The Politics of Covenant

“Today’s politics, which has seen a rise in populism, is often about division and confrontation. It is about dividing a nation into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. It is about resentment and fear and allocation of blame. It is about anger and a sense of betrayal. It is oppositional. It proposes handing power to the strong leader who assures his or her followers that, in return for their loyalty, he or she will fight their battles for them. Covenantal politics, by contrast, is about ‘We, the people’, bound by a sense of shared belonging and collective responsibility; about strong local communities, active citizens and the devolution of responsibility. It is about reminding those who have more than they need of their responsibilities to those who have less than they need. It is about ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to make the most of their capacities and their lives. One of the great historical lessons is that societies become strong when they care for the weak. They become rich when they care for the poor. They become invulnerable when they care for the vulnerable. That is the beating heart of the politics of covenant. My firm belief is that the concept of covenant has the power to transform the world. It sees relationships in terms not of interests but of moral commitment. It changes everything it touches, from marriage to friendship to economics and politics, by turning self-interested individuals into a community in pursuit of the common good. There is nothing inevitable about the division, fragmentation, extremism, isolation, the economics of inequality or the politics of anger that have been the mood of Britain and America in recent years. They have been the legacy of the misplaced belief that societies can function without a moral bond. They cannot, or at least not for long. That is why we are where we are. But we can change. Societies have moved from ‘I’ to ‘We’ in the past. They did so in the nineteenth century. They did so in the twentieth century. They can do so in the future. And it begins with us.”

Morality, Chapter 23, p. 334