Of course any new great movement has crackpot beginnings

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The Independent Online
I'm afraid I irritated a lot of rather good types in St James's Church, Piccadilly on Saturday afternoon.

The church was full of people who want to see a spiritual transformation of Western civilisation, and they want that spiritual transformation to go on to inform politics and economics.

It was called a Rolling Parliament, a meeting of like-minded people to take politics out of its traditional confines. At its most ordinary end, this sort of feeling informs Charter 88, the political pressure group (a written constitution, a Bill of Rights, people's juries on major issues); it runs through support for Schumacher's idea that "economics as if people mattered" can somehow make a difference (democratise the workplace, measure the resource-losses along with income gains of economic change).

And then there are those who want public life to be full of celebration of the joy of creation. Some of them spoke as though public affairs should be conducted in a sort of process of group therapy. This last stuff sounds like ego-centric goofiness to these ears.

I made as robust a defence as I could of conventional politics and economics, and sounded, more or less as I intended, as a fairly old-fashioned Tory should. I have yet to make these remarks without sounding patronising, and often wish I had a decent South London accent in which to talk, but one can't have everything. Of course, being flippant doesn't help: but if one can't get applause, playing for laughs at least reminds people that one would rather please than enrage.

I forbore to gloat over the troubles of the Nine O'clock Service and the priest who was its hero. But, on the way home, I couldn't help noticing how the Rolling Parliament's great spiritual hero, the erstwhile Dominican, Matthew Fox, writing in his magazine, Creation Spirituality, praised the NOS to the heavens and hadn't noticed anything amiss.

Of course, any new great movement has crackpot beginnings, and great religions begin as eccentric cults. We may, as most people in St James's probably believe, be on the brink of a great paradigm shift in the way people define themselves and operate society.

The "transformationists" seem to believe that we need to undo the worst of the Enlightenment - which made materialist science and philosophy dominant, and was, they seem to think, the last great paradigm shift. But I love the Enlightenment at the same time as feeling that it did not redefine the West so much as mark an exciting period in this civilisation's pursuit of liberating people from superstition and unaccountable power structures.

It is the defining characteristic of a Tory to prefer reform to revolution (and continuity to paradigm shifts). We have a prejudice in favour of the merit of what we have inherited over thrilling to the excitement of changing it. We are, after all, the people who look back to a golden past which never was, whilst the radicals look forward to a golden future which will never be.

Mind you, I have always been tempted by radicalism, and especially when it comes from troubled Roman Catholic priests. Ivan Illich - an erstwhile Jesuit - used to be a great hero, with his view that modern life was becoming uselessly professionalised, commercialised and institutionalised. Indeed, I feel secure in my acceptance of all these tendencies, mostly because I argue my enthusiasm for them against an inner voice which remembers how strong the contrary arguments are.

If those people in St James's prove to have been the seeds of something tremendous, which I doubt, I hope they will allow me the luxury of pretending that I may have been useful grit in their oyster. I sometimes half-glimpse the glories of the parallel universe they see, but mostly it eludes me. Indeed, I am fairly dazzled - as well as periodically grazed - by the sheer granite solidness of the world we have inherited and live in, and I rather like it.