If the poor can thrive, as we have seen, without the supervision and the resources of the welfare state, why not the middle class? Indeed, it is the middle class that bears the moral responsibility for the entitlement state and its promises that cannot be kept, debt that cannot be paid, and a course that cannot continue. We middle-class people rather like the well-worn paths of the welfare state; it saves us the bother of making our own way. All we need to do is keep up a good report card and we can fall into the middle-class entitlements when our turn comes. Social Security? Better than relying on the stock market. Medicare? Better than the bother of making decisions about your own health care. Education? Who has time, with today’s two-income families, to volunteer at the neighborhood school?
Modern middle-class Americans might be excused for thinking that life is just school writ large, for our highly organized childhoods teach us exactly that. We all troop off to school, to the government’s child-custodial facility, from Kindergarten to 12th Grade, boys and girls, to prepare for the working world. Should we? There’s a telling commentary on all this that we learned from the slave drivers and the manufacturers of the early industrial revolution in an earlier chapter. They found it difficult to break post-pubertal humans to “industrial discipline.” Modern schooling does seem to require remarkable obedience and conformity from the children.
The British call the problem “bums on seats” when they worry about the declining school performance of boys. Boys have never done well at sitting still, and have always gone unwillingly to school. And humans in general are more than bums on seats graduating from classroom to classroom in the child custodial facility of life.
If the welfare state is bad for the poor, by teaching them dependency and the low cunning needed to milk the benefit stations of the via dependencia, it must be even worse for the middle class. At least the poor learn something on the street about how to outwit the Man. The middle class can easily become deracinated, losing the basic culture of the middle class that has obtained since the Axial Age religions first invented the idea of the “responsible self.” The temptation for the poor is to sink to a culture of low cunning; the temptation for the middle class is to live life as an inmate in an institution, starting at school, the government child-custodial facility, continuing on by working in big bureaucracies for the system, and then ending in a senior planned community — really, a luxury barracks — in man-made Florida or Arizona.
If welfare dependency for the poor is a kind of addictive drug, the middle-class life in the welfare state is a form of social sterilization, and the living proof is the remarkable lack of fecundity in welfare state females. Simply stated, middle class people work too much and commune too little; we spend too much time as wage slaves at the business park and too little time socializing in the community, living a life in common with our families, our neighbors, and our communities. It all starts with the standard middle-class welfare-state benefits.
In today’s America the average business-park salaryman does not earn a wage. He gets take-home pay, the monies left over after he and his employer have paid taxes to pay for the government pension, the government old-age health care, the government unemployment tax, and the government work-place disability premium. And that is before the employer’s deductions for a 401k pension plan, health insurance, dental insurance, and disability insurance. All these taxes and deductions amount to forced savings against the common vicissitudes of life, and very worthy they are. They also amount to forced sterilization, because the salaryman in question does not have beneficial ownership of his forced savings, not yet. Suppose he wants to buy a house. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for him to access his savings and thus reduce the necessary mortgage? Suppose he wants to start a business? Isn’t that the whole purpose of savings? Suppose he wants to go back to school? It would be nice to apply the unemployment insurance part of his forced savings to his school fees and his living expenses. But he can’t, because the government in its wisdom and the employer in his cunning, have sequestered the salaryman’s savings away from reckless or independent action.
You can see the government’s interest in all this. It can take the forced savings and spend it on buying votes until the salaryman needs it decades later. You can see the employer’s interest. He would like the worker to work and not spend time on non-work-related activities like financial and health-care planning and management. He would also like the worker not to bother his silly little head about setting up in business — perhaps in competition with the employer.
All of which is to say that, despite 200 years of political propaganda, perhaps the yoke of the factory system has fallen hardest on the shoulders, not of the manual worker, but on the middle-class knowledge worker, disciplined, controlled, confined, as perhaps no factory hand in the 19th century or slave on a sugar island ever had to suffer. For let us not forget the words of the slave drivers and the factory bosses, that post-pubertal males could not be made to submit to the gang system or to factory discipline. We need our government school system to create the submissive personality suited for work as human cogs in large bureaucratic systems.
In this book, a manifesto for modern conservatism, we have appealed more than normal to writers from the left. We have done this following the injunction of F.S.C. Northrop in his Meeting of East and West at the beginning of a chapter on German Idealism.
