During the Big Society discussions, the sight of some Conservatives running scared from the idea that the best way of responding to problems is a messy patchwork of responses has been deeply unsettling. Somewhere along the way we seem to have developed a preoccupation with institutional, tidy and uniform solutions that were once the preserve of statists.
Although perhaps a cheap trick, invoking the support of long lost heroes is powerful, and I’m pretty sure that while Burke would have been a supporter of the Big Society, if he were here now he would have pointed to a critical element that we’re not giving close enough attention in all our discussions – that of family and community.
Building a Big Society must surely be about building a more connected society with more functional relationships, everything else flows from this. The state has gradually taken over many of the responsibilities that families used to take care of. Social bonds break down where they’re not needed. Financial support for someone out of work is provided by the state, company for the elderly by local libraries (if the media is to be believed), child care by nurseries, social housing by local authorities.
We’re more comfortable with it being this way as it removes any sense of duty or debt to those around us and instead replaces it with a sense of entitlement. It may well be that for some people the family networks around them have broken down to such a point that they’re not able to help or they may simply be too poor, but these cases should be the exception where help from charities or the state is then sought, not the rule.
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