Mon, 4 September 2006
In 1987, prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously denied the existence of society. "I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. . . . They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. . . ."
When these comments were published, there was a huge outcry from liberals at Mrs. Thatcher's attack on social solidarity. Conservatives meanwhile defended her rejection of the assumption of the nanny state. But both liberals and conservatives seemed to have missed the opportunity to question one key assumption in Mrs. Thatcher's formulation of this problem. Why presuppose that "society" must be understood as something coordinated and given authority by the state?
Margaret Thatcher's rejection of the existence of society is ironic in light of the fact that in the 19th century, the idea of society was used to confront the growing claims of the power and authority of the state. It was precisely because something called society did exist that the state could not be regarded as omnicompetent.
The history of the development in 19th century Catholic social thought of the idea of society as a spiritual and cultural reality is one of the themes in a new MARS HILL AUDIO Conversation with Dr. Russell Hittinger. Hittinger is Research Professor of Law and Warren Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, and the author of The First Grace: Rediscovering the Natural Law in a Post-Christian World. In this wide-ranging Conversation of interest to Christians from every tradition, Hittinger also discusses (with host Ken Myers) the contributions of Popes Leo XIII and John Paul II to Catholic social thought, the limits of the notion of social contract, the effect of an increasing proportion of Muslims on European social thought, and why modern democracies have abandoned the project of understanding public life in moral terms.
Category:MHA MP3 -- posted at: 11:07pm EST