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RDN's Themes

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I am interested in government, Green-ness, spirituality, Western values, and globalisation.

The following will perhaps help anyone interested in knowing "where I come from".

It can be summarised, at least in my ideas about "The Public Realm" (see that section), as "Free market ideals, conservative prejudices and realistic approaches". That's to say: I believe a strong and sound society would allow the free market a very free rein; I have the standard conservative conflict: between my libertarian and my authoritarian tendencies; and I like wondering what policies actually work (never mind one's ideals or prejudices).

I am keen on the free-market (but love capitalism because it depends on and builds great institutions and is a huge contributor to society). I am some sort of a libertarian (ie, I celebrate personal responsibility); but I am also often rather authoritarian in approach (I like discipline in schools and on public transport, for example). I love free speech and all the liveliness of modern society, but I celebrate "old-fashioned" democracy (ie, the idea that the lazy and ignorant masses elect an intelligent elite to rule them). I love western values (but not least because they are so clever at caring about non-Western values).

I began the 70s running an MG drophead and ended them refusing to own a car. In the late 70s, I turned down the chance to interview Bob Marley because I wouldn't use an airplane to visit his studio in Jamaica. As I wrote The Animals Report for Penguin in 1982, I was Vegan (see "RDN CV", and "Animals" links at the journalism pages).

I have, as is proper, been a radical. In the early 70s I was hugely impressed by Ivan Illich, with his belief that industry and institutions were stifling the human-scale development that people could organise for themselves. At that time I wrote a book which was never published but which accepted the idea of physical limits to growth. It also promoted the idea of politically-imposed limits to consumption. I would now be very reluctant to accept such rationing, but would accept it in extremis. This issue is: are we in extremis? I was a fairly conventional green in some ways. I read the conventional Californian hippy literature; adored Kropotkin.

I read Illich partly because he was a roman catholic (I am not, but am interested). I had always found Teilhard de Chardin inspirational and still find echoes of his thought rattling around in what I try to say. Especially, I think his image of a nous-sphere very interesting. The idea that the biosphere might be complemented by a growing "mind-sphere" in some form seems accurate: globalisation (and the internet especially) seem well-captured by this idea.

I was conventionally disparaging of industry. Increasingly, however, I came to know industry and many institutions better and became convinced that whilst rampant materialism was a poor template for the human spirit, most "Western" values - including technological progress and the ideal of consumer satisfaction - had an enormous amount in their favour. By the early 80s, this new thinking was just beginning to be reflected in my work (as in The Real Cost, published by Chatto and Windus, see RDN CV).

About twenty years ago I overcame my ignorant dislike of industry. I had always liked its historic role, it having been born in our Industrial Revolution. But I had fallen into the trap of disapproving of its modern forms. Experience, reading The Economist and travel taught me otherwise. My book, Life On a Modern Planet: A manifesto for progress, Manchester University Press, 1995, addressed these large issues (it can be downloaded free here).

In middle age, I have realised that it is seriously important that modern young Westerners and Third Worlders hear more about the merits of the civilisation to which they are heirs, or to which they may aspire. I take this to be the Enlightenment project of individual freedom, respect for one's fellows, fair-mindedness and attention to evidence. I speak and write on such matters wherever I may. Hence my devotion to founding MM3 and its proposed businesses, livingissues.com.

I have addressed modern spiritual issues in my writing about art (see "short pieces") and religion (my book on monks, Fools For God, Collins, 1987 is available for free download here). I hope I can say that the core value I gleaned from Ivan Illich - that materialism is no sort of reward in itself - is intact in my mind.

I have always believed that Britain was importantly an important source of modern rational investigation and discussion, and of good government (The Mother of Parliaments: see "Short pieces"). I approve of the Empire as having been a pragmatic, progressive adventure with more than its fair share of idealism alongside piratical commerce. I believe in "Whig" history: the idea that the British story has been one of human and humane improvement.


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