Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Meaning of “System” in Systemic Risk – Part 1: Blair’s Morality Play

Michael Foot, the British Labor leader, died past Wednesday at the age of 96. Gordon Brown half-praised him as a “genuine British radical [who] possessed a powerful sense of community”.

Reading the obituaries, I came upon this picture of him with a young protégé.

Yep, that’s Tony Blair on the left. The year was 1982. You know the rest. He could have been a contender. He could have had class.

How did an intelligent, socially active and presumably well-intentioned young man become “Yo Blair”, the disgraced politician of late – a moral “elephant man”, disfigured by the charges of deceit and war crimes?

Blair was not a politician of Berlusconi or even Sarkozy mold. These latter men are hacks, with no sense of community or continuity. For them, politics is an escapade. You can see this in their lack of social decorum: giving finger, spewing obscenities. They are recruited to advance private agendas, and nothing else.

Tony Blair had élan. He came from a tradition of active political involvement that produced the Cambridge Four. His extreme turnaround was in fact similar, only he went the other way.


The trajectory of Blair’s political life is the interaction of individual and social. Part of the answer then lies in the man’s personality; someone else might have acted differently.

But a “flawed personality” is no explanation. Standing next to Michael Foot as his lieutenant and going on to become “Yo Blair” is like standing next the Pope as a cardinal and going on to become a pimp – and running a brothel from Vatican. The turn of events transcends the individuals. It demands an explanation at the social level.

What force, what sort of pressure then, pushed a young labourite into such “deep place”, to use Dante’s expression?

Reviewing the social history of England since 1982 is not possible here. Nor is it necessary. The culprit is finance capital. We only have to recognize the different instances of its manifestation, the different forms under which it appears and pressures the social order.

Those ignorant of the dynamics of finance capital feel the pressure and, not seeing the cause, attribute it to “natural” change, of the kind brought about by the evolution of cosmos. In yielding to it, then, they imagine that they yield to God’s will – or do the God’s work. And what could be more moral, morality being Tony Blair’s mantra, his sword and shield.

Meanwhile, the social system disintegrates with accelerating pace.

I will return to elaborate.