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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Aneurin Bevan and Social Theory

My Christmas reading included the first volume of Michael Foot's biography of Aneurin Bevan which covers the period up to his appointment as Minister of Health in July 1945. The book is an unashamed piece of hagiography and is as much a testament to the fight for the soul of the Labour Party in 1962, when it was first published, as to the man that it is nominally about. Bevan was a born contrarian who spent as much time fighting the gutless hypocrisy of the leadership of his own party as he did the gutsier hypocrisy of the Conservatives. He was also an unashamed bon viveur and autodidact of extraordinary intellectual range and penetrating political insight who seems to have inspired unconditional love and hatred in almost equal measure.
I was particularly struck by a passage in which Bevan describes the Parliamentry performance of Stanley Baldwin:
"It is medicine man talk...It lifts the discussion on to so abstract a plane that the minds of the hearers are relieved of the effort of considering the details of the immediate problems. It imposes no intellectual strain because thought drifts into thought, assembling and dissolving like clouds in the upper air, having no connection with earthly obstacles. It flatters, because it appears to offer intimate companionship with a rare and noble spirit. It pleases the unsceptical, because it blurs the outline of unpleasant fact in a maze of meaningless generalities. Over and over again I have been amazed by the ease with which even Labour Members are deceived by this nonense."
Substitute 'empirical sociologists' for 'Labour Members' and you have an almost perfect description of the malign hold of 'social theory' over British sociology. It doesn't take much imagination to guess what Bevan would have made of the Third Way.

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