One striking thing about the books is Herriot’s approach to the people he meets. It is not so much that he refrains from judgment but that his judgments are generous, gradual and open to revision. They are also refreshingly free from political consideration.
The ruling moral assumption is that there should not be ruling moral assumptions. – Niall Gooch
It is difficult to identify the point when political views became so heavily moralised in Britain. My suspicion is that politicisation of virtue is an inevitable outcome of a society where there is a fundamental metaphysical and philosophical divide. We are in the midst of a transition, from a settled and broadly homogenous society where the ruling moral assumptions were Christian ones to a fluid and highly diverse one, where the ruling moral assumption is that there should not be ruling moral assumptions. This doesn’t quite work, of course, which explains the intolerance shown by the state towards, for example, Catholic adoption agencies or Nigerian street preachers. People are living and working with people whose understanding of politics, of the nation, of the world, of the self, is utterly different from their own. It looks as if this makes it difficult to maintain tolerance and “live-and-let-live” attitudes, because the sheer “otherness” of your neighbours can easily come to appear like a threat or a challenge to your whole way of life.
Of course, there are certain political opinions which should give us serious cause to doubt the moral goodness of someone who holds them. A person who announced a conversion to Stalinism, for example, in the full knowledge of what that ideology entailed, would certainly reveal bad moral character. One of the most damaging allegations made against Jeremy Corbyn, for example, was that he was sympathetic to terrorist organisations such as the IRA and the Palestinian Black September. The same would apply to supporters of racial violence, like the German soldiers recently forced out of their unit because of neo-Nazi sympathies.
Politicisation of virtue is an inevitable outcome of a society where there is a fundamental metaphysical and philosophical divide. – Niall Gooch
We should think about the kind of people we associate with. Friendship is to some degree public and political: that is to say it is inevitably a statement of the kind of people we wish to be associated with, the kind of people we think are worthy of our time and attention, the kind of people we trust and whose opinion we value.
But that doesn’t mean we have to accept the argument made by some progressives that they cannot be friends with Catholics because of our supposedly bigoted views. We must make distinctions about positions that are reasonable and those that are not. Catholic moral teaching does not involve violence, or make it impossible for people to live normal civilised lives, as totalitarian ideologies do.
Niall Gooch is a writer who lives in Kent.
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