'The privatisation of morality threatens to undermine a sense of social cohesion as society itself is broken down into a multiplicity of individual atoms,' Dr Carey told an audience at Toynbee Hall, an Anglican centre for the theory and practice of social work in the East End of London where the former Conservative War Minister John Profumo went to rehabilitate himself after resigning in 1962.
'The pendulum . . . swung too far towards unbridled individualism in the 1980s. Our commitment to each other and to community, our faith in what we can build together as a society, was dangerously weakened.
'Once the pursuit of individual gain becomes disconnected from a wider sense of moral purpose - or a substitute for thinking about a shared sense of purpose at all - then we are in deep trouble,' Dr Carey said.
The archbishop painted a picture of a society that had steadily disintegrated since his working- class childhood in the East End to the point where citizenship meant nothing to many British people. Many unemployed people, and others afflicted by poverty or discrimination, now felt they have no stake in society at all, he said.
Further anxiety was caused by the 'increasing power of faceless people in Whitehall, the EC, in international business cartels and bureaucracies . . . there are also fears about the radical weakening of local government . . . despite all the talk of subsidiarity in the European context, I do not myself discern many signs of it within the United Kingdom itself.'
Society could not endure without strong shared beliefs about the communal aims of human life, and about the absolute nature of right and wrong, Dr Carey said. 'We have witnessed a powerful ideological attack during the 1980s on the value of public goods, together with a strong affirmation of private values and individual choice.'
In the central argument of his lecture, Dr Carey said: 'The doctrine that each person may do whatever they like so long as they do not positively harm or hurt others leads to a society without any sense of shared values. It gives our children and young people no guidance as to what in the view of society is good, moral behaviour. Individualism then triumphs over community and we are left with a moral void in which everything is relative and nothing is absolutely good.'
Christians should not be certain about the details of policy, but they had a duty to keep in mind a long-term perspective in their political engagement, he said. As an example, he said it was absolutely necessary that the Government not cut its spending on aid to poorer countries. 'I do not underestimate the financial difficulties and political pain which the Government faces. But if we think the going is rough here, let us remember the calamities unfolding in other parts of the world.'
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