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Opportunity Beyond Equality, Part Two

Professor John Milbank speaks to The Disraeli Room on what he means by virtue - and how it can transform our society at every level for good

In the second part of a thought-provoking and scholarly riposte to the criticism levelled by readers at his thinkpiece co-written with Phillip Blond on Guardian's Comment Is Free column, to critiques of the piece's arguments about virtue and equality on the Fabian Society's Next Left blog, and to Sunder Katwala's in-depth critique of the first part, Professor John Milbank follows his disquisition on the problem with a narrow concept of merit, by explaining that the concept of virtue, rather than the liberal or indeed Fabian instrumentalist idea of autonomy, can deliver the positive goals of both left and right.



"...I have already argued that the Rawlsian position implies an incoherent endless allowing and dismantling of inequality. This suggests that equality only in freedom is non-viable and also that it quickly generates inequalities of outcome that are scarcely tolerable in terms of huge disparities of income etc. But the alternative has to be equality in acknowledged human goods.

My case would be that there can be no socialism without objectivity of value. For if opinion and taste are merely subjective, then only the market and bureaucratic procedure can mediate the implied social anarchy. This is why capitalism is so modern and why of course critics of capitalism must be somewhat conservative – and indeed, probably in some sense religious. In order to have even literal equality we have to agree about the human goods that all should enjoy – and very quickly what is at issue is more than mere material comfort or the freedom to choose. If we can't recognise any objective goods beyond this then very soon a few will enjoy prestige goods according to fashion that others won't. Fashion and spectacle rush in to fill the gap abandoned by denial of objective good. Social nature cannot tolerate a virtue vacuum!

So, for example, if we claim not to have a hierarchy of the virtuous we will instead get a celebrity culture. Or if we deny that classical and Jazz music are superior forms of music, then teenagers will compete over rubbish unmusic as they do now. Which is socialist, New Labour's favouring of pop culture over high culture (and soccer over cricket in pretentious middle-class ignorance of the Lancashire league..), or Hugo Chavez's programme to get poor kids to learn classical instruments and form youth orchestras?

Equality in autonomy alone quickly means extreme inequalities in outcome that must be ceaselessly reversed with every generation - but equality in basic human goods achieves a far more stable sort of levelling.

It can permit inequality related to virtue, but even that is mitigated by the fact that virtue encourages others, and so it inherently tries to move others up the hierarchy. Real hierarchy can never be static, just as real aristocracy is related to the educative role. Again mention of ‘aristocracy' (in the ancient, not the fox-hunting sense) can make the left scream, yet democracy has a dialectical requirement for this. Without an educative hierarchy which seeks to know, to embody and communicate the good for its own sake, democracy will collapse (as we see in our time) because it will be subject to sophistic manipulation. This is because democracy is not abyssal – always, before people decide democratically, they consider opinions just ‘presented' to them and not voted on at all. So either we have nihilistic manipulators presenting these opinions because we don't believe there is any objective good to be found, or else we have a tradition of educators (in the broadest sense) who seek the good for its own sake and not for the sake of democratic influence. (And note that I'm not saying that we already know all of the objective good – only that we require faith that this can be further discovered.)

The key paradox here is that democracy depends for its functioning upon a non-democratic (indeed in a technical sense, aristocratic) quest for truth. For if truth can be voted upon, then voting must be swayed by untruthful sophistic influence and therefore is not free after all and so is undemocratic. These are the keys to Socrates and Plato's critique of Athenian democracy. Once upon a time this was seen as ‘reactionary' (by Popper etc) but today even thinkers on the far left like Badiou and Boris Groys accept its radical pertinence.

Because virtue is to do with ethos and education (politics for the sake of paideia and not the other way around), the alternative is virtue as tarted-up merit - and so any idea that there might be a 'national virtue panel' is hardly exhaustive! What Blond and I are talking about is a total shift in ethos at every level. This would include trying to build good ethical practice into the way the market operates. Such could be achieved partly by example – firms that are co-ops between owners, workers and consumers can win out in the long run by crowding out bad practice. This is because people will support fair treatment, better products at fairer prices - and so on.

