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Is Democracy Working? Recent events of the Las Casas Institute

Monday, November 27, 2017

Among the hard questions debated at recent events of the Las Casas Institute for Social Justice (based at Blackfriars, Oxford) has been whether our Western democracies have delivered good government; in particular, whether they protect our fundamental human dignity, and keep their citizens from a demeaning poverty. If they don't, what's going wrong?

Increasing Inequality of Wealth Distribution

On 19th October, a seminar at Blackfriars Hall, co-sponsored with the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics, explored the increasing inequalities between rich and poor in the UK, even within the wealthy southern cities, but also the divide between north and south.

Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North, set the context with a sobering analysis of economic trends and their impact, the social consequences of which were explored by Cathy Corcoran OBE, Director of the Cardinal Hume Centre, and Liz Firth, a worker with the Church Urban Fund in Bradford. Others reflected on how the different church traditions, Protestant and Catholic, and the Gospels themselves, required Christians to reflect on their own practice, economic and political, while also providing us with resources that enable us to respond. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity, for example, points towards the value of more devolved decision-making, while Victorian evangelicals may still inspire lay Christians to act together locally. That evening, Frank Field MP delivered a public lecture on the renewed rise of destitution in the UK.

The Rise of Populism

On 7th November, some twenty policy-makers, academics, and others involved in social action came together at Theos in central London for a seminar jointly sponsored by the Las Casas Institute and St Mary's University, Twickenham. The topic was democracy, dignity, and the rise of populism. What is driving the rise of populism, how is it impacted by new social media, and what challenge does it present to traditional liberal values? The importance of human dignity has somehow to be given a more central place in political discourse and thinking.

This event, too, was followed by a public lecture, in which Tom Tugendhat MP (pictured above with Francis Campbell and Prof John Loughlin), Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, spoke, amongst other things, on the duties we have to engage our politicians in good conversations beyond the Westminster bubble.

 

Human Dignity and Human Rights

Two days later at Blackfriars, Oxford, Prof. Marise Cremona (pictured above) and Aidan O'Neill QC from Matrix Chambers led a seminar on the rights of citizens in the light of Brexit before an evening lecture in which O'Neill looked at the different functions which Equality laws and Human Rights legislation should play in 'preserving difference' and 'resolving differences', as the State either intervenes on behalf of citizens or has itself to be curbed and restrained from restricting proper freedoms. Looking at disputed issues around religious freedom and non-discrimination, he drew on English and European legal judgements as well as on recent papal teaching to conclude with the disturbing verdict that in Britain today 'there are no constitutional foundations, no guarantees that Difference will be respected and fundamental rights preserved in the future'.

Event Videos and Reports

 To read more about these events on the Las Casas website or watch videos of the three public lectures, as well as other videos about human dignity.

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