Good blog Tom. But I think you're wrong on a number of counts. I certainly agree about the generalisation, but this can't really be pinned on Norman and Blond anymore than a load of other writers and thinkers from other political perspectives. Wittgenstein was right – generalisation is the constant barrier to knowledge. The problem is that we all succumb to it. Of course there are similarities between Norman and Blond, but I think in terms of the quality of their recent books, Norman's ‘Big Society’ batters 'Red Tory', which has one of the very worst introductions to a book I have ever read.
Do you really think the Big Society doesn’t present a challenge to the political left? The welfare state is one of our great achievements and something I personally strongly support. But it needs to change. The worse thing the left can do is ignore that fact and pretend otherwise. Sweden and Denmark have very strong welfare states but they are also (rightly) far more demanding of their citizens.
Zizek is right when he argues in his last couple of books that the left has utterly failed to develop an alternative to neo-liberal economics and that is why we have gone back to ‘economics as normal’ post-crash. The left has also failed to develop anything like a coherent narrative of collective action and social solidarity, which is why the Tories have been able to move into that territory.
The left and the Labour Party need an alternative to the Big Society - Ed Miliband is absolutely wrong when he say's otherwise. The point as you suggest, is to rethink the relationship between state (in its very guides, including public services) and citizen. In a forthcoming pamphlet I am writing with 2020, we argue that reconfigured public services are perhaps the best way of building civic capacity and the Big Society.
Do you not think that Blond and Norman have some grounds for attacking neo-classical economics even if they generalise? They might not understand what Friedman (that wonderful spirit of the left!) had to say about economic models, but it seems to me that there are grounds for challenging the narrow view of human beings embodied in the neo-liberal economic model. In which case, are they not making a similar point to you? And there also seems to me strong grounds for trying to fashion a new model of economics structured around principles mutuality and shared ownership, which I would imagine you agree with.
Where we are in complete agreement is the lunacy of some of the claims made for the Big Society. Do these people realise what life was really like for most people before the Welfare State? And do they not understand why it came about? It emerged precisely because the powers of voluntarism and civic association only take us so far. Another forthcoming pamphlet (being published in January) - sorry an awful self-publicist I know – being produced by the Citizen Power team makes the argument for a strong focus on making sure people have the capacity and capability to make the Big Society possible.