But I would also see a role for external constraint of two kinds here. First, free rather than monopolistic guilds of professional practice where membership means one has signed up to certain ethical standards. This could give a competitive advantage (like a free trade label only much more) and that could be increased if such guilds gave special rewards for outstanding practice. Competition need not be only for profit. Second there is a role for the state in tightening the legal framework – making companies and investors far more liable in relation to risk, and defining more exactly what legitimate economic purposes are and insisting that they should include social purposes. The idea that the profit motive can't be combined with other ones is ungrounded. Also perhaps wages and prices should come more within the legal purview – with local boards and courts for this, not central direction. It's this kind of thing I mean – not an inquisition about behaviour!

Part of this whole package would mean engendering a different kind of rich person – not the rich people we have today only a bit kinder! And also people much less rich in fact – because the idea that reward should be linked to virtue and its scope would actually mean far fewer second homes, luxury yachts, secret bank accounts and endless holidays etc etc.

I think then, that the reason why Blond and I are saying something a bit different from much (but by no means all) of the contemporary left is that we defend inequality more directly in terms of the idea of nobility in its ancient sense – though of course to be properly reconfigured. However, I don't at all think this in any way distances me from Tawney, who was a virtue thinker on account of his High Anglican theology. This legacy in itself naturally included a certain High Tory moment, as is too easily ignored. Indeed the most important influence on the first Labour MP's was probably John Ruskin -- the original red tory/blue socialist who declared himself to be equally dyed in the deepest hue of those two colours. It is for me the whig/Fabian legacy that is the alien intruder into Labour tradition.

The liberal versus communitarian/associationist debate lurks therefore behind the present debate because Blond and I are defending both equality and inequality in terms of the objective good and not simply utility or negative freedom..."

We will to link to Next Left's response to John's arguments when published.

