Back in 2012, during the Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron was being interviewed by Andrew Marr, and Andrew Marr was giving him a hard time about the economy, and so Cameron blurted out this remarkable thing:
“Look, there’s a race on, and a lot of countries are going to be left behind, and I’m determined that Britain isn’t going to be one of them…”
These rather alarming words rang in my head for a long time afterwards because they seem to talk about some other… some third party… some unstoppable force out there… some angry god that must be appeased… some beast, indeed! No doubt the “race” is David Cameron’s term for the inertia of the global economy.
It seems strange to talk about global capitalism as so other, and so cruelly indifferent to us as people – since it is we as people who, in part, make it up. But there it is; we find we have a bent and an inertia that we have no power over, and we have eventually become its weary subjects.
It feels like the business of governments is now less about facilitating the structures of human life that the people see to be good and beautiful and true; it’s more about protecting the people from the race – that monster which wields the threat that some nations will be left behind. We may have talked of regulating capitalism in the past, or of unregulating capitalism, but now we must speak of a global capitalism that regulates us. As Cameron sees it, we are subject to an order that promises: there will be blood… the important thing is be sure that isn’t yours. And so, we will have to do what it expects of us.
I really do believe in this strange other that seems to be made up, in part, of myself and my people. The apostle John calls it the kosmos (meaning the order, or the world), the apostle Peter calls it Babylon, St Augustine calls in the city of man and my friend Michael Gilbert calls it the plague of men: this order which seems to built out of our very selves, and yet rules us with a strange will of its own. Cameron calls it the race and I (among others) call it the empire.
Politicians rarely have more than ten years to do anything and they can only count on five. They don’t waste time questioning the order we’re subject to. But they cannot afford to not believe in it. The order is inevitable, irreversible and inescapable. We have no choice but to put our faith in it. Politicians can only concern themselves with how to do the best we can under it… that is, with how to appease it.
So they’ve been forced to join the religious in their fanciful belief in some monstrous order from which we can’t extrapolate ourselves… to which we must comply. And we’re told:
“…a lot of countries are going to be left behind, and I’m determined that Britain isn’t going to be one of them…”
However, I also believe in another order called the Kingdom; and the people of the Kingdom (those mad utopianists!) look on the situation differently. In the Kingdom it is not particularly preferable to succeed while others are left behind. In the Kingdom it may even be better to stay behind so that others might succeed. And even more than that, in the Kingdom it would not even be quite right to passively serve an order that insists upon leaving the weak behind… to participate in it… to do its bidding. And it is in this strange and self-sacrificial kind of resistance that the Kingdom maps out the impossible: an escape from the race… a way out of empire.
The unexpected force of the Kingdom – unthinkable to the politics of empire – finds its ultimate expression in the moment when God the King submits to die on one of the empire’s crosses.
This brings me to the two questions:
-What are the effects on everyday life when everyday life is subject to the mad inertia of a global economic order?
-How do a people build a way of life that is not subjugated to such an order, in the midst of a society that is? How do the people of the Kingdom build a genuinely other life in the age of empire?
I’ve had my head stuck in the first for years. It’s the second one that really troubles me now.