The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature, which defined the foundations of traditional modern French and Anglo-American democratic culture, has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate.1
It is one thing for conservatives to appeal to Edmund Burke and the good old days of Locke and Hume and Montesquieu. Conservatives are already persuaded by the conservative Enlightenment. But arguments based on Burke and Co. do nothing to persuade the modern ruling class, which regards the culture and philosophy of the American founders to be “shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate.” The modern ruling class rose in the 19th century, as we have seen, as an intellectual movement that replaced the Enlightenment agenda of freedom and limited government with the idea, from various critiques of capitalism, that a strong government was needed to right its wrongs or at least to mitigate its harshness. But now, as we have seen, a new generation of critics have arisen to apply the same critique to big government. Conservatives are familiar with the critiques from the right. There was Ludwig von Mises’ Socialism in the 1920s that socialism was impossible because it could not compute prices. There was F.A. Hayek in the 1940s making the bandwidth argument that the man from Whitehall or Washington could not know more or outperform the millions of producers and consumers. There were James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock with The Calculus of Consent in the 1960s making the argument that government legislation always tended to exploitation and rent-seeking unless constrained by a rule of unanimous consent. Peter Berger and John Neuhaus argued in To Empower People for a middle ground of mediating institutions between the megastructures of big business and big government. Modern conservatives, following Edmund Burke, argue for a social space of civil society between the dominating systems of the modern Bigs. But the ruling class of educated liberals rejected the conservative critique, by ignoring its thinkers and by demonizing its reform politicians and policies.
But the critique of the welfare state did not come exclusively from the right. As we have seen the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxists found that both big government and big capitalism tended to be dominating, with Jurgen Habermas comparing the domination of system to the collaborative space of communicative action. Left-wing radicals like Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their radical trilogy Empire/Multitude/Commonwealth argued for a multitude of “singularities” living a “life in common” of creative production and “affect” that was now replacing the masses of working-class factory workers doing standardized and routine work. James C. Scott has illuminated modern government as an effort to make individuals “legible” to government, and thereby taxable and controllable. It is one thing for our ruling class to ignore the attack on the welfare state from the right; it is another thing to ignore the critique of the welfare state developed by left-wing writers.
This critique attempts to transcend the arguments of both left and right. In the analysis of modern government in Chapter Two and modern business in Chapter Three we have attempted to expose the original sin of both modern government and modern business. Both are seduced more than they can bear to admit, by the sirens of system, of force, and domination. The fact is that modern government is founded upon the successful effort of the absolute monarchs to penetrate the mediating structures of the early modern period, the guilds and confraternities, in order to make their subjects individually legible, taxable, and controllable. Nothing much has changed since then, except for the worse. The fact is that modern business is founded upon the successful effort of slave drivers and factory owners to bend humans to the gang system and so-called “industrial discipline.” Admittedly there has been a change in the last two centuries: the lash of the slave driver has been confiscated, although it made a surprise farewell tour in the 20th century in the lands of communism and fascism, and survives in the miserable hell-holes of the thug dictators. The power of the factory boss has been softened. But not by much, and often not for any reason but that businessmen have discovered that profits are bigger when workers are fat and happy rather than cringing under the infernal speedup of Taylorism. They have learned, with the German generals, that the best workers are “self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility” and much more productive than the shuffling squads of proletarians in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
1F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West, Ox Bow Press, 1979, p. 193.
Government and the Technology of Power
If you scratch a social reformer, you will likely discover a plan for more government.
Business, Slavery, and Trust
Business is all about trust and relationship.
Freebooters and Freeloaders
The modern welfare state encourages freeloaders.
The Bonds of Faith
No society known to anthropology or history lacked religion.
A Critique of Social Mechanics
The problem with human society reduced to system.
From Multitude to Civil Society
The larger the government, the smaller the society.
The Answer is Civil Society
In between the separated powers.
The Greater Separation of Powers
If you want to limit power then you must limit power.
Conservatism Three by Three
Conservatism, political, economics, and cultural.
The Culture of Involvement
Imagining lives without the welfare state
The Poor Without the Welfare State
Can the poor thrive without the welfare state?
The Middle Class Without The Welfare State
How would the middle class live without all those middle-class entitlements?
From Freeloaders to Free Givers
The path to the future lies through moral movements.
The Real Meaning of Society
Broadening the horizon of cooperation in the last best hope of man on earth.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America