Comments on: Opportunity Beyond Equality, Part Two

Gravatar Robert Pelik 04 April 2010
Dear Professor Milbank,r/>r/>Won't it inevitably be intellectually problematic to present this line of political thought without the theology which underlies it. On this Easter Day it is especially appropriate to remember that Truth and Goodness have been made fully incarnate in Christ and are transmitted to us through the Scriptures, Sacraments and Tradition of the human community he formed, the Church, under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Legitimate authority actually exists in the Magisterium of the Church. Unless our country returns to its Christian roots, I fail to see where the values to support this politics might come from.r/>r/>Eliot wrote, I believe prophetically, at the end of Thoughts after Lambeth (1931):r/>r/>"The Universal Church is today, it seems to me, more definitely set against the World than at any time since pagan Rome. I do not mean that our times are particularly corrupt; all times are corrupt… the World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient and awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilisation, and save the world from suicide."r/>r/>As to the question of which sport most closely conforms to some Platonic ideal, I'm rather unqualified to give an opinion. At my school we had one term of cricket, one of football and one of rugby, and I wasn't much good at any of them! Common sense would suggest that it is the attitude which is important, and that attitude is definitely not the one expressed by the famous quote: "Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing". However, it seems to me that that outlook has become prevalent in our politics where we are presented with three main parties, all of whom propose the same social and economic liberalism, with only minor variations. I like Phillip Blond's politics very much as I'm sure a great number of our fellow citizens would if they understood it or have the option of voting for it. But do you believe that either the Labour and Liberal or Conservative parties as presently constituted would implement it to any significant degree?
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Gravatar Patricia 21 February 2010
Indeed, this seems to be a very atypical political blog…if not for other reasons, certainly because it seems to provide a unique opportunity to bring to bear on political debate an expertise in an obscure area of philosophical aesthetics. The outcome of this conceptual experiment is rather surprising: whereas one can demonstrate that aesthetic judgments are non-arbitrary, the same is yet to be shown with respect of judgments of virtue. The claim is not that judgments of virtue are necessarily arbitrary, but rather that their objectivity has not been here demonstrated. r/>r/>The whole issue is very straightforward as long as one gets some fundamental distinctions straight. These distinctions are: a) the subjective and the arbitrary; b) the aesthetic and the artistic and c) high and pop culture. (The last one seems only orthogonal to what I have to say, and yet, given that it may be the first and last chance to comment on this issue on a political blog, I cannot resist.) r/>r/>c) Whereas it is surely the case that some forms of music merit aesthetic attention and criticism while others do not, it is clear that the distinction in question is not that between high culture and pop culture, classical music and jazz on the one hand, and punk and hip hop on the other but between good and bad music. It is the qualities of musical form or structure rather than genre nomenclature that determine whether something is good or ‘rubbish’. Although statistically one is more likely to find that a lot of ‘products’ of popular culture do fall into the latter category, it is only because a lot of pop culture exhibits structural characteristics of standardization, pseudo-individualization and lack of technical innovation. (It is absolutely nothing intrinsic to the genre – I challenge whoever would like to question this claim to listen carefully to Sufjan Stevens.) r/>r/>a) Aesthetic judgments are subjective but not arbitrary. ‘Subjective’ here means pertaining to the constitution of the judging subject and reporting one’s immediate awareness of a given mental state. Judgments subjective in this sense can be universally valid on the presupposition that there is a bare minimum we all share in virtue of our human constitution. Perhaps the simplest way of showing the cogency of the argument is that it works in terribly discrepant frameworks like the transcendental and the Marxist – in the first case, the validity of subjective judgments relies on the assumption about the sameness of mental faculties, in the latter it focuses on the sameness of the sensuous, affective, pre-cognitive register. (I could go on a tangent arguing this point in detail but it could be an indulgence no political blog would tolerate - a test case here is checking on whether anyone is capable of aesthetically experiencing a beautiful sunset as revolting and repugnant). r/>r/>b) This said, the universal validity of aesthetic response can only be demonstrated at the cost of upholding a radically ascetic/puritan/minimalist conception of aesthetic judgment, i.e., a model of judgment concerned with the pre-conceptual registering of formal qualities. There’s no way one could claim that this model is adequate to judge artworks qua artworks (not the form of artworks or their structure alone, but artworks in their entirety), which brings me to the final distinction between aesthetic and artistic. The model of aesthetic judgment discussed here is simply too limited in its scope to accommodate all aspects one would like to attend