In other words, by the time Rawls provided the great institutions of post-war solidarity with their rational basis and affective content, it was too late. Principles of redistributive justice were already giving way to political pragmatism; the non-state corporatist bodies and labour unions of the s and 60s had already begun to collapse under the weight of rising unemployment and the influx of migrant workers; the welfare state had already begun its inexorable transformation into the market-state , in which the primary responsibility of government was not to serve the wellbeing of the body politic, but "to maximize the opportunities enjoyed by all members of society"; and the sense of the contingency of poverty was already being eclipsed by the emergent language of "individual responsibility," with its accompanying belief that poverty is the result of sloth and dissolute living, and not "luck" or inherited privilege.
The most immediate effect of these developments was to moralize inequality, thereby converting its persistence in our common life from signalling a failure to honour our mutual obligations within the social contract, to constituting grounds for the exclusion of certain people from any claim within the social contract tout court.
And the names for this exclusion quickly became fixtures of the modern political lexicon: free-riders, welfare cheats, the sans-papiers. Without these political, cultural, intellectual, linguistic and, indeed, affective shifts in the early s, the ever growing inequality of the subsequent four decades would have been, quite simply, unpalatable. The social wound would have proven too offensive to our moral sensibilities. Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago. But Rawls's failure at this point to provide sufficient bulwark against the ravages of gross inequality has less to do with some particular flaw in his philosophy than it does a fundamental moral deficiency in political liberalism as such.
Liberal political orders rest on the belief that virtuous citizens are not necessary for a society to be peaceful, prosperous, even good - and, indeed, that the private vices of self-interested individuals can, by some wondrous alchemy, be channelled to benefit society as a whole. All that is required, as Jean-Claude Michea puts it, is to outsource the task of "harmonizing of individual behaviour to the neutral and impersonal mechanisms of Law and Market. But while the putative rationale of liberalism is to make virtue or vice irrelevant to civic stability, the effect is to cultivate individuals who live in near total emotional isolation from one another, who feel no responsibility for the immiseration of their fellow citizens, who are increasingly incapable of exercising the kind of deliberative wisdom and practical solidarity demanded in circumstances of hardship or scarcity - individuals, in other words, who cannot be moral agents.
What matters is that certain social services are performed, that certain minimal obligations to fellow citizens are met, not who meets them. Accordingly, what is lost within liberal political orders is the idea that sociality is a vocation, a task given to us to accomplish - what Aristotle called ergon , but what Roman jurists and later Catholic social theology would term munus : a bequeath given to us by virtue of our belonging to a political community; both a trust and a mutual entrustedness.
Indeed, the term munus designates the principle of reciprocity and acknowledged interdependence that is at the heart of the social bond, just as it is at the root of the words community, communication, communion, the commons. The great and terrible achievement of liberalism is to have normalized individualism, as though it were a more basic expression of the human condition than interdependence, as though our ties with others were merely elective and, as such, disposable.
But this normalization is itself the outcome of what Luigino Bruni has called the "grand immunizing project" of modernity: the deliberate renunciation of the munus , the transformation of one's neighbour into one's rival, the studied indifference to the misery of another. And yet far from being somehow natural, this turning inward of the body - incurvatus in se , in Augustine's marvellous phrase - this retrieval of the body from any common cause and its rededication to the exclusive pursuit of its own health, safety and pleasure, represents a refusal of the conditions of human flourishing.
For it is individualism, not interdependence, that is artificial. Interdependence, on the other hand, or entrustedness, is fundamental to life; as Knud Loegstrup puts it, "it is given. If Rawls's Theory of Justice represents the last rites of the welfare state, then perhaps Ballard's High-Rise is its death rattle.
It is in that novel that we see most vividly, albeit in an extreme form, what happens when otherwise benign institutions are populated with individuals who have learned how to live immune from the lives and needs of others. The institutions themselves come to mirror the misery they are meant to ameliorate. This was perhaps Rousseau's most powerful insight into the nature of inequality. Those who profit at the expense of the misery of others are not thereby above the fray; for such injustice impoverishes an entire political community - it consigns all members to a condition of, to use Rousseau's startling phrase, egale gueuserie : equal misery.
The year before Ballard's High-Rise appeared in print, another tower would admit its first residents. But unlike its fictional counterpart, Grenfell Tower, as it was christened, was altogether unremarkable. Thousands of tower blocks just like it had been built in Britain since , each one constructed after the brutalist fashion that since the mids had become synonymous with public housing: austere, featureless cuboids; all raw concrete and glass; fawning, elephantine monuments to Corbusier's Modernist vision of urban renewal.
