In a co-authored Comment Is Free piece, Phillip Blond and John Milbank aver that we need the right kind of inequality. We can reportedly achieve this by carrying out a synthesis of traditional Tory and Leftist ideals, which would allow us to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable inequality. The unjustifiable kind is based in race prejudice or in the nihilistic application of skill in socially useless activities such as investment banking — surely we can all agree on that. The justifiable kind is a form of class privilege that serves as “a way of providing the appropriate resources for the wielding of power linked to virtue. By virtue we mean here a combination of talent, fitness for a specific social role, and a moral exercise of that role for the benefit of wider society.”
Presumably we are to believe that there is some way of implementing this political program, despite the fact that no qualified judge of what is justified or unjustified equality seems to exist — unless we’re to imagine Rowan Williams or, probably even better, Benedict XVI handing down these moral recommendations — nor does actual existing class privilege serve to equip leaders for the exercise of virtue in public life as far as I can tell. The gesture is the same as with “Catholic social teaching”: bring together elements of left and right in some unprecedented mixture to prove your brilliance and ability to think “outside the box,” and provide no concrete means to get to this supposed utopia other than hoping that people’s hearts change and they suddenly start doing the right thing. It’s a pose, not a program, and its only possible concrete effect can be to support the right wing.
Overall, the article reminds me of a quote from the Communist Manifesto that I’ve used before in this connection: “Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat.”