Not a few people will have noticed the wordplays running through the UK’s student protests last week (I arrived in London just after these events). To begin with, students targetted Tory headquarters in Millbank:

Give or take an ‘l’, we all know that Milbank is a pseudonym for Alasdair MacLagan. However, the students seem to have taken a dislike to Alasdair, offering a more vigorous form of argumentation:

It was not that long ago that Maclagan and his protégée, Phillip Blond, were touting the virtues of ‘red toryism’. Other terms come to mind these days, like Tory Pigs:

Or Dickhead Tories:

The only things red about them, as AA suggests, seem to be the flames of burning effigies:

All the same, it is great to see the return to community values, the ‘big society’, the moral economy and popular custom, touted by Blond, Maclagan et al.

Deane Galbraith, of Dunedin School infamy, but now on the reputable Religion Bulletin blog. A very, juicy post on a tubby, monkishly smirking John Milbank, the new Chair of the Committee for the Reconstruction of Christendom.

With all the fun over Alasdair Maclagan, it seemed to slip everyone’s notice that Milbank’s full name is Alasdair John Milbank. So then, anyone know his mother’s maiden name?

A good number slipped over to Scribd to read the earlier version of the red tory piece, but there is now a revised and thereby much better version now up.

Soon to come out in the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, a pre-publication of our piece on Red Toryism. Some reading while I am away from those blanketing waves of  internet and mobile-phone connectivity.

This is fucking crazy (forgive my Bulgarian) and just slightly idolatrous:

[The church] is the continued event of the ingestion of the body of Christ

And yes, it’s the desperately frenetic Alasdair Maclagan (who knows deep down that Theology and Social Theory was his only good book)  slagging off against Adam Kotsko of An und für sich. Actually, the worst of it is the sign of someone well past his prime dismissing any new work as worthless and unable to recognise, graciously, something far smarter than his own limited capacities.

Update: The Dunedin School has taken this to its reductio ad absurdum to argue: a) this means that the church is Christ’s poo; b) that theology, since it can arise only from the church, is therefore the poo that comes from the poo of the church. However, at this point, the DSs get it wrong, arguing that Christ is the final step of this scatotheology. No, Christ is the source, the original nourishment that produces excrement in the first place (the church), of which theology is thereby the secondary product.

Alasdair Maclagan, John Milbank and Philip Blond are now operating in a threesome, as in this latest piece on the inequality of virtue. The left, they argue, should embrace

the “old Tory” view that privilege is not just reward for success, but also a way of providing the appropriate resources for the wielding of power linked to virtue. By virtue we mean here a combination of talent, fitness for a specific social role, and a moral exercise of that role for the benefit of wider society.

They are after a ‘justifiable inequality’ that seeks ‘to link social and economic prestige with virtue’, for then ‘we can hope for good financial and political leaders ­possessed of compassion and integrity’.

The problem with these guys is that they think they are offering new, lateral solutions to a perceived crisis (which, I might add, is pretty much restricted to zones on the world like the UK), but they are actually trotting out a tired mish-mash of ideas.

And the definition of virtue – ‘a combination of talent, fitness for a specific social role, and a moral exercise of that role for the benefit of wider society’ – stinks not merely of feudal hierarchies but of Plato and Aristotle. Both of them were archly anti-democratic, hated the rabble doing anything other than picking potatoes or functioning as cannon fodder, and felt in their bones that goodness, virtue, beauty and truth and were seamlessly connected with wealth, status, aristocratic birth – and, of course, the right to rule.

So … be always suspicious of the self-proclaimed virtuous, since they’ll knife you, have their way with your pets and fleece you for what little you own at the least opportunity.

Word is that Alasdair Maclagan is no more, since his cover had worn far too thin and become quite transparent. Will the same apply to Milbank?

Is it possible to draw a political program from a work of fiction, in this case J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? A few posts ago (following a tip or two) I quoted a text from John Milbank:

as recommended by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings (no law in the Shire; but the orderly echo of remote kingship)

For those not familiar with this boring fable, it is an elaborate and multilayered allegory of the Second World War (during which much of it was written), of the evils of capitalism and industrialisation, of Roman Catholic enchantment versus Protestant worldliness, of the passing world of the Middle Ages etc. And it’s whole framework is deeply conservative,which I’ll define here as the desire to return to a mythical golden age that never existed. In the three-volume series, the world (Middle Earth) is increasingly threatened by the evil Lord Sauron. So some simple hobbits, led by Frodo and his faithful servant Sam Gamgee, set out from the Shire (aka England), assisted by wizards, dwarves, elves, scions of royal houses and so on, to trounce Sauron – who is into industrialisation, progress, building projects, and has evil, snuffling orcs working for him. How to destroy Sauron’s power? They need to cast a magical and powerful ring – which Sauron desperately wants – into the volcano where it was forged in the midst of Sauron’s domain. I must admit that in the film version it seemed to me that the whole thing should have been subtitled ‘Nine Men in Search of  a Flaming Vagina’ – since Sauron’s evil eye was depicted again and again like this:

Where were we? Back in the Shire we find the hobbits, small humanoid creatures who live in holes and behave just like small-minded human beings. Tolkien (through the figure of Gandalf) loves them, since they embody the ideals of his mythical medieval golden age. This is the model that Milbank invokes. However, Joe Lukens pointed out that Milbank may have drawn the idea from a book written by his partner, Alison Milbank, called Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real. As Joe puts it:

The book’s actually quite good from a literary perspective. She does a good job showing how Tolkien’s world reflects his Catholicism, and is heavily influenced by Chesterton’s ideas, and by a certain reading of Aquinas. But then, she doesn’t go on and say we now need to model society on the Shire (although there are vague hints in that direction towards the end).

Apart from the curious coincidence that Alison Milbank has the same initials as Alasdair Maclagan, JM has of course gone the next next step and argued that we should model society on the Shire, the main town of which is Hobbiton.

Which finally brings me to my point: using a work of fiction – let alone one that it is deeply reactionary – as a basis for a political model is about as intelligent as using a work of fiction as the basis for a religion. I’m thinking here of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1962), a science fiction novel which provides the foundational belief structure for The Church of All Worlds. According to the Australian website (more detail on the main American page),

The mission of the Church of All Worlds is to evolve a network of information, mythology and experience that provides a context and stimulus for re-awakening Gaia, and re-uniting her children through tribal community dedicated to responsible stewardship and evolving consciousness.

Sounds a bit like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, if you ask me (with a few tweaks). So I’d suggest the following equation:

The Lord of the Rings is to Radical Orthodoxy as Stranger in a Strange Land is to the Church of All Worlds.

According to an interview with John Milbank in the Times Higher Education Supplement it is. You see, the reason why the neo-atheists (or ‘New Old Atheists’ as I call them) are so strident and hysterical is because theology is back at the centre of world events – led of course by Alasdair Maclagan and the vanguard of Radical Orthodoxy.

According to Milbank, ‘That’s why people like Richard Dawkins are so frightened, and why we’re getting a more militant atheism’.

And just in case we might have had a smidgen of doubt, the good old RO boys are also infiltrating the Vatican. Once again, Milbank speculates that the Vatican hierarchy may be wondering ‘whether we will provide them with a way of loosening up without selling out’.