Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Humanistic Argument Against the Welfare State

I've just finished reading Mark Steyn's new book, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, and it is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. His previous book, America Alone, argued that the West, with the sole exception of the US, was in serious decline and that the last battle for the humanistic ideals of the West would be fought in the US. His prophecies of the semi-Islamization of Europe were at first dismissed, then laughed at, then said to be true but further off than he claimed. Now they are simply coming true before our eyes.

And his argument that it is Western weakness, lack of cultural self-confidence and multiculturalism, rather than any external force, that is causing the West's decline appears more obviously true every day. The message of this new book is that the US is joining in the general Western decline and going downhill much faster than Canada or Europe.

Despite his hysterical critics on the left, Steyn is no national socialist (or any other kind of socialist), but rather a humanistic liberal who simply declined to evolve into a social democrat as almost all liberals have done in the twentieth century.

As it happens, I don't think he actually has any answers to offer those who accept the main premises of his cultural analysis. The real engine of humanism is Christianity and the whole reason most liberals became some sort of cultural Marxist or neo-Marxist or democratic socialist is that secularized liberalism is unsustainable. It contains a contradictory notion of freedom and so the idea of freedom gradually recedes and the idea of equality takes its place. Liberalism has no basis for actual humanism and therefore it must necessarily decline into the will to power. We see this decline everywhere today. But until Steyn is willing to admit that nothing short of a revival of Christian faith will save Western civilization, he is fated to be a critic with no alternative except his own brand of stoic decency.

But the most important idea Steyn has latched onto is a very big one: the most important critique of the welfare state is the humanistic one. The welfare state was and is justified by appeals to compassion and care for the poor and needy. But, in fact, it is the poor and the needy who suffer the most from the welfare state.

In his column yesterday in the Orange County Register, Steyn puts it this way:

This is the logical dead end of the Nanny State. When William Beveridge laid out his blueprint for the British welfare regime in 1942, his goal was the "abolition of want" to be accomplished by "co-operation between the State and the individual." In attempting to insulate the citizenry from life's vicissitudes, Sir William succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. As I write in my book: "Want has been all but abolished. Today, fewer and fewer Britons want to work, want to marry, want to raise children, want to lead a life of any purpose or dignity." The United Kingdom has the highest drug use in Europe, the highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, the highest number of single mothers, the highest abortion rate. Marriage is all but defunct, except for William and Kate, fellow toffs, upscale gays and Muslims. From page 204: "For Americans, the quickest way to understand modern Britain is to look at what LBJ's Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population."

I believe it is regarded as a sign of insanity to start quoting oneself, but at the risk of trying your patience I'll try one more, because it's the link between America's downgraded debt and Britain's downgraded citizenry:

"The evil of such a system is not the waste of money but the waste of people."

Big Government means small citizens: it corrodes the integrity of a people, catastrophically. Within living memory, the city in flames on our TV screens every night governed a fifth of the Earth's surface and a quarter of its population. When you're imperialists on that scale, there are bound to be a few mishaps along the way. But nothing the British Empire did to its subject peoples has been as total and catastrophic as what a post-great Britain did to its own.
A system which brings you the highest rate of single mother families, the highest abortion rate, the highest rate of sexually transmitted disease and the highest rate of drug use can not, except by the most Orwellian misuse of language imaginable, be described as "liberating." It is precisely the opposite; it is enslaving and demeaning. It is not good for the poor and bad for the rich; it is bad for everybody, but especially the poor.

There are many reasons why the welfare state is bad, but the most serious one is that it wastes people. This is the humanistic argument against the welfare state.

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