I'm a huge admirer of Frank Furedi's work (am reading his intriguing new book Therapy Culture at the moment) and he's posted an excellent article about "The Politics of the Lonely Crowd" over at Spiked.
As an ardent enthusiast for the political disengagement and lifestyle liberation he decries, I'm not sure I agree with his latest piece. But he presents a fascinating reading of "social disengagement" that is well worth considering. A snippet:
We live in an era of political exhaustion and social disengagement. Fewer and fewer people are prepared to vote, and fewer still are interested in getting involved in party politics. In the UK, membership of the major political parties has fallen by half since 1980. During the same period, political party membership in France has declined by two-thirds, and in Italy by 51 per cent. By comparison, the German figure looks good: total party membership fell by only nine per cent, probably because of an influx of new recruits from the east….
The decline of party membership coincides with a wider disengagement from political life. Today, people's idealism and hopes are rarely invested in a belief in political change, and individuals rarely develop their identities through some form of political attachment. Thirty years ago, an individual might have identified himself as a Labour man, whose outlook on life was shaped by his belief in a socialist future and whose relationships in the present were with a community that shared this broad view. Today the question of who you vote for is seen as barely significant, and self-identity is viewed far more in terms of individuals' lifestyles, cultural habits and personal experiences….
Politics today has little in common with the passions and conflicts that have shaped people's commitments and hatreds over the past century. There is no longer room for either the ardent advocate of revolution or the fervent defenders of the free market faith. Political sentiments rarely acquire a systematic form, in which vague aspirations for change are transformed into real-life discussions about how change might come about. This is definitely not an age of political programmes. Where political life was once defined by debates about the welfare state or privatisation, now similar-sounding manifestos pick over class sizes in schools and university tuition fees.
[Link via Arts & Letters Daily]