To the degree that such a thing is possible, this was an architectural style almost entirely without traits - it was, if I may be forgiven an obscure theological term, apophatic , in the sense that it was a style defined by what it is not. And what it was not, emphatically, was Aneurin Bevan's generously humane model of post-war social housing: the low-set brick or cream rendered terraces, with their angular roofs and small gardens, that comprised council estates in the late s and 50s, and gave such vivid physical expression to the spirit of wartime solidarity.
But for all its pretensions of futurity and unbridled optimism, and its evident disdain for the quaint modesty of council terraces, the brutalist architecture associated with Le Corbusier and Erno Goldfinger - although not, curiously enough, Berthold Lubetkin, for reasons that I cannot explore here but Marina Lewycka has captured in her gorgeous novel, The Lubetkin Legacy - already evinced a kind of aesthetic exhaustion, a weariness with life and disinterest in the merely beautiful.
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It was this progressive disposition that C. Lewis mercilessly lampooned in That Hideous Strength , through the preposterous figures of the "planners and conditioners" - scientists, like Filostrato - who gaze longingly at the "clean rock" of the moon:. There is cleanness, purity. Thousands of square miles of polished rock with not one blade of grass, not one fibre of lichen, not one grain of dust. It is hardly surprising, then, that just as political ambition started to wane and what was meant to be the crowning achievement of the welfare state began to be felt by politicians as a kind of drudgery, such an exhausted aesthetic should have been so eagerly embraced as the grudging continuation of the dream of social housing.
In place of terrace housing, with its geographical spread and inescapably old-fashioned feel, councils across Britain's urban centres adopted the construction of industrialized, mass-produced tower blocks. These monuments to the future were visible signs, not now of solidarity, but of progress ; their concrete walls could be manufactured cheaply off-site as entire slabs and assembled by unskilled labourers quickly and at a fraction of the cost. But while the austerity of the facade, the affordability and speed of construction was attractive to architects and local councillors alike, what they did not foresee was "how concrete homes behaved once they were built, and how the people who lived in them behaved in response to this unforgiving and easily abused material.
The lack of natural light and the absence of usable common spaces militated against sociality, even as the creation of irredeemably dark places gave ample occasion for illicit and violent behaviour.
True, the tower blocks housed many more people and with a minimal geographical footprint, but their residents were rarely communities - they were, instead, merely people in their aggregate. The tower blocks thus signalled, almost as soon as they were built, a perfidious betrayal of the very idea of social housing. As Lynsey Hanley writes, by the late s:.
And concrete. Ugly concrete. Even the tower blocks' height no longer suggested prestige. Unlike Ballard's high-rise, where one's elevation denoted wealth, superiority, even a certain ontological distance from the lives of those trapped, like Wells's Morlocks , in the bowels of the building, the higher you lived in council tower blocks the more divorced you were from the ground and the shared substance of civic life, and the more likely you were to be an ethnic minority.
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Height was yet another form of alienation. Much like social housing itself, the inhabitants of tower blocks were thus stigmatized as problems to be solved - or, at least, managed, contained - rather than equal recipients of our common concern. This was certainly the experience of the residents of Grenfell Tower over decades. Victims of bipartisan neglect and at times open contempt, the tower's inhabitants were successively abandoned by the very ones charged with their care: from the Thatcherian legacy of privatization to the Blairite devolution of management to effete local authorities; from the feckless fifty-member council representing the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea where Grenfell Tower is located to the reporters indentured to the tyranny of digital capitalism, who thus have neither the time nor the inclination to cover local stories that haven't a hope in hell of "going viral.
Instead, the hideous raw concrete exterior, now out of fashion, received a make-over using inexpensive, flammable cladding over the top of building material once praised for being fire resistant. That such a decision would be made at the expense of a more substantive refurbishment is only surprising if one fails to grasp the point of the cladding itself. Prettifying the outside appearance of Grenfell Tower was not merely an aesthetic protest against the once au courant brutalist style; it was a way of hiding the lived reality of its residents from their fabulously affluent neighbours.
The cladding was an expression of the desire for immunity from the lives of those holed up behind it. Its purpose was not to address the isolation into which so many tower blocks plunged their residents, but to confine it, to concentrate it, to quarantine it.
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The foundation supports the college through fund raising and student scholarships. She is assistant principal for instruction at Arroyo High School. About Us. Brand Publishing. Times News Platforms. Real Estate. Facebook Twitter Show more sharing options Share Close extra sharing options. Other issues were the tone of the piece as well as the lack of drama. This critic acknowledged that he hadn't watched all episodes that were provided to critics before air dates. The New York Times featured a discussion between Simon and Senator Cory Booker , drawing parallels between Booker's family's experience growing up in New Jersey where his family was the only black family — and had to take difficult measures to buy their house — and the situation in Yonkers, as well as comparable historical and current scenarios today .
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