ISBN 0 281 05046 5
The day I sat down to produce this book review, The Observer
carried an article entitled 'Why can't the Left write?' The answer
to this question was that 'the Left lost the initiative when it
withdrew from a dialogue with ordinary people. Only when it
restores that dialogue will it regain the clear, authoritative
voice of a Tawney'. Bob Holman has not lost the authority of a
day-to-day dialogue with the people.
His latest book is a powerful account of the case for equality
from an intellectual, humanitarian and Christian perspective. It
should speak to people of all faiths and none and, perhaps even
more importantly, should open up a wider debate among people of
different beliefs as to the value of equality in today's world.
This passionate but cogently argued book starts with 'The Christian
case for equality', goes on to describe the unequal state of our
society today, throws up a series of questions about equality,
poses the objections from a number of different perspectives and
then opts firmly for the advantages of a more equal society.
Many people would say that Holman's case is actually undermined
by his own beliefs. Equality can easily be seen as Utopian, and
indeed dangerous as a levelling down of people's aspirations.
There is always the haunting memory of the French Revolution,
when liberty, equality and fraternity were so undermined that
fraternity went out of the window in an obsessive search for
baseline equality and liberty was handed over to one of the most
dangerous autocrats of the modern age.
Holman, however, argues from both a moral and a practical
standpoint. Again, the historian must be mindful that in the
nineteenth century, the stark realities of inequality, poverty and
disease and their consequences endangered the whole of society.
People then showed leadership and with local government having
been sidelined for so long, it is important to remember that it was
local government that led in the promotion of environmental health
and good housing.
In reviewing this book, I went back to R H Tawney's text
Equality in its 1964 edition with an introduction by Richard
Titmuss, who examined the growing consensus that nothing much
needed to be done in terms of government and the pursuit of social
justice. 'Man,' he recorded ironically, 'has no longer to reach out
for the politically impossible. Henceforward he must busy himself
with the resurrection of utilitarian theory, and cultivate the new
stoicism of affluence.'
As Tawney and now, powerfully, Holman argue, equality is
Peter Gilbert is director of social services, Worcestershire