Values change. So should parties | Pierre Muscat

The PN should stop playing the role of the priest. And we should beware the seductive strategies of political talk. It is more open conversation that we need

This is the sound of a conservative, appealing to nostalgia, while demonising the present...

“Where have values gone?

"Why is it that contemporary society is so far plunged into decadence?

"Our once serene, idyllic, pastoral (and feudal) gem in the centre of the sea of culture is in disarray, actively being undone by a wild corruption, a cancer that is the Labour Party. And it appears in many faces, in construction, tourism, sport, law, and so on. But ultimately, at its core is a nihilistic, anti-Christian (perhaps even satanic), amoral compass that, by necessity, always points in the Wrong direction.”

This is only a caricature, not a real quote. But it truly brings forth the kind of imagined gulf that allegedly exists in the fundamental disagreement between the Nationalist and Labour parties.

And one asks, is this also Bernard Grech’s perspective when he too pines for a past of ‘values’ that Malta once possessed, as he recently alluded to in a Times interview?

Of course, it is hard to base such arguments on scientific or statistical research. The world moves in a different way to whatever other fantasy we have of how it should be moving.

But the undeniable truth is that Malta is a heterogeneous and dense society. It houses conflicting interests: hunters live alongside hikers, birdwatchers, offroaders and so on, all competing over the same spaces. But Malta also remains homogeneous when these diverse social spheres intersect and influence each other, spilling over from one to the other, their interests now conflicting. Even in social relations, we are never too far removed from people in positions of authority; they too enjoy this access and can also draw on a great reserve of social capital to stay and grow in power.

Historically, language changes. ‘Values’ too get usurped, reinterpreted, exchanged and the like. What was unintelligible once, becomes intelligible today. And the currents that brought about these shifts, are far too great for even such a minuscule force as the Malta Labour Party (in the grand scheme of things) to ever be responsible for them.

No ‘objective’ analysis can say whether these currents are indeed morally good or bad. The same is true for the Nationalist Party’s naive delusion that it can resist and turn back these currents, let alone provide a concrete justification for why these changes are morally bad or why we are duty-bound to fight against them.

The principal divide between the two parties is this recurring spat that locates Labour in the world of progress, and the PN in the world of the past – future, good; past, bad. And even when the future projected by a government turns out to be a mess of compromise and conflicts of interest, as in the case of Labour, the PN trips in its own shoes, with the alternative they offer only being the political grave they’re digging for themselves.

The question is: does endorsing a more liberal (albeit inherently deceptive) governance, such as legalising recreational cannabis to win votes, or privatisating plastic bottle recycling in the fight against climate change (while bottlers make hay as the sun shines) suggest “a lack of values” – as Grech claims – or is it that the world is actually being “valorised differently”?

Grech said: “Robert Abela evidently wants to introduce abortion, even though he is pretending it is not the case. He has no principles. He just wants to increase his majority. Two claims are being made here. In saying Abela has no principles on abortion, he is also saying that any person who agrees with abortion has no principles, or that being pro-choice is an unprincipled position. The mention of ‘majority’ is particularly interesting: Grech obviously refers to votes, but the there is also the implicit majority, that is, the common run of people. And while support for Malta’s civil liberties drive may not necessarily be ubiquitous, it definitely is a potent force in itself considering the polemicisation of the Andrea Prudente case.

In thinking that Abela is appeasing this force for more votes, then it follows that Grech already thinks it is the most prevalent force in contemporary Maltese society! Therefore the majority is amoral, and the direction in which it is pushing society is amoral, unless… “There is only one political party (that is against abortion). That is the PN.” (Times interview).

This is the crescendo towards a construed moral panic, much as we have heard in previous claims on rule of law that the PN is the only party that can guarantee it. And while delusional, given its three consecutive electoral defeats, it actually contradicts the rhetorical complaints about declining values, about being the last crusader to defend divine principle from the infidel.

Nothing is more telling about how such a stance is unprincipled and dishonest than how strategic it is. Indeed it is populist at best, amoral at worst. For how can it not be strategic when the PN wants society to reject this shift in the horizons of value, if not for its self-interested ends?

And it also presumes, in the PN’s mindsets, that the only moral values known to man are somewhat already delineated; that only a particular group of people has exclusive access to this list; and lastly, given the necessary power, they will ensure and enforce the alignment of society to this list. This is the vision of “the greater good”: exclusion, limiting of possibilities and opportunities of imagining new ways the world can be.

The PN should stop playing the role of the priest. And we should beware the seductive strategies of political talk. It is more open conversation that we need.

Pierre Muscat is a student of philosophy and sociology at the University of Malta