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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

"no such thing as society"

A few years after I left University Margaret Thatcher gave birth to the quote that "no such thing as society", it galvanized my already antagonistic views toward the Tory Party but also encouraged active political activity on behalf of Plaid Cymru. By coming back to live and work in a rural community in Ceredigion it was patently clear that society was alive and well, despite the travails of Thatcher. To to me, as a statement, it wasn't true. An active society or community living and talking to each other, sharing their lives, educating each other, sharing work, trading with each other, supporting when in need and criticising where necessary is one of the bedrocks of a society that understand what the rules are without needing to have them written down. It is a community where conscience rather than the rules of compliance decide what is right and wrong, it is the kind of community where people feel at ease with themselves and their neighbours.
David Cameron this week talked about "good people routinely do bad things" . He must remember that it was his Party that routinely dismantled societies and communities in pursuit of a ruthless self serving political dogma. Without the checks and balances of a confident society it was only a matter of time before "good people routinely do bad things."


Anonymous said...

Penri - I think Thatcher's quote is always taken a little out of context and needs to be quoted in full.
"I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."

When you read it in full it's a much less simplistic quote than is generally regarded. I'm not sure what society is, who is 'society' how does someone define a 'society' and why is it always seen as a 'good thing' when it can be bad - societies cause genocides, lynchings, discrimination.

A lot of your electorate (not all Tory either) would agree with Thatcher that people have to take responsibility for themselves and not expect others to pick up the pieces. That you can't build a civic society unless it is built on a collection of active, socially minded, responsible individuals and families.

Don't go for easy and cliched comments about society/community = good; individual, self-responsibility = bad.

Knocking Thatcher doesn't wash wit h the electorate any more.

Penri James said...

Anon-Its true to say that the cliched view of individual=good and society=bad prevelant in the Thatcher years is also unbalanced, I support nether this or the opposite but somwhere inbetween. True, many people don't even know what Thatcher stood for but she is not entirely irrelevant. However I think you misunderstand, that is not the point of this blog! If society (or communities) are kept in ignorance of the action of individuals then there are no checks and balances on the actions of those individuals. It is an argument for freedom of information but also and argument for individuals to take responsibility for their actions and set themselves a standard of behaviour that the society in which they live finds acceptable.