If something is going wrong — which is dead certainty, since there will always be something going wrong somewhere — then it must be, it seems to Andrew Brown, because of a lack of faith. Which is why, I guess, I despise the man so much, because he is so trite and predictable. This time he argues in his Guardian CiF piece that
The rejection of God by Social Democrats and societal values by neoliberals has left a moral vacuum that will be difficult to fill.
I know nothing at all about Sweden — it is Swedish society he is analysing in his latest CiF Belief column: “Sweden and the Loss of Trust“ – but it’s just like Brown to fill the slot “what’s wrong?” with “the rejection of God”. He starts off by telling us about the leader of the Social Democrats, Håkan Juholt. No sooner had the man been elected, and the public heard that his partner (whom he met on a dating site – Brown just had to add) had been given a suspended sentence for embezzlement from her employer, and that Juholt himself had overcharged on his parliamentary living expenses while staying at her house. Obviously, then, there is a moral vacuum at the heart of Swedish society, mainly due to the rejection of God.
Then there’s the matter of nursing homes, some of which have been privatised, and now that they are meant to be turning a profit the inmates are being neglected, covered with faeces, diapers not changed, etc. So, obviously, this has something to do with the fact that God is no longer at the centre of Swedish society. After all, wherever it came from, there used to be a conformism about Swedish society. Some people thought it came from the top, but Brown doesn’t think this at all. No, no: it worked like this:
The way it really worked was written in gothic script outside the German church in the old town of Stockholm: “Fürchtet Gott! Ehret den König!” – “Fear God and honour the king!”
But no one in Sweden fears God any longer. The Social Democrats showed that society could do without God, for which they substituted the future. And this would work “just as well, if everyone believed in it.” Now, here comes the really heavy social analysis:
Social democracy spent decades smashing up the old authority structures, among them God and the traditional family, in order to take over their authority. From the 1980s onwards the neoliberals spent decades smashing up Social Democratic beliefs. And at the end of this process, the future has let both sides down. The idea of society as a place of mutual service has disappeared or at least attenuated to an ideal.
So, the only answer is to go back the God and the traditional family and reinstate their authority, I guess. Instead of “individual fulfilment through magically enlightened self-interest,” what we need is more ”Fürchtet Gott! Ehret den König!” But isn’t Brown forgetting something? For centuries the influence of God and the church were overpowering in Ireland. Schools were run by priests, lay brothers, and nuns. Belief in God, and the fear of God was apparently everywhere. People flocked to mass on Sunday, and many nipped into church of a weekday morning too, to partake of the sacred mysteries. And yet the Magdalene “Laundries” (as they were known) and the industrial schools were horror houses where children were physically, sexually and psychologically abused, and many of the kids were sent there — as criminals! — because they were born out-of-wedlock. And belief in God propped up this diabolical system until very recently — very recently indeed. And still props up a legal regime where women have no control over their own reproduction, and where the ban on divorce was only lifted in 1995. Until then unhappy partners were bound to each other for life.
So let’s not hear about the old structures of God and the traditional family, and the good old days from Mr. Brown. Perhaps there is a malaise in Swedish society. I don’t know enough about Sweden to know. But I know enough about the way God and the traditional family have functioned in various societies to know that, then too, there were abuses and horrors enough and to spare. God is only the answer to those who think that the old structures of authority that the church once underwrote are the only way to order a society successfully, but Brown, as usual, has given us not one single reason to think that fearing God and honouring the king would really help Swedish society cure whatever malaise it is that afflicts it. It is really annoying when people like Brown mouth the old platitudes, as though societies living under the scrutiny of God and God’s minions were better, more healthy and fulfilling than society without such ultimate invigilation.