything is true, and so the effect of the current cultural crisis is to fuel, rather than dampen, ideological fanaticism. The rise of fundamentalism be it inspired by religious ideals of salvation or secular concepts such as “market forces”, is as much a product of the postmodern mind as a reaction against it. The cultural backdrop is nihilism and the destruction of shared values, values on which both individual freedom and social cohesion depend.
It is this loss of shared values that concerns Theodore Dalrymple, a medical practitioner of many years standing, when he considers the state of health care in Britain. He is addressing the problems of the British National Health Service (NHS), but his conclusions are relevant to health care provision throughout Europe and beyond, as well as every other type of public service. For public service, Dalrymple argues, requires an ethos of service, both amongst the providers of that service and the wider society. When this breaks down, the services also break down, and so the values ultimately matter more than the way the service is provided or administered.
The problems affecting the NHS owe much to a misguided public policy, which has cut back on practical service and implanted new layers of bureaucracy. However, this very confusion in public policy arises out of a larger moral confusion. The ideal of public service, which has affinities with the socialist and the humanitarian conservative traditions (such as they exist today), has been undermined from both left and right. From the New Left – and here the experiments of the 1960s are partly to blame – has come a simplistic belief in the supreme value of self-expression. From the New Right of the 1980s and beyond has come a narrow individualism that, to use Oscar Wilde's words, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. These dogmas together threaten the professional ethos on which good health care and all forms of public provision depend. Together, they mount an indiscriminate attack on tradition favouring permanent change over gradual and deeply rooted reform. In this sense, the self-indulgent left and the market fundamentalists of the right resemble the Physiocrats and Economists of 18th century France. Their constant sniping made rational reform impossible, and Jacobinism almost inevitable, as Alexis de Tocqueville records in The Ancien Regime and the Revolution.
The destructive impact of ideology also concerns Dmitry V. Shalpentokh, of Indiana University. He is in a good position to reflect on international relations during and after the Cold War because he has lived and been educated in both the Soviet Union and the United States. Dr Shlapentokh argues that it is mistaken to see end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union's collapse as marking the end of history, the end of ideology or the inevitable triumph of the West and its values. Such notions have been dispelled by the global renaissance of fundamentalism and, as we have seen, the crisis of Western values themselves. But nor are theories such as the “clash of civilizations”, beloved of Washington Neoconservatives, any more instructive to us. Even at its hottest, the Cold War was in reality less about ideology and more about geopolitical interests. Although it is broadly true that democracies do not go to war with each other, it does not follow that cultural or ideological affinities produce alliance and cultural differences result in antipathy. Grand narratives of international relations, based on ideological “visions” of the world, do not clarify but obscure the complex patterns of international relations, which are based less on straight lines than interlocking circles.
Welfare reform preoccupies the whole political spectrum in Europe, from those who wish to preserve, and extend, the welfare state to those who are distrustful of welfare because they believe it gives power to bureaucrats and undermines self-respect. The idea of a Citizen's Income, payable to every adult as a right of citizenship, is not new, but in an age of demographic change, increasing diversity of needs and demands and a deepening crisis in the pensions industry, it could well be an idea whose time has come. In this issue of New European, therefore, Aidan Rankin presents an adapted version of a statement of aims by the Citizen's Income Trust in London. Citizen's Income, he suggests, addresses the concerns of those who fear welfare bureaucracy because it reduces the power of bureaucrats and abolishes humiliating “means tests”. It encourages enterprise and initiative, because it makes part-time work, and self-employment, more attractive options. Also, crucially, it changes the structure of work and forces employers to be more flexible. Citizen's Income provides a means to preserve and build upon the ideas underlying the welfare state, whilst softening its edges and increasing its efficiency. It also has the potential to remove ideological dogma from the welfare debate.
Finally, Aidan Rankin reviews a history of Liechtenstein by David Beattie, former British Ambassador to that principality, and to Switzerland. The case of Liechtenstein demonstrates to us that small states can still succeed in a world of giants. The newly enlarged Europe would do well to bear this in mind. It should beware of too much centralisation, and be aware of the importance of the human scale.
Aidan RankinEditorE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org