to in artworks (e.g. conceptual puzzles, personal sentiments, treatment of social issues, etc.). To cut a long story short, universal validity in aesthetic judgments can be achieved at the cost of eliminating the ‘contingent mess’ of context/place/person-specific connotations. This is something that smacks of misguided reductivism when it comes to artworks; any similar approach seems plainly incongruous with the judgment of virtue which is culturally holistic. r/>r/>Whereas I agree with Professor Milbank that living in the world where the highest standard of accuracy is mere doxa or opinion would be bad, and existing in the world where the idea of the good is an expression of personal preference would be intolerable, I feel that aesthetics fares better than the proposed ‘hierarchy of virtues’ when it comes to demonstrating universal validity. That is to say, Beethoven’s announcement: "Es muß sein!" (It must be!) in relation to his music can be much more easily swallowed than any – apparently arbitrary – assertion of virtue. The objectivity of virtue, as well as reasons to prefer cricket over football, are in need of rigorous demonstration which has not be provided yet by Professor Milbank. r/>r/>Couldn’t, for instance, the notion of the purposiveness of nature be of use in such a demonstration? r/>
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Gravatar Maurice 20 February 2010
So this is not your typical political blog, then...
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Gravatar Sunder Katwala 19 February 2010
My specific complaint was about the lack of what was promised earlier - "We will post the second half of Professor Milbank's disquisition, with its insights into reasons to prefer cricket over football, Hugo Chavez and Anglican orthodoxy, tomorrow".r/>r/>Personally, I instinctively have some sympathy for a (perhaps weak version of) the Red Tory position on the question of objective value and relativism. Richard Reeves and Phil Collins in the Liberal Republic approvingly quoting Terry Eagleton’s idea of the state being like a good publican, keeping its opinions to itself about witchcraft or wrestling, which may be updating Bentham's neutral position on poetry or pushpin. r/>r/>Must liberalism necessarily committed to a [relativist] position of this type? I don't know, but historically no liberal state has ever been as culturally or value neutral as this implies, and I am far from sure that it should be. It prefers high culture to sport, and both football and cricket and our Olympian athletes to participants in the WWF. It values high art and culture but not (usually) popular entertainment, though The Beatles and perhaps punk may perhaps also stake some legitimate claims for public recognition (and funding) as part of our cultural heritage.r/>r/>I am not an expert and I don't know where liberal theory would take us on this. There may be a range of liberal defences of this - the full range of options may simply not exist if left to the free cultural - market - or it may be a break with liberal principles. r/>r/>What I think is much less defensible is (which this post appears to do) is to declare arbitrary choices as the right ones. It seems to me that one plausible social democratic route to square the circle here is some public deliberation and accountability about what we collectively choose to value, so as to expand the cultural range of options beyond those we might individually choose in the marketplace. (Both the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Company seem to me to probably meet a democratic legitimacy test of this sort).r/>r/>
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Gravatar Marcos 19 February 2010
John,r/>r/>Yes, I agree, and in a way, that is the point of Alain Badiou's critiques of democracy also, that Milbank mentions (I don't know the work of the other guy). As numerous thinkers have pointed out, so much that it is almost banal to observe parliamentary democracy is not the same as democracy.r/>r/>Asheem,r/>r/>Excellent!r/>
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Gravatar John C. Médaille 19 February 2010
One thing I think we should do is make a distinction between "democracy" (consent of the governed) and "electoral democracy" (judging consent by periodic plebiscites.) There are many ways to judge the consent of the governed. Elections, especially on a large scale where the entry costs are enormous, may not be the best way to judge that consent.
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Gravatar Marcos 19 February 2010
I don't think talking about the music question is actually launching on some minor point and running with it. By using such a minor example it opens up onto the central question of this kind of debate into the 'objective ranking' of the virtues, ie the possibility and desirability of doing this, as well as going to the heart of debates where the communitarians say the problems of arbitrariness (everything is just taste, what is good is what I say yay too, what is bad what I say boo too) and emotivism in liberalism emerge. Therefore it is worth thinking about at the very least.r/>r/>The problem with MacIntyre is, as people have mentioned already, where he says that liberals sneak their concept of the good under the radar, and are kind of dishonest about this therefore - this is similar to John Gray's argument about the 'two faces' of liberalism in his book of the same name. However, I think most liberals if push comes to shove, and this is a critique that is often made, would say, yes, of course we are saying this, this is the best way we think humans should live and yes it of course has a historical genealogy. This is self-evident from the way liberals write about liberalism, and I think they are quite conscious of it. Where does one go when this is said? To discussion of the same points again, but between rival traditions? Indeed, this is the very argument that Stout makes in Democracy and Tradition, where he attempts to mediate between liberals on one hand and communitarians, particularly theological communitarians, on the other, by seeing democracy as a tradition. I'd have no problem if this is where we did end up, and I think we need very strong forums where this kind of thing can be thrashed out, and I don't think, as other people have stated, that Blond/Milbank/Macintyre would disagree. But I think you'd have to take into account where debate does occur now, which is often online, in the very kind of forums on which we are all talking!
