In their piece Grant and Muers claim to take an holistic approach but they do not put FTSO in a wider historical context and don't ask the question how far the aspirations in it have been met. Nor do they ask why Quakers seem largely to be making the same points now as they did 100 hundred years ago, admittedly with the addition of points about sustainability and the environment (though, as they say, the modern language ties in with the traditional testimony of simplicity).
I believe that the world has changed so much (and for the better) since the Foundations were produced in 1918 that Quakers could say that their job has been done and they can hand over strategy and tactics to others, rather than talking to each other within the own bubble. Historical changes that have taken place are:
- The growth of democracy - in 1918 women didn't have the vote; associated with the growth of democracy has been...
- Growth in the lobbying industry - now there are any number of political parties, think tanks, charities and lobbying bodies to campaign on any number of issues, taking advantage of ...
- the growth in the media, including social media - in 1918 there was no BBC, let alone the internet, and the press was in the hands of a few barons
- growth in supranational bodies, such as the UN, which began only after WW1 and in response to it, faltered in the 1930s but was revived after 1945; associated with this...
- spread of human rights: Declaration of Human Rights 1948
- spread of progressive ideas - the Catholic Church in the early C20 was in the hands of anti-modernists but now its teaching on social justice (apart from gender rights, of course!) are indistinguishable from the Quakers and other Christian Churches; this is not to mention the plethora of charities and campaigning organisations I refer to above. Conservative thinkers are still active, of course, but over the century have been in steady retreat.
I see FTSO as a fine piece of work but its content is essentially moral not technocratic. PNE, by contrast, is a waste of time. QPSW has set itself up as a alternative Civil Service and produced papers which few Quakers have paid attention to and certainly no one outside the Society. PNE draws on material from secular sources, is naive and unoriginal. It has served to give work to bright young graduates, which may be a good thing, but it isn't the job of the RSoF. The world does not need another lobbying organisation.
As I've said before, Friends with concerns about social justice or the environment should be active in a political party or suitable secular organisation. It is an intrusion on my faith community for secular activists to seek to turn it to their purposes when they have a clear alternative. It is interesting that Grant & Muers tell us one of the people behind FTSO, the left-winger Walter Newbold, saw things similarly, leaving the Society to become active in the secular, political sphere. Catherine West MP, this year's Swarthmore Lecturer, (about whom I have blogged) please note!
My criticism of the FTSO research project is that it just looks at its subject within the tiny confines of the RSoF and ignores how the world has fundamentally changed in the last hundred years. As a result Grant & Muers fail to highlight the unnecessary and divisive politicisation of BYM.