Exit interview: Williams attacks ‘aspirational waffle’ of big society

Rowan Williams plans to leave office with a ferocious attack on David Cameron's 'big society', extracts from his new book reveal.

The archbishop of Canterbury will publish his new book, Faith in the Public Square, just three months before leaving Lambeth Palace. Extracts seen by the Observer reveal a colourful attack on the coalition.

"[The 'big society'] suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which such ideals can be realised," he wrote.

"Big society rhetoric is all too often heard by many therefore as aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable.

"And if the big society is anything better than a slogan looking increasingly threadbare as we look at our society reeling under the impact of public spending cuts, then discussion on this subject has got to take on board some of those issues about what it is to be a citizen and where it is that we most deeply and helpfully acquire the resources of civic identity and dignity."

Other sections of the book show the archbishop raising questions about the capitalist economic model.

"Practically speaking, at the individual and the national level, we have to question what we mean by growth," he said.

"The ability to produce more and more consumer goods (not to mention financial products) is in itself an entirely mechanical measure of wealth."

He added: "By the hectic inflation of demand it creates personal anxiety and rivalry. By systematically depleting the resources of the planet, it systematically destroys the basis for long-term wellbeing. In a nutshell, it is investing in the wrong things."

The outburst is not the first statement from the archbishop which will be frowned on by Downing Street. Last year, he included a bruising attack on the government in an edition of the News Statesman which he guest-edited.