Phillip Blond: Without a concept of virtue our politics and our banks are doomed

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The Independent Online

In all the clamour and rage of the expenses crisis, the fundamental issue remains wholly unaddressed: that of the value system that allowed such abuses in the first place.

Firstly, it was the market that showed the bankruptcy of its governing narrative, where the short-term interest of the few were allowed to undermine the long-term needs of the many. This cancer has also passed to the state, where individual MPs were shown to be incapable of distinguishing between their own interests and that of the public.

However, neither bankers nor politicians have broken any ethical codes because by consent on both right and left, no such ethic exists. Left-wing culture adores social and cultural relativism as it allows a personal libertarianism that since the late 1960s has captured the affluent and decadent middle class while fragmenting and destroying working class culture. The trouble is the progressive subjectivisation of objective value prevents one from condemning anything, least of all the self-interest of bankers or MPs.

Correspondingly, right-wing culture has either surrendered all of its values to some Darwinian variant of the market, where it thinks that whatever wins is right, a situation that licenses both Hitler and the freedom of high finance. Or if it asserts ethical value, as many rightly do, it somehow thinks that morals are either innately there or not: there are, according to this view, simply bad and good people. This conservatism ignores the social affect of civilisation and tends to concentrate morality and piety in a self-aggrandising elite.

Clearly a new moral code is required We need the concept of virtue. This ancient Greek and Christian notion transcends the current malaise and calls us to debate and discern the common civic good that alone is the basis for society. While contemporary morals abandon any notion of education and validate us and our "opinions" whatever they may be, virtue approaches humans on the basis of what they ought to be. Since virtue theory accepts the mediation of truth by time and context, it avoids the slide into exculpatory left-wing relativism. And it endorses culture and transformation. It takes moral conservatism out of the hands of an established elite and transfers it to us all.

The author was speaking at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival last week