Now here’s an interesting article from the British newspaper, The Catholic Herald, an interview with Maurice Glasman, a British politician and academic. He is a senior lecturer in political theory at London Metropolitan University, where he is also director of the university’s Faith and Citizenship Program. Glasman is practicing Jew and a founding member of the Stoke Newington New Shul congregation.
But he is happy to acknowledge an important debt he owes, and that we all owe, to Catholic social teaching. It’s a tradition, he says, that continues to have an important role to play in the social and political issues of our day. Many of his comments in this article are most relevant to British politics, but it does not take much thinking to see how his observations apply just a well to American politics and moral issues.
It might seem unlikely that this left-wing, Jewish, north London intellectual should be such a champion of Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. But it forms the cornerstone of Glasman’s politics – and, he believes, will be at the foundation of any real attempt to move on from what he describes as “England’s two failed dreams” of 1945 welfarism and 1979 Thatcherism.
He stumbled across CST by accident, while studying for a PhD in Florence, dismayed by Thatcherism and its “concentration on money and individuals”, and unconvinced by Neil Kinnock’s social democracy. His girlfriend was Italian – “it was inconceivable to me that this girl was a practising, confessing Catholic at Church every Sunday and also a full member of the Italian Communist Party”. She shared the Rerum Novarum with Glasman and an intellectual love-affair began. “I read the Novarum, I read the commentaries, I read the Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical marking the centenary of Catholic Social Thought.”
A lost soul redeemed. “The most important thing is to express my gratitude to the Church, to the Catholic tradition for the intellectual nourishment that it’s given me and so many other people who are not Catholics. It’s a gift to the world. It’s at the heart of the great battle that’s going on – about whether we’re about justice through relationships and tradition or, for the other side, human rights and procedural things.”
I must admit also to be quite taken by his proposal for “rewarding virtue” in society — what he sees as a more direct and perhaps more effective way of achieving what tax credits for married couples is intended to do.
I’d like to see us redistribute resources to people who care – for each other, for children – so that couples can have a night out on a little date. I would have a weekend away for five years of marriage. A week’s holiday for ten years of marriage. Maybe a cruise for twenty five years. Just a present, an acknowledgement that this is not easy – to stay together, to care for others, to be faithful and to forgive and rebuild. The whole direction of society is to reward freedom and so some generosity for people who make it work and do their duty – that’s what I mean when I say ‘rewarding virtue’”.
There’s plenty more in this article worth looking at, including Glasman’s comments on Iraqi Christian as “the new Jews,” on the common good, and on Cardinal Reinhold Marx’s defense of a speech Glasman offered that one American conservative denounced as “Communist.”