Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why musicians should run the world

Searching for information on the Scottish composer James MacMillan, one of my favourite living composers, I came across an article by the man himself, printed in the Spectator earlier this year. In it, MacMillan defends himself against the label of "liberal, left-wing composer", and describes his fundamental disenchantment with the New Left. Having grown up among ardent socialists and even briefly been a member of the Young Communist League, he finds that today's progressive elites "lack intellectual rigour and ethical integrity, their politics are bland and sentimental, [and] their hatred of Christianity is fundamentalist."

MacMillan's reputation as a left-wing composer comes, perhaps, from his interest in Soviet composers like Gubaidulina and Schnittke, a major influence, or from the subjects of his compositions (The Confession of Isabel Gowdie commemorates the life of a woman falsely executed for witchcraft in the 19th century, while the recent Cantos Sagrados are influenced by South American liberation theology). He would certainly not be comfortable in the company of economic conservatives like Milton Friedman or Margaret Thatcher. Yet the left wing he remembers would be unrecognizable today:
[M]ost of the politically active working class in places like Ayrshire throughout the 20th century, were old-style socialists. They tended, also, to be moral and cultural conservatives. There was a tradition among Irish descendants, but also in other communities throughout the country, of Roman and high-Anglo-Catholic orthodoxy that was also politically radical, favouring social justice through economic distribution. The Labour movement was their vehicle to build the just society that was promised in the gospels; the welfare state and greater access to education were seen as fruits of moral Christian activism in society.
Today, by contrast, Christian activism has been hijacked by a right wing which is corrupt, economically regressive, and has a disturbing enthusiasm for carrying on expensive wars in other countries. The left wing continues to advocate for "social justice through economic distribution", but with a side order of cultural nihilism, anti-religious rhetoric, and moral relativism. This is exactly why I find it difficult to wholeheartedly support any political party, and I find it depressing that none of the Church's other public intellectuals have caught on to this dilemma.

In the following comment, posted as a comment to MacMillan's article, lies the paradox of modern Christianity:
That a bloke who believes Jesus rose from the dead can accuse, without irony, 'progressive elites' of lacking 'intellectual rigour' just takes the breath away. You couldn't make it up.
This person represents an ideology not sympathetic to Christianity by any stretch of the imagination; a hateful, knee-jerk anti-religiosity. Yet, as a Christian who believes that we have a duty to alleviate poverty through economic means, when I go to the ballot box, I must either vote along with this guy or else vote for a government that is almost inconceivably corrupt, and which is in favour of torturing and killing strangers in foreign countries.

On a lighter note, yesterday was the (presumably well-founded) Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Christian calendar. Outside of the Catholic Church, this is a little-known Marian Feast. Better-known, perhaps, is the Annunciation of the BVM, which was remarkable; you could hear every single word that she said.

1 comment:

shogart said...

Interesting post, and I thoroughly sympathize with your political dispossession.

I do believe, however, that this is the third time I've heard your BVM puns... the novelty is wearing off. We'll have to come up with some more. :)