‘Permanent Reform’: Some Obvious Reforms

By | June 3, 2013

I have at various times and in various places advocated a form of engagement for change that I have called ‘permanent reform’. The basic idea is that if sufficient people can be mobilized around the righting of a number of incontrovertible wrongs, once mobilized they will up for more activism to secure more and yet more just social arrangements. Effective interventions bolster substantive or participatory democracy. Permanent reform: (a) allows for ongoing dialectical assessments of what next and towards what ends; and (b) carries the potential to accomplish revolutionary shifts in social formations by non-violent means. Of course, the obstacles are daunting, but we must hear Gramsci: if there is to be a ‘going beyond’ the contradictions, travails and sufferings of financial capitalism, ‘optimism of the will’ has to trump ‘pessimism of the intellect’.

So here in this tongue-in-cheek blog is a list of obvious wrongs that publics might be encouraged to right. If opinion polls are to be believed, some will call for more ‘educative work’ than others.

  1. Abolishing the monarchy. It is absurd that we revere an ageing if dutiful woman and her patronizingly dotty husband who owe their status wholly to accidents of birth and exclusive breeding programmes. And then there’s Charles waiting in the wings, quite unreflexive about his limitations and able to interfere clandestinely and on a whim with parliamentary and local decision-making. In the absence of an hereditary monarchy, other shadowy institutions and customs would be exposed.
  2. Removing the aristocracy and the awarding of ‘honours’. With Kings and Queens consigned to history the heads of a range of human anachronisms from Princes and Princesses via Dukes and Duchesses to Knights and Dames would appear above the parapet. The twenty-first century has no need of titles that buttress wealth, privilege and influence and, just as important, define, co-opt and exclude publics of commoners.
  3. Abolishing the House of Lords. Well, it follows from 1 and 2. How absurd to afford the privileged insurance in circumventing the popular will. Put them out to grass. Just expand the role of the cross-party Commons select committees.
  4. Phasing out inheritance. It is self-evidently unjust that the Duke of Westminster, as a result of the fortuitous instrumental alliances of his ancestors, inherited millions while others were born indebted; only commoners are required to embrace an ‘imperative to work’ (as if this is what being born on our planet is about). Without inherited wealth and the plethora of ‘forms of capital’ that come in its wake, our mere membership of one species among others is elegantly revealed and celebrated.
  5. Cap capital accumulation. This is more easily accomplished than might be suspected: all it requires is a shift (back) towards more progressive taxation. It should not be possible for unconscionable wealth to insinuate itself into through tax havens into so few hands; so let’s work with a formula that ties wealth accumulation to a living wage.
  6. Reign in the House of Commons. Introduce a two-term limit on membership of the Commons. It is more difficult to operate like a cozy, gentleman’s club if membership is time-bound. The formal democracy of a parliament falls far short of a substantive or participatory democracy; but this ‘reigning in’ opens up space for other inputs. MPs salaries and expenses should compensate for this.
  7. Pilot modes of public deliberation. New communication technologies afford opportunities for the engagement of publics towards a more substantive or participatory democracy, even in complex socially differentiated societies like ours. So experiment!
  8. Abolish private schooling. The so-called ‘public’ schools have nothing to do with education and everything to do with reproducing advantage: what is purchased is an advantage for one’s child over other people’s children. It is an institutional device for transmitting cultural capital, a feeder system for our elites, and the public knows it.
  9. Make state education secular. Abolish ‘faith’ schools, ludicrous conduits for indoctrinating pupils. Consign all religions to the private sphere to be practiced by consenting adults. The ‘risks’ of a common curriculum must however be mitigated by: (a) its containment within a maximum of, say, 75% of the total teaching hours; (b) the independence of not- for-profit examination boards; and most importantly (c) the independence of the teaching profession

It is perhaps odd that such reasonable demands seem so far-fetched, but that’s ideology and the name of the political game; and I retain my pessimism of the intellect. But are 1-9 really so extraordinary? The tension as ever is between the powerful advantaged and the powerless disadvantaged; so mobilizing public support is likely to prove hard. Set phased time limits for change. Middle-income parents want to help their kids financially; but the homeless, impoverished and those without hope cannot wait a generation or three for change. So let’s signal intent and commence a negotiated process of (permanent) reform towards a better society. It is a crucial component of action sociology, after all, that it does more than document injustices and shrug its shoulders.

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