Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Blair Decade 2: Legalism

Nige pre-empts me on the matter of the new legalism that has overrun our country after a decade in which we have been run by lawyers. Nige refers to 'the erosion of Judgment in both personal and professional life, and its replacement with legalistic structures of compliance and proscription.' The combinations of Blair's ASBO mind set and Brown' savagely centralising authoritarianism have unquestionably enserfed us and drained our capacity for independent judgment. But which came first, the serfs or the lawyers? Take the teachers. People blame Blair for loading our children with tests. But they miss the point. It is not the children that are being tested, it is the teachers. Teachers had, from the sixties onwards, effectively deprofessionalised themselves by destroying any realistic possibility of assessment and compromising our ability to transmit culture from one generation to the next. This made them unreformable other than by the coercive and legalistic device of tests. Nobody can say this openly, but, in private, it is bipartisan orthodoxy. This legalism was thus forced on Blair. It was the result of a cultural collapse, a loss of ethos. There are many other examples - the National Health Service being the most obvious. This movement away from ethos and towards legalistic coercion certainly happened in the Blair decade. But did Blair and the lawyers do it or were the people at fault? The answer is both. Ethos collapsed and a bunch of busybody Labour lawyers arrived on the scene at about the same time. The shift from ethos to legalism is a move away from custom, wisdom and judgment is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. Maybe it had to happen, but it lowers us as a nation.


  1. i was on the bus the other day, and found myself reading all these menacing notices banning X and Y, and so on. England is full of threatening notices, glowering mentions of CCTV, etc., and yet it's also full of filthy chavs and young people who should have their heads shaved and be sent to fight the Americans.

    i wondered that these two (anti-social behaviour & menacing laws & notices) seem to have progressed hand-in-hand: the obvious answer is that as chavs multiply, we need more & more prohibitions and threats. But i had a moment's weirdness, such as comes upon a man betimes on the bus, and felt that they may feed each other: that chavvery and hooliganism and the like are in some way fuelled by the laws & wotnot that are intended to stamp them out. It's as if rats thrive on rat poison.

    Maybe just as kids (and people in general) tend to shut down and stop listening the moment you become angry, or shout, or bring out the spiked club & soap in the sock, so perhaps in a wider sense the long-term effect of menacing laws is to encourage social alienation, that people who feel they are targeted (i.e. chavs), become even more estranged & feral.

    As a beastly temp i empathise with this, as the only effect of the many bullyings & threats i've received from my bosses has been to confirm that i can't survive by their rules, and so feel no compunctions about slacking off, abusing the internet, etc.

    On the other hand things are now so bad that anything less than official savagery will only encourage chavs to breed, buy diamond-encrusted ipods & become daily more insolent and uppity, till all goodness is overthrown, and Blair laughs the last laugh.

  2. Attacks on the teachers are just too easy. Given that nowadays very very few can blame Algernon, the tutor. They are a wide open target for virtually all ills. As most have been through their hands at some point. While there were/are problems with teaching, these came about from not having a clear idea of exactly what they are expected to do.
    The grammar school, touted as the medicine to cure all educational ills, has a very clear idea of its function and if this function is not fulfilled it will close. The same cannot be said for the usual state school. Where some were used as a prison, with people leaving in worse educational state than before entering.
    You are correct, Bryan, when you state that this had to change.

  3. In my view, the economic conditions have underminded the social contract. The only solution is coercion. But it is a short-term solution.

    Bauman, commenting on Castoriadis: "Society, we might say, is a massive and continuous cover-up operation. And yet the best the escape ever succeeds in coming up with is a thin film of order that is conintuously pierced, torn apart and folded up by the Chaos over which it stretches: that Chaos 'is constantly invading alledged immanence - the given, the familiar, the apparently domesticated'.