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Gravatar Tom 19 February 2010
A (re)introduction of ideals of virtue and good into society certainly makes sense as ultimately necessary in some respect to lend direction and purpose to democracy. However, what the above comments seem to point to as a critique of this position is the question of upon what these ideals of virtue and the good would be based. A concern, which perhaps is intrinsic to liberalism, is that and statement of an idea of virtue or the good must be a personal preference, after all, the argument goes, these values are ultimately subjective. r/>r/>The latter point could be dismissed or rejected. This would beg the question as to where the idea of virtue or the good would come from. After all, even if we say that this is something that should be debated in society, any debate still requires reasoning and reasoning requires a demonstration or derivation. Therefore, for such a model to work virtue and the good as ideals would have to be derived from somewhere. But from where?r/>r/>Of course, in the classical world, where these were first introduced, the ideas of virtues were related to conceptions of the universe. Reason, according to the Stoics, is what constitutes the fabric of the universe. So to be a virtuous person and governed by reason is to live in harmony with universe. r/>r/>Without an idea of the good and how this relates to the scheme of things, with no concept of beauty as energent from the harmony of things, then we can only be left with these as subjective preferences as regulated by procedural justice. Yet in our post-modern age we reject these as so many myths and fanciful conceptions. Where does this leave us? Only by coming to terms with how notions of the good, virtue, not to leave out beauty, relate to an idea of the universe and our place as man and woman, can these be anything but the sprouting of personal preferences and fancies.
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Gravatar Tom 19 February 2010
A (re)introduction of ideals of virtue and good into society certainly makes sense as ultimately necessary in some respect to lend direction and purpose to democracy. However, what the above comments seem to point to as a critique of this position is the question of upon what these ideals of virtue and the good would be based. A concern, which perhaps is intrinsic to liberalism, is that and statement of an idea of virtue or the good must be a personal preference, after all, the argument goes, these values are ultimately subjective. r/>r/>The latter point could be dismissed or rejected. This would beg the question as to where the idea of virtue or the good would come from. After all, even if we say that this is something that should be debated in society, any debate still requires reasoning and reasoning requires a demonstration or derivation. Therefore, for such a model to work virtue and the good as ideals would have to be derived from somewhere. But from where?r/>r/>Of course, in the classical world, where these were first introduced, the ideas of virtues were related to conceptions of the universe. Reason, according to the Stoics, is what constitutes the fabric of the universe. So to be a virtuous person and governed by reason is to live in harmony with universe. r/>r/>Without an idea of the good and how this relates to the scheme of things, with no concept of beauty as energent from the harmony of things, then we can only be left with these as subjective preferences as regulated by procedural justice. Yet in our post-modern age we reject these as so many myths and fanciful conceptions. Where does this leave us? Only by coming to terms with how notions of the good, virtue, not to leave out beauty, relate to an idea of the universe and our place as man and woman, can these be anything but the sprouting of personal preferences and fancies.
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Gravatar John C. Médaille 19 February 2010
I think that essence of the argument is that some musical forms are better than others; if this be denied, than the Rawlsian argument must prevail.r/>r/>The real problem is not so much truth vs. error, but one truth vs. another. The essence of error is not that one is wrong, but that one has allowed a lesser truth to displace a greater truth. The democrats, the aristocrates, the monarchists, the socialists, the capitalists, and so forth, all have a "truth." The trick is to arrange these truths into their proper order and confine each to its proper domain. For example, there is a truth in the market, but it is not the sum total of truth, not even of economic truth.r/>r/>I am a monarchist because I am a democrat. I thing is known by its limits, and a thing without limits quickly becomes its own opposite. Thus in the U.S. Democracy has become oligarchy and plutocracy; the will of some imaginary "all" is manipulated to become the servant of an all-too-real few.
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Gravatar Simon 19 February 2010
