Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"The content of their character"

The most ringing sentence of Martin Luther King's 1963 Lincoln Memorial speech concerned his children: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."

Liberal opinion was agreed on one thing at the time. That it was as wrong to judge people on the colour of their skin as it was correct to judge them on the content of their character. Richard Rees used this as a stake in the ground in a penetrating Analysis on Radio Four. He looked at how since the 70s the political class has either avoided the character issue altogether or treated it as a bourgeois invention. And what's more he gets people to actually voice the idea that they were never happy talking about character development.

"It's because of the unresolved class conflict of British society," says Matthew Taylor, a former strategy adviser to Tony Blair. I bet Matthew, who's the son of Professor Laurie Taylor and Anna Coote, got plenty of character building at home and at Emanuel School. The notion that he and other expensively-raised apparatchiks of all the parties thought that this was stuff that somehow didn't apply to the working class takes your breath away.


  1. Anonymous3:20 pm

    Thanks for pointing me towards that Analysis piece, the show is now on my itunes downloads list.

    A very interesting and important subject. But I'm not sure what your point was about working-class families.

    I think the issue for me is that the traditional working-class, and all the strong moral and social values that entailed, no longer substantially exists. Instead, there is the underclass.

    Perhaps it was seen as too politically-insensitive to refer to people with this label on Analysis. But, by instead calling them the working-class, it both misses the point and insults the many people who were brought up in honest hard-working stable 2-parent working-class families, like myself.

  2. It wasn't my point. It was theirs. They had got themselves into a position where they couldn't be caught talking about the importance of character formation in a working class context because it was seen as some kind of activity that only the middle class could afford to indulge in. Wholly wrongly, as you rightly point out. You should listen to it. It's very good.

  3. Anonymous5:34 pm

    eh ...I did. I obviously wasnt listening closely enough.

    A very interesting subject. I particularly liked the point about the poverty of the parent child relationship being more important and influential than just actual poverty.

    Are we perhaps experiencing a cultural and intellectual renaissance where old-fashioned ideas such as character can once again be discussed and aspired-to without having to apologise.