Issues for Political Theology and Public Life
Lead researcher: Dr Ben Wood
Disquiet over the prevalence of social and economic individualism has a long history. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1840:
I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each of them withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. Mankind, for him, consists in his children and his personal friends. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing.
In recent decades however, the acceleration of globalisation and the expansion of consumer culture have both reanimated and amplified de Tocqueville’s original complaint. In a world of mobile Capital and increasingly mobile people, communities of common tradition and locality appear to be under threat from the advent of a fragmented market society. In Britain, both the Red Tory and Blue Labour projects have derided social and economic ‘individualism’ as the cause of civic decline and democratic disengagement. Similarly, in the United States, communitarians like Michael Sandel, continue warn us of the links between normative individualism and an uncritical appraisal of both free-market economics and abstract political rights.
Are these complaints against individualism justified? And crucially, how should Christians respond to them? Digging down into the substance of these questions, this project will consider the theological, liturgical and scriptural resources Christians have for understanding the notion of individualism in relation to issues of education, public life and the formation of democratic citizenship.