Sorry Stuart, I don't think my point was well made. I think he wants properly m>public/political debate about these issues, which would then issue in policy, yes. As an example, someone like Rawls would not allow for such a debate, even with his "overlapping consensus", as Stout has argued. Any notion of state neutrality, so central to liberalism, would not allow for such debate. The point is not only that this in the end doesn't work well for society (the point of Milbank, Sandel etc., and Blond), but that it's also fallacious. This is insofar as such claims to neutrality are at best incoherent, and at worst pernicious, because liberalism already despite itself presupposes certain conceptions of the good (re. material welfare, utility, negative liberty or indeed the 'right' itself), as is patently evident in any decent genealogy of the liberal tradition. As such by attempting to privatise debate about the good (or restrict it to the 'civil' sphere), liberalism actually totalises and universalises it's own, albeit minimal, concepts of the good in the political sphere, disqualifying others, and m>foreclosing any further debate. This is really m>less democratic (and possibly a more subversive kind of 'tyranny') than anything Milbank is proposing, which would actually extend debate about the good to all levels of society. Of course this would issue in policy, but I would argue liberal policy is already shot through with it's own partially veiled (not to mention contestable) notions of the good, debate upon which is officially disallowed.
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Gravatar Stuart White 19 February 2010
Simon: no, I don't think Milbank is arguing just for a debate about the good and virtuous. Any old liberal like me can accept that. Indeed, in a sense, that's liberalism's point. What Milbank also wants is to bring the state in authoritatively in favour of specific judgments of what has value. Given that objective values are plural and diverse, and reasonably contestable, I think this risks being an illegitimate use of state power.
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Gravatar Simon 19 February 2010
I think everyone's going a bit overboard on the music issue. Perhaps taking it a bit to seriously. In his defence, however, on a very basic level, much pop music is mass-produced derivative garbage – mere fodder for market consumption; "entertainment" in it's most banal form, which does not even demand to be properly listened to. It has lost, furthermore, the element of political protest inherent in decades gone by, and has been thoroughly co-opted by the market system. While this may be the staple of the likes of Simon Cowell, however, I don't think it's universal (not sure if Milbank would agree here). One need only think of creative and protestant bands such as Arcade Fire as a counter-example to this trend. Similarly artists like Sufjan Stevens, who has had reasonable commercial success, himself straddles the line between "pop" acoustic folk and classical (having just released his own first classical album, to much acclaim). Plus, the recent proliferation of successful independent record labels, over-against the huge behemoths of EMI etc., suggest things may be changing at a grass-roots level.r/>r/>Regardless, I'm guessing Milbank doesn't listen to Arcade Fire.r/>r/>Finally, I think to go on about this is to miss the important point, which is that Milbank is arguing for an ongoing DEBATE about the Good and the Virtuous, rather than the simple imposition of one interpretation of such things. Such a public debate is absolutely necessary for a good and functioning society. And this is why the privatisation of such questions by liberalism is really such a dangerous thing (and pernicious, insofar as certain conceptions of the good are already smuggled in "under the radar" by the likes of Rawls, quietly disqualifying others). Milbank's points here are commendable. Similar things have obviously been said by guys like Macintyre, Taylor and, as he points out, Sandel. This is the point from the piece that really needs to be listened to, taken on and developed.
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Gravatar Anonymous 19 February 2010
This is the issue Marcos - it seems yourself, stuart and I can all agree that the "social benefit" of music projects for disengaged youth is an objective virtue - a basic human good. it does exactly what you say it does - getting kids off the street, teaching values etc.r/>r/>but to say jazz or classical music is intrinsically better than other forms of music is an opinion/taste that is not so easily agreed upon - you like C20th minimalise, stuart likes punk, i like reggae (i'm sure we all like other genres too) - the point is that these are our individual tastes, they are not dictated by somone defining what we shoudl listen to and holding it up as a virtue that we must all learn to appreciate (instead of listening to our "rubbish")
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Gravatar Marcos 19 February 2010
" Would he feel the same about it if it were teaching young kids to play funk or hip hop (and perhaps consequently entertain a different type of crowd when they come to play in the UK)?"r/>r/>Indeed, aren't projects that have the idea of music as a social good already orientated around these types of music - I'm thinking here of youth project run recording studios mostly used for hip-hop etc - and are hugely successful, both in terms of getting kids off the streets, teaching them values of community and how to use say a recording studio, as well as being fun. Someone learning how to write, produce and record there own music seems as valuable to me as learning a classical instrument if done properly.r/>r/>However, despite this, I think Milbank is saying that classical music and jazz are intrinsically better than other popular forms - with regard to this, might I point out a. which classical music? b. which jazz? I like 20th century minimalism (the American stuff like Steve Reich and the so called 'holy' minimalism of Arvo Part and people like that) and free jazz...would this be included? We should recall that when jazz first emerged it was thought of as simple, not to mention 'unmusic' - one only needs to quickly think of Adorno's comments to this effect.
