Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wilberforce and Normative Politics

As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to see the film Amazing Grace. I must say I enjoyed it, perhaps it was just the novelty of going to the cinema, or even seeing a film which I haven't done much of lately. I liked the way Wilberforce was shown to have a broad range of political concerns beyond his driving passion to end slavery. There was a scene where Thomas Clarkson tries to persuade Wilberforce to embrace the revolutionary politics then going on in France, but Wilberforce is quite adamantly opposed to such an approach. I am hoping that The Wiberforce Connection might give further insight into his approach to politics. My fear is that the "Wilberforce model", while inviting prophetic opposition to the many injustices in the world, lacks the kind of positive normative vision that is needed to confront the complex issues we face today.

A really helpful starting point would be to ask what the task of the state is. This is vital if we are to hold the state to account as a servant of God, while also giving due regard to the responsibilities of other social institutions like families, businesses, schools and churches as well as the role of individual citizens. I just don't see Christians in Britain asking these kinds of questions. Hopefully Jonathan Chaplin will be able to prompt such necessary thinking. Without a view that clearly differentiates the kind of responsibility and authority that is proper for the state we will end up with all sorts of unrealistic expectations and muddled thinking.

An example of this is Julia Manning's contribution to The Difference on "Health and Stewardship" where she writes that "The government has the responsibility to provide for the health of the nation. Yet it also has the responsibility of maintaining economic vibrancy". While the government has some kind of responsibility towards public health, it is a limited and specific kind of responsibility that needs to be viewed along side the responsibilities of health care institutions, families, schools etc. which each have an important role to play. So we need some positive delineation of these diverse, but reinforcing social responsibilities.

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