Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Global Musketeers

Gordon Brown's speech yesterday at the JFK library is an interesting read. It's underlying philosophy is well summarized by Niall Ferguson's NYT review of Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent. But one issue it raises is the uneasy mix of Brown's emphasis on internationalism and his attempts to conjure up a uniquely "British" indentity. Consider first Brown's identification of a global value system --

For through each of our diverse heritages there runs a single, powerful moral sense: one that is reflected and replicated throughout the world’s great religions and also in the moral philosophy of those who adhere to none that shows we are not moral strangers but there is a moral sense common to us all.

When Christians say: ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’;
When Muslims say: ‘no one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself’;
When Jews say ‘what is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man’;
When Hindus say ‘this is the sum of duty: do naught unto other which would cause pain if done to you’;
When Sikhs say ‘treat others as you would be treated yourself’;
When Buddhists say ‘hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful’;
….they reflect a common truth dear to billions of adherents of those and other religions that is true also of all the great secular thinkers: that we not only cooperate out of need but there is a human need to cooperate; and that cooperation is built on the desire for liberty and the call to justice: respect for the dignity of every individual and our sense of what is equitable and fair.

Yet when he's speaking to a domestic audience, he presents a definition of "British" also based on values, and values that don't sound much different than the global moral sense above. So to add some local content, he has to make things like the NHS and Comic Relief a reflection of moral sense. The only thing British is the superstructure erected over the intrinsic moral sense. It's a strange, ahistorical definition of nationality.

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