9 February

2016: A Year in Review

Our last blog post started by describing 2016 as an atypical year. That year is now over – and it truly was exceptional in various respects. It seems pertinent to reflect with a little hindsight on what happened in the twelve months to 31 December last. Politically, socially, culturally – and even locally here at the Thomas More Institute (TMI) – great transformations have occurred. Thinking about transformations is part of our purpose as a forum for civil discourse.

For the TMI 2016 saw the conclusion of a big two-year project. Since September 2014, we had been involved in the organisation of ‘Dissent, Conscience and the Wall’ (‘DCW’, in brief) together with Brussels-based EucA (European University College Association). This EU-funded project was designed to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (and opening of the Iron Curtain) through a series of symposia taking place in both London and Brussels. DCW was highly successful in bringing together large numbers of students and academics from all over Europe. We, with our partners, submitted the final report this last summer. To read more about this, please visit the DCW blog.

The project in effect took over here for nearly two years and we had no time, or spare manpower, to organise other seminars and sessions.

In March, however, we revitalised this website by adding new content, and welcomed from the U.S.A. and the Acton Institute Dr. Sam Gregg who spoke very interestingly about the relation between capitalism and the ethical tenets of Christianity (paper to be found here). Our discussion about whether accepting or promoting a market economy involves adhering to liberal or libertarian conceptions of human nature and society was particularly fruitful. In October, we welcomed Dr. Matthew O’Brien who gave a persuasive seminar on the financial markets and the common good (paper, we hope, soon to be published online). Dr. O’Brien argued that a disproportionate growth of the financial sector which became a locus of speculative manipulation should be controlled, and that finance play a rather more subsidiary role in the economic life of nations.

Our blog posts mirrored major political, social and cultural events of the year. We wrote about the Panama Papers and called for more transparency in political life. We reflected on the rise of anti-semitism in both students’ movements and political parties in Britain. We denounced episodes of racism perpetrated by black radical activists. We supported the values of privacy and decorum in face of an increasingly invasive media who should think about the ethical limits of their own activity. We asked if Western liberalism has indeed a future, confronted as it is by new forms of political awareness and challenges from the Right as well as the Left. We critiqued the notion of speciesism and, with it, contemporary egalitarianism that sees no difference between human and animal life. We demanded the introduction of kindness in the political arena, shortly after the brutal death of Jo Cox MP. We interpreted the EU referendum result as a call for genuine subsidiarity. We inquired into the nature of Islam and its relation with violence.

Debates about identity, ethics and the nature of political activity seem now more important than ever. The foundations of Western society and the liberal consensus that governed our polities since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 are now being contested and fundamentally re-shaped. It is crucial that citizens and institutions like ours reflect on the moment of societal rupture through which the developed world seems to be passing. Only thus can we have a more informed and active participation by all in public life and debate. Amidst all the flux, real challenging of inadequate thinking about public policy – one of the aims of the TMI – can only come about via serene debate and rational reflection.

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