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Gravatar Stuart White 19 February 2010
Anonymous: well, you hit the nail on the head. Professor Milbank likes classical music and jazz. He wants to swing the authority of the state behind his value judgment and use its authority to favour the things he thinks have objective value. However, there may well be lots of other things, outside of Professor Milbank's life experience, which also have objective value. And there is entirely reasonable disagreement about what has objective value. For both of these reasons, one ought to be much more circumspect than Professor Milbank is about harnessing the state to one's own value judgments. It is not a question of denying the objectivity of value, but of recognizing its full diversity and its reasonable contestability.r/>r/>The example of punk which I gave in my earlier post is not as flippant as it might sound. Punk opened my mind up to all sorts of questions which had never previously occured to me: Are states justified? Is war ever justified? What is freedom? It prompted me to explore these questions and, in this way, enriched me as a person and a citizen. And, for all I know, many people today may be discovering and being turned on to things of objective value through their engagement with what seem to me, with my limited life experience, to be 'rubbish' music. r/>r/>Perhaps it might help to put the point in theological terms. John Milbank's life occupies one, little narrow corner of the divine. As, of course, do all our lives. If we base state policy on Professor Milbank's limited perception of the divine, we do violence to its full diversity, richness and complexity.
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Gravatar Anonymous 19 February 2010
I think this notion that New Labour’s favouring of pop culture over high culture has led to teenagers (not even qualified as ‘some teenagers’) competing over ‘rubbish’ music is a bit of a straw man. I don’t think there are many people who would argue that volume of sales is proportional to quality, most people are well aware that often the best music is not mainstream.r/>r/>r/>Is Milbank praising the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra because it has taught young kids from poor socio-economic backgrounds how to play classical music, or because it has fulfilled its goal of using music for a social good? Would he feel the same about it if it were teaching young kids to play funk or hip hop (and perhaps consequently entertain a different type of crowd when they come to play in the UK)?r/>r/>r/>Why are classical music and jazz the superior forms of music? Is it on an aesthetic level? An opinion on this seems to me subjective. Is it technical complexity? I’m sure other genres of music would have something to say about that.r/>r/>I can accept an objective definition of ‘human goods that all should enjoy’ – but I wonder who makes these definitions: the academic who clearly prefers classical music and can publish in newspapers, or a nobody like me? I would suggest that reggae music (for example) has done far more to build bridges across cultural and racial boundaries than classical music – just compare the audiences at a classical concert and a reggae concert – is this not an objective virtue? Or is Milbank’s view on this influenced by personal preference?r/>
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Gravatar Stuart White 19 February 2010
Like Sunder, I am struck by the failure of Professor Milbank to explain all of his claims in this piece. In particular, I feel the unfavourable contrast between 'classical' and 'jazz' music and the various kinds of 'rubbish' music that young people listen to, is not sufficiently explained. What about punk?
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Gravatar Sunder Katwala 18 February 2010
The trail after post one suggested a rather more substantive disquisition on the cricket/football question.r/>r/>So it is disappointing that this throwaway remark does not even make clear whether the objection is simply to New Labour favouring football over cricket, or whether a substantive case for the superior virtues of cricket is being mounted. If, as I suspect, the latter, could we please have hear some of the reasoning. r/>r/>I would suggest that "soccer" is not something Labour, Old or New, would much recognise. If one way to recognise virtue is through public honours, the rather extravagant showering of accolades on every one of England's 2005 Ashes heroes is one small point in the opposite direction.r/>r/>Test cricket has many virtues; other forms of the game less. But Red Tories might also find resonance in Algerian goalkeeper Albert Camus' remark that "All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football", unless this is to form part of the case for the prosecution given his existentialist commitments.r/>r/>
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Detailed Summary

Date Published
18 February 2010

Categories
Philosophy

About The Authors

Professor John Milbank

John Milbank is Research Professor of Religion, Politics and Ethics and Director of the Centre of Theology and Philoso...