The Big Society, which embraces hundreds of programmes which attempt to return power from the state to the people, has come under fire from some Tory MPs and activists, who claim it is virtually meaningless to voters.
It has also met Opposition criticism, including claims that it is merely an attempt to hand state-financed services to the private sector and a cynical “cover” for spending cuts.
Isn’t it tragic that we have become so dependent on the state that the notion of building up bonds of voluntary relationship is now a mystery? The cynicism of the Opposition is very much to be regretted: I suppose it is reflective of the dominance of the statist Fabians in the Labour Party over the gentler mutualists.
It is unfortunately none too well understood that, just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.
We have had a century of increasing state power, illustrated in the chart below. It now seems social power is so depleted that we scarcely realise the extent to which our lives have come to be dominated by the instrument of coercion and compulsion which is the state.
As I wrote previously on ConservativeHome:
The change we need is a change within. From a belief that human relationships should be based on class conflict and mutual plunder mediated by the State, to a reliance on mutual cooperation. From the view that business is somehow bad, to the realisation that all enterprise is social. From condemnation of profit, to an understanding that it is a measure of the value created for others. From fear of bearing risk, to the truth, that the search to create value for other people is the foundation of worthwhile community. From waiting for the State to decide and provide, to energetic, innovative mutual support.
Jesse Norman MP’s book The Big Society shows that the idea has a rich intellectual heritage and that it offers a positive alternative to a failed century of power transfer from society to the state.
I am glad David Cameron is relaunching the Big Society with moral purpose. One way or another, we all need the idea to succeed.