Cheque book politics, balance sheet protest

George Osborne is right, in all honesty. We are ‘all in this together’ in the sense that the marchers on Saturday in London were not saying no cut-backs, just different cuts at slower rates. After all, it’s not just the bankers’ fault. If like me you once lived off a credit card, over-reached on a mortgage, you played something of the same game too.

So we’re stuck with cheque book politics, balance sheet protest. I loathe the utilitarian ruination of higher education, love the sentiment behind MC NxtGen’s pro-NHS rap, can worry about libraries and jobs. But there’s nothing radical about the protest that I can see, if you ignore the anarchic minority whose radicality is dependent upon doing harm to others. The mainstream question is one of emphasis, not ideology. Is there a radical politics today?

Well, perhaps there is, drawing more on the philosophies of MacIntyre and Lovelock, than Proudhon or Marx. It’d be based around intentional communities, like this one set up by Tobias Jones.

Jones and his family have bought a small wooded plot and are building a life that does not reject capitalism out of hand, but is not wholly determined by it too. It’s the Pauline principle of being in the world but not entirely of the world.

Why is it radical? I can see perhaps three elements:

The rhythm of their life is different. The week is not structured around the demands of work and consumption – office and supermarket – but around the laborious demands of the seasons and a daily pattern of liturgy. That’s questioning notions of capital and individualism by factoring in some concerns other than their own, other than the economic.

Their personal life is different. Jones lives with his wife and three kids, but theirs is an ‘extended household’, not a nuclear one. They have people regularly passing through, staying for varying amounts of time – individuals who need a break for one reason or another, and whilst staying, contribute to the life. That’s questioning notions of property and privacy.

Their notion of community is different. Part of the problem with the ‘big society’ is that it’s willing the ends whilst cutting the means. Plus community only comes with stability, whereas modern economics requires mobility. Jones understands Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s dictum: ‘He who loves community destroys com­munity.’ Community is a by-product of the kind of life you are leading. So his project is gently pressing us to ask, what kind of life are we leading?

I rapidly get starry-eyed about this kind of thing, not least when tapping into a computer at the start of yet another working week. But having been involved with a couple of communities myself in the past, I’m impressed by Jones’ practical realism. A new Benedict, as Alasdair MacIntyre has asked? No. But a radical, impressive experiment.