Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, by George Monbiot, September 2017. Verso, ISBN: 9781786632883 (paperback), 224 pages. RRP 9.99 (paperback)
I always look forward to reading a new book by George Monbiot, usually for its clarity, passion and vision. Out of the Wreckage did not disappoint in any of these criteria. The introductory chapter explores the idea of the story and its power in our collective lives. Christians will be all too aware of the symbolism of story through those encountered in the Bible and through the parables of Jesus. Monbiot argues that we need a new story to meet the multiple challenges – social, economic and political – that confront us today, as “the only thing that can displace a story is a story”. He proceeds to explore the main political stories of the twentieth century: social democracy and neoliberalism. The former was in the ascendancy until the 1970s when neoliberalism as the predominant political philosophy began to gain ground.
Monbiot then outlines the major differences between intrinsic values such as empathy, openness, equality and a desire to help others, with a sensitivity to the human and natural world, and extrinsic values based on power, wealth and individualism, with little interest in cooperation and community. Neoliberalism has exploited extrinsic values at the expense of intrinsic ones, which has resulted in the breakdown of what we hold in common, and the destruction of the natural world. Monbiot points out that, contrary to a general pessimistic belief about human nature, we are basically altruistic and cooperative, yet our political system nurtures competitiveness and individualism, with the resultant destruction of community and an outcome of loneliness s and alienation. From this arises distrust and hatred of the other, shown in the emergence of extremism and terrorism.
The first half of the book is devoted to detailing how we have got into our present situation and the effects that this has had on society. The second half then proposes a vision of how we can extricate ourselves from the destructive model that has been created. This, he argues, is achieved by drawing on our common humanity and developing a radical and inclusive politics that works for the many, not just the few. He also proposes an economic system wedded to human flourishing and well-being, rather than endless growth. In short, the renewal of community and social and environmental justice. Although Monbiot points out the many failures of the present system, this is in no way a pessimistic tome. Rather it is one of hope and a vision that we are all called to be involved in. The book can be summarised by its concluding statement: “When we emerge from the age of loneliness and alienation, from an obsession with competition and extreme individualism, from the worship of image and celebrity, we will find a person waiting for us. It is a person better than we might have imagined, whose real character has been suppressed. It is the one who lives inside us, who has been there all along”.
I highly commend this book and hope that many in Green Christian will respond to its message and carry it forward, both individually and collectively.