This week, as Parliament considers our country’s options on Europe, my mind turned to the meeting in Hanoi between the leaders of the United States and North Korea. I have also used some spare time to read quite fully Tuesday’s New York Times.
One interesting article was about the advice Vietnam might give North Korea. The Vietnamese accommodation with the United States around 1995, nearly 20 years after reunification, has allowed the country of 95 million to embrace free enterprise. It remains a one party state with fast growing prosperity.
Older people may remember Ho Chi Minh. ‘Uncle Ho’ lived modestly although he was credited with an active social life. Sensibly, he did not make the mistake of too many communist leaders who tried unsuccessfully to suppress religion.
The country has 53 minorities, mostly very small. Three quarters of the population are irreligious or follow traditional worship traditions. Buddhism and Roman Catholic Christianity each claim around ten per cent.
The advice Vietnam could give North Korea is that trading with the US and around the world is good. At the armistice when Korean war hostilities ceased, Vietnam was poorer than Korea.
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Look at the contrast now. If Korea want to have greater freedom from China, as Vietnam does, it needs to join the world community.
Back in the United States, a book twenty years ago by Andrew Delbanco described the magnetic ideas that drove his country’s history, starting with the Pilgrims’ belief that God called them. The next phase was organised around Nation.
The writer David Brooks used these words: ‘America was to be a universal nation, a home and a model for all humankind, the last best hope of earth’.
The third phase was, he claimed, organised around Self, without constraints and with maximum self-expression and maximum personal freedom as well as lifestyle.
Are we now offered a choice? Do we want, do we need what has been described as the Trumpian right where ‘our’ sort of people are under threat from ‘their’ sort of people; where walls, barriers and fighting are needed, moving from crossing the frontier to creating a fortress?
Do accept the Left’s offer of Social Justice, confronting oppression, and in America telling the story of class, racial and gender clashes.
Does each think that by concentration of power in a centralised state, it will be possible to ram through the changes that will solve everything?
The better alternative is that moderates put forward an attractive unifying idea. We know what counteracts division, fragmentation and alienation.
Leviticus in the Old Testament and Matthew’s gospel make it plain that ‘Love your neighbour’ is a good guide to thought and to actions. I do not argue that all moderates congregate in one middle grouping.
Instead of fuelling anger or seeking conflict, we can encourage talking across divides with the aim of increasing our affections for one another.
We are bound together by love and care for our children and for our elderly. We are bound in society by our work.
We share affection for our place and our places, where we can trust each other. Greatest of all, we share humanity, the drive to help when we can, to cure and to care.
Let us keep a sense of perspective and of proportion as the Brexit saga works its way forward. The reason we joined and confirmed our membership of the Common Market may be the same as the reason a majority voted to leave the European Union.
There are times to prepare to move on together; I believe that time is now. It usually is. Moderation, consideration and determination can be powerfully effective.
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