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Moralities: Sex, Money and Power in the 21st Century Hardcover – 21 May 2001


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (21 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713994096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713994094
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.2 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,585,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Columnist, novelist and critic Joan Smith's book Moralities: Sex, Money and Power in the 21st Century heralds the emergence of a new humanist morality. What we are in fact seeing, Smith argues, is "the ejection of Church and State from our private lives and the adoption instead of a secular code based on justice, equality and human rights". She argues that the change of focus from private to public morality suggested by the increasing tolerance in sexual matters has enabled us to concentrate on the more important political, economic and environmental issues that are the rightful concern of all; "The great battle of the 21st century will be between global capitalism and universal human rights". Smith is optimistic about these changes and believes that we have before us the opportunity to build a new kind of society, fully secular and opposed to all kinds of fundamentalism.

Smith is at her best when detailing the destructive foreign policies of Britain and the US--be it the overthrow of the democratic government of Chile in 1973, turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses of repressive regimes, collaborating with tyrants or simply relating the brutal facts about torture, arms trading, the environment and the increasing divide between rich and poor. The critique of global capitalism--the exploitation of vulnerable labour forces and irreplaceable natural resources--is balanced by hope for the democratising potential of the communications revolution where increased access to information and the capacity to share it with people struggling against repressive regimes has, in places, revitalised leftist politics.

As a committed humanist Smith takes it as read that "belief in a supernatural deity is not necessary to lead a moral life" and she is surely right to say that "religious convictions are a very poor predictor of how well someone is likely to behave." Where the analysis takes a dubious turn however is in her agreement with Nietzsche, that "the Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad." The "religion" that Smith invokes in this book is indistinguishable from an aggressive fundamentalism and usually allied to reactionary forces while secular humanist morality is allied to progressive forces. One of the questionable implications of this rhetorical strategy is that religion is to blame for the moral shortcomings of British and US governments while a secular morality is responsible for the better performance of Scandinavian countries in dealing with child poverty for example. Optimistic in tone, well written, broad-ranging and provocative on issues like sex, marriage and monogamy, Smith's analytical weaknesses are more than compensated for by generally sound social and political history. Thus, despite the limitations of the "religion-bad, humanism-good" framework (a framework which fundamentalists simply reverse), Moralities is a welcome attempt to nudge humanist undertakings and commitments to the fore. --Larry Brown

About the Author

Joan Smith is a columnist, novelist and critic. She is the author of the highly praised MISOGYNIES and five detective novels, two of which have been filmed by the BBC. She has written columns for the Independent On Sunday and the Guardian and her reviews appear in the Financial Times, Sunday Times and Independent. She is one of the presenters of What The Papers Say and a regular contributor to BBC radio. She lives in London.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Neutral VINE VOICE on 22 Jan. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Joan Smith is one of the Establishment's resident radicals, rolled out whenever the chattering classes want to sanctify their "open minded" credentials by reading her parade of prejudices on humanism, atheism, feminism or republicanism. Yet open mindedness has never been Smith's strong point and "Moralities: Sex Money and Power in the 21st Century", shows why. Smith claims she wants to separate "morality from private life, especially sexuality and (get) it to operate more effectively in the public sphere."

It's an interesting idea but one doomed to failure. Knowledge is power and power attracts. In politics, as in rock and roll, power attracts female groupies for whom being in the presence of powerful men appears to act as an aphrodisiac. Smith's own examples are so called celebrities and people in public life, notably Bill Clinton, although her broad brush approach seeks to stigmatise anyone and everyone who does not hold her own secular, humanist, views. She argues that the tabloids' obsession with sex and the regulation with private life is based on the eighteenth century Marriage Act "which forced unhappy spouses to suffer lifelong misery for an ideal of Christian marriage". This, she claims, allowed "powerful men to flout the standards they ruthlessly imposed on everyone else."

This simplistic misreading of history suits Smith's feminist and anti-Christian stance but fails to fit the facts. The 1753 Marriage Act was introduced as a means of clarifying who was legally married and arose after two women claimed the inheritance of a man to whom each believed they were married. It was something Jerry Hall overlooked when she married Mick Jagger and found it invalid and annulled in the High Court nine years later.
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