In this post, though, I want to focus on one very small aspect of the evil of neo-liberalism: the assault on civic culture through decimating the universal services provided by the state. I believe that the foundation of a civic culture is universal entitlement to certain key services, equitably delivered according to universalist values. Inequality of provision implies inequality of civic status, while equality of provision provides for a shared experience of the state that can be the basis of a shared citizenship, an equal stake in a community of citizens.
Neo-liberalism is the rolling back of the state in its care for the citizenry. We are now not citizens but consumers, faced with a ‘choice’ of providers in the marketplace. Sometimes, of course, the new provider can be a community enterprise, deeply rooted in a neighbourhood, empowering local citizens through its provision of services. The state is not necessarily the best provider of services.
More often than not, of course, providers enter the marketplace to make a profit, and the best service consumers can choose is likely to be the one few can afford – either because few have enough money, or because few have enough resources (‘social capital’ as the jargon of today) to navigate the obstacles to accessing it. For example, the
It is into this vacuum that faith-based initiatives, as Bush calls them, have stepped. In
Like Bush and Blair, and unlike most of my fellow ‘muscular liberals’, I have great respect for religious faith and the sacrifices people of faith will make to contribute to the communities. I am not against faith-based initiatives as such.
But my worry is that the universal values of public culture – values such as free inquiry and tolerance for different faiths – are under threat from the marketisation of public services. While the rich can choose quality, the children of the less than rich are segregated along lines of faith or community, and many placed in the hands of the some of the most reactionary, authoritarian, bigoted people imaginable, to the detriment of a culture of common citizenship.
Sources for this piece include articles by Stephen Hoare and Teesta Setalvad in “God in the Classroom” section of Catalyst January 2006, “City schools could be front for evangelists” Education Guardian, Know Your Enemy Red Pepper
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Keywords: neoliberalism, neoliberal, education, prayer in schools, faith schools, national curriculum, citizenship, globalisation, multiculturalism, integration, cohesion, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism.