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. Of course, Jagger is an example of crude reality of Smith's idea that marriage vows should be changed from "until death to us part" to "until I feel like a change". In broad terms females are more vulnerable to the latter approach. It's surprising that, at her age, Smith shows such a poor understanding of human behaviour.
Similarly in her reference to homosexuality and Section 28, Smith fails to understand the politics of social change. Section 28 was the outcome of the politics of provocation conducted by what was popularly known as "looney left" Councils. Thatcher's response was to abolish those in London. Section 28 was tagged on and, while widely publicised, did not prevent local authorities from adopting and implementing policies to address the concerns of gay or lesbian communities. Section 28 never resulted in a prosecution being lodged against any English Council and, by the time it was repealed, the Labour and Conservative Parties had moved towards the middle ground of social change. As ever, politics rules OK!.
Similarly, Smith's reading of history is selective and couched in discredited Marxist phraseology. One would have thought that after thirty-five years she could tell the difference between Fascism, Corporatism, Nazism and Military government. Apparently not. While stating her abhorrence of Pinochet's repressive regime in Chile, she overlooks the failure of the Allende regime which preceded it. Allende sought to marry two contradictory ideas, that of constitutional government with one of revolutionary change. Even the Soviet Union understood the incompatibility of these twin aims and was willing to back the Cubanisation of Chile with arms. It was the equivalent of the United States sending guns to Georgia.
By pursuing revolutionary change and over-riding the Constitution Allende provoked bitter opposition (including Chile's elected representatives) who charged him with undermining democracy and exercising powers not authorised by the Constitution. In a television interview shortly before his overthrow Allende spoke as an unconstrained Marxist who seemed to believe his own ideology. This does not excuse the brutalities of the Pinochet regime but if those who govern are to be held responsible for their actions, justice should be administered in the jurisdiction in which their crimes were committed.
Smith sees the battle of the twenty first century as being one between global capitalism and universal human rights. She suggests religion has in the past provided justification for U.S and British foreign polices. Her division of religion/bad, humanism/good is intellectually dishonest and patently self-serving. She conveniently forgets the Ba'ath Party is a secular party and that Saddam Hussein abolished Sharia Law in Iraq. Humanistic political correctness is as dangerous and as fundamentalist as any other dominant ideology. The continuing quest for Justice needs to be equally applied to all, not just those whom Smith dislikes.
If Peter Pan was the boy who never grew up Joan Smith could easily pass for his sister. I've given it four stars, not because I agree with her argument, but for its references to aspects of history of which I was unaware